So this is a thing that happened close to where I live: “Lawyer: Autopsy shows Saratoga Springs man shot from behind.” In case you didn’t read that on Wednesday, September 10, 2014 a young black man carrying a “Samurai-type sword” was shot and killed by police officers in Saratoga Springs, Utah. An autopsy of the young man, Darrien Hunt, showed that he was shot exclusively in the back, which seems to be completely against the police description of the incident. This of course brings to mind the equally tragic shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.
For those of you not familiar with Utah, it is a predominately white, Mormon/Christian, conservative old timey sort of place. Yes, we do have our diversity in small doses scattered around the cabinet. I even have one black and two gay friends. Diversity!
The reason I point this out is to note that issues like what’s happened recently in Ferguson, MO don’t really hit home here in Utah. I feel outrage. I feel disgust. I feel sad. But I never feel like stuff like that is real. It’s all stuff that happens somewhere else. I’m mad it happens anywhere, but I’m very distanced from it. I know a lot of that isn’t just geographic. Hell, I’d be willing to wager all my money that if I went to a Panda Express with a sword strapped to my back the worst I’d get is turned away from the restaurant and maybe have my sword confiscated.
I once had my bag searched in the airport because I had gone camping and forgotten to remove my knife before flying to Florida. And don’t think I was a Wally Cleaver white boy at the time. I hadn’t shaved in a week, my hair was long and messy, and I was wearing what could have been a pretty decent unabomber costume. When the TSA found my knife after I had just told them I didn’t have any weapons with me you know what they said? “Do you want to mail this home or leave it with us?” That was it. I left my knife and flew through the sky like a dove.
Point is, I wasn’t even worried when the TSA searched my bag or when they found a dangerous weapon I had just lied about. Sure it was unintentional, but I had no reason to worry. I’m white. So when I hear about young black men being killed, it bothers me but it doesn’t have the full weight of reality. I think a lot of people in Utah feel that way. When 90% of everyone you interact with is white, racial inequality is something you have to make an effort to see and understand. It’s not something you notice every day, even when you see it. Then a young, black man is shot in the back and killed in my metaphorical back yard, and suddenly it’s real. It’s here, in my life. And it’s something I can’t take for granted anymore.
Now, just to be clear, I’m not making any statement of guilt regarding the specific incident with Darrien Hunt. I don’t know who the officers involved are. I don’t know anything about them. I will make a guess though that they don’t see themselves as racist. I will guess that they were a bit freaked out and acted more out of fear than livid, burning hate. I will guess that they have families and friends and colleagues who respect and love them and support them right now, and I will guess that they deserve that support. Finally, I will also guess that the reason they shot a man in the back has a little to do with the sword he was carrying and a lot to do with the color of his skin. And that’s the real dangerous canker we find in our society today. As individuals, it’s not our fault. It is, however, our responsibility to fix it because whether we see it or not, it’s part of our lives.