Column: Being a person of color is not a crime

Kaitlyn Hughes
“Young black bodies are piling up on the streets due to police brutality. I just hope that you won’t have to trip over mine to notice that this is an issue and take action.”

Red and blue lights and the words “BREAKING NEWS” appeared on the TV. My dad’s eyes were glued to the screen as it displayed a picture of a young black boy.   

He was shot and killed by a police officer because he looked “dangerous.” I sat with my knees pulled to my chest staring ahead at the TV trying to make sense of what was happening.

Police officers are the good guys. This has to be a mistake.

I looked at my dad for clarity. I had never seen him like this — solemn, as if a million thoughts were swirling in his head.

“Honey, maybe it’s time to give them the talk,” my mom whispered to my dad, just loud enough for me to hear. He sighed. 

“You always have to be especially careful with and around the police. A lot of them don’t want to protect you,” my dad said. “Some of them may hurt you because of your skin color.”

He told us about how in some cases, officers unjustly kill people of color.  He called it police brutality.

 Those words made no sense together. Police —  our protectors, our everyday heroes. Brutality —  savage physical violence and cruelty. 

My mom and dad began to list off different precautions to take with the police, interrupting my thoughts.

“Say yes ma’am and yes sir.”

“Keep your hands on the wheel at all times.”

“Never reach to grab something unless you tell them, and show your hands the whole time.”

“Be very polite.”

“Never argue.”

“Just obey.”

“Do whatever they say. No matter what.”

“But,” I said.

“No Reya. No buts. That’s just how it is.”

I paused, letting the words sink in. 

• • •

I don’t remember which boy was killed that day. Every time I watch the news, it feels like I am hearing about another person of color being harmed by the police. It has gotten to the point that all the cases blur together. 

It has taken me years to really understand police brutality. I mostly grew up in Highland Village, where we have friendly Student Resource Officers. I was taught that police officers are everyday capeless heroes. Heroes don’t hurt people just because of their skin color.

Soon, it was all I thought about.Why would police officers do this? Why to people like me?

I researched cases involving people of color losing their lives too early because of police brutality. Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Kwame Jones and Darius Tarver. The list goes on and on. Police officers claimed that they appeared to be dangerous, but, in most cases, they were doing nothing illegal to warrant an arrest. After it all happened, most police officers walked away with just a slap on the wrist. 

 It didn’t matter if the people were doing anything wrong. The officers just saw dark skin and assumed they were “thugs.” 

Did this mean police would see me and think the same? Suddenly, even in my bubble of Highland Village, I no longer felt safe.

 I became aware of the dangers of being a minority in America. No matter where I am or how “safe” I am, I will always live with the fear of somebody racially profiling me and making a split second decision that could be fatal. 

However, most people disregarded my fears of police brutality. I expressed my concerns over my safety, and I got silenced. Then I heard about the Botham Jean and Amber Guyger case. On September 6, 2018, a black man eating ice cream in his own apartment was shot and killed by a white police officer who walked into his home thinking it was hers.

This happened in Dallas, only thirty minutes away from me. I expected my peers to finally see that police brutality and this institutional racism is a threat everywhere. However, few of my peers knew about this. 

That’s when the Fort Worth shooting happened. On October 12, 2019, white police officer Aaron Dead shot Atatiana Jefferson, a 28-year-old black woman, through the window of her house, while she was playing video games with her nephew. Up until then, I had the mindset that I was safer because I am a female, and usually women aren’t targeted as much as men. Atatiana Jefferson made me realize that nobody with dark skin is safe.

In the world we live in, being safe in your own house is now a white privilege — no matter where you are.”

Once again, the people that were around me were unaware, and that bewildered me. This happens all over the country. My question is how many people need to die before somebody finally notices and acknowledges that there is an issue? I refuse to live in fear that I will be the next face of color people see in the news. The people of Flower Mound are burying their heads in the sand to what people of color face. 

However, I have to remember that my white peers don’t need to be aware of what is happening. I understand that I live in a mostly white area, so naturally not many people will understand. Most of my peers don’t know about  police brutality because it doesn’t endanger them. They didn’t have “the talk” with their parents. They don’t have to be afraid that they are going to be unfairly arrested, harmed or even killed because of their skin color. Ignorance is bliss, right? 

People like me don’t get to be that lucky. We have to live knowing that we are never safe because of our skin color. In the world we live in, being safe in your own house is now a white privilege — no matter where you are. If I have to accept and understand that, so should the rest of my peers, regardless of race.  

People are dying. We can’t just keep letting it happen, finger wagging at these officers and giving them a half-hearted lecture. Meanwhile, black bodies are piling up on the streets due to police brutality. I just hope that you won’t have to trip over mine to notice that this is an issue and take action.