What If He Had Been White?

It happened over a week ago, on March 1st, in Boulder, Colorado.  Zayd Atkinson was minding his own business, picking up trash on his own property.  Suddenly a police officer approached him to ask who he was, why he was there, what he was doing, as if he were an interloper or a suspect in some crime.  The officer pulls his gun, although he doesn’t point it directly at Zayd, and soon the officer is joined by seven other officers.  Did I mention that Mr. Atkinson is African-American?  Did I even need to mention that?

At couple of Zayd’s neighbors were in the area, saw what was happening, and tried to tell the officer that he was only picking up trash, that he lived there.  One even happened to film the incident.  The officers ultimately walked away, after checking his identification and were finally convinced that Mr. Atkinson did, indeed live there, and that he was not holding a lethal weapon, but one of those trash-picking-up-stick-thingies.  The video Mr. Atkinson’s neighbor filmed went viral and public outrage was fierce.

According to Boulder Police Chief Greg Testa …

“This is a very concerning issue, and one we’re taking very seriously.  All aspects of this incident, specifically the actions of the initial officer, are being investigated.”

Okay, so there you have the facts.  I am glad that the police department is taking the matter seriously, if in fact they are, but will withhold judgment on that until their investigation is complete and we see what, if any, action they take.  But I do have a couple of questions.

First, if the officer had noticed Mr. Atkinson in the yard with the long stick and a bucket, and if Mr. Atkinson had been pale-skinned, would the officer have even given it a second thought?  Would he have walked over to Mr. Atkinson, pulling his pistol out of its holster?  Folks, we can all answer this question without even thinking about it.  It was a nice neighborhood and Mr. Atkinson is black.  In the officer’s mind, no doubt that did not add up, Mr. Atkinson could not possibly have belonged there, and holding a stick, too!

Second question I have is, if the video filmed by Mr. Atkinson’s neighbor had not quickly been seen nationwide, would the Boulder Police Department be investigating now?  Was the investigation launched, not as a matter of due process or justice for Mr. Atkinson, but as a result of coverage by both local and nationwide (CNN, The Washington Post) media outlets?  I think we probably know the answer to that one, too.

Chief Testa said the investigation could take months.  Why?  He says the officers were all wearing body cams, plus there is the ‘unofficial’ video by the neighbor.  The incident only lasted sixteen minutes.  Why should the investigation take ‘months’?  The officer who initiated the contact and drew his weapon has been “placed on administrative leave”, almost certainly with pay.

Racist incidents take place in every state in this nation, but coincidentally, there was yet another in Colorado the same week the officer harassed Mr. Atkinson.  This time, a home in Denver, owned by Ken Jenkins, an African-American man, was sprayed with racist graffiti, including an image of a lynching scene and the N-word, that was scrawled all over the front of the home.

Mr. Jenkins said he is leaving it up for a little while …

“I felt like if I painted over this, it makes everything go quiet and it just kinda fades out like everything else does. We will have this removed at some point, but we wanted the community to be able to have a conversation about it and leave it up for a little while.” 

Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks said …

“This isn’t an isolated incident. This is the world we’re living in.”

These two incidents are just another in a long string of such incidents by both law enforcement and private citizens, but unless we shine a bright light on these incidents every time they happen, then they fade into the background and before we know it, will become the norm, “just one of those things” that everybody accepts as “the way things are”.  I’m not willing to allow that to happen, which is why I wrote this today.  Awareness is key.  Protesting such atrocities is key.  We will not turn away or bury our heads in the sand, but we will speak up and speak out whenever we can and as loudly as we can.bigotry