Gun shots and privilege
On a recent Saturday as my wife and I rode motorcycles to Albuquerque, N.M., two people were shot in my neighborhood. According to my neighbors, dozens of shots were fired. Thirty-six hours later on Monday, Rita and I were getting ready to go shopping; I needed a new shirt. As usual, I was taking my time getting ready. Just as I found the car keys, gun fire starting ringing out again. At first I thought it was firecrackers. From my perspective, the rapidness of the firing was faster than even an automatic gun could shoot. I was wrong. Within minutes the streets were blocked again.
When things like this happen in our neighborhood, there is a period of everyone hunkering down in their homes, followed by a slow gathering of people on the corner. These gatherings are an interesting mixture of folks. First come the younger people, followed by the men. Then the mothers and grandmothers looking for their children and grandchildren, making sure everyone is safe. Finally, the news reporters.
After about 25 minutes of standing around and watching the police run back and forth looking for the shooter(s), the crowd started to dissipate. Before long it was just me and a couple of neighbors.
One of men says, “You know, the shooter ran into that house.” He points to where the shooter ran and was probably still hiding.
My response came instinctively: “Well, why don’t you go and tell the police where the shooter is?”
At this point it is important to note that I am white, the majority of the responding police officers are white, and the man I am talking with is not white. It is also critical to state that this man demonstrated no animosity toward the police. He was respectful when questioned and never said anything derogatory about the police. If anything, he was grateful for their response.
So his response to me was not what I expected — he turned and looked me in the eye, and said, “I have lived in the neighborhood for 16 years and I want to going on living here for at least another 16, so I am going to mind my own (expletive) business.”
For the past number of days, I have not been able to let this conversation go. It says something about my privilege to just assume I can inform the police about someone or something in my neighborhood and assume I will not suffer from any possible repercussions.
My neighbor had no vested interest in letting an armed person run around the neighborhood. For him, reaching out to the police and pointing something out was even more dangerous. He felt no assurances that he or his family would be protected if folks found out the he squealed.
Moments like the one I just described are very difficult for me. I didn’t ask to be white and I cannot stop being white. It almost feels wrong to talk about a privilege I have because of my birth parents. Until I, and people who look like me, fully own that we live in a culture that values whiteness above all else, we will not be able see the kingdom of God lived out.
Glenn Balzer is the executive director of the DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection) Network and attends His Love Fellowship in Denver. He blogs at glennbalzer.com, where this post first appeared.
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