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An essay on power and the police

The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis this past May sparked protests nationwide, and even across the globe, about racism and police brutality. But for many Black Americans, more frequent and mundane interactions cause a permanent sense of fear. In this essay, author Dawn Turner shares her humble opinion on why the incidents that don’t make headlines need to be examined, too.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The signs of systemic racism often appear in small daily actions.

    Author Dawn Turner shares her humble opinion on why the incidents that don't make headlines need to be examined too.

    This is also part of our ongoing Race Matters series.

  • Dawn Turner:

    My nephew, who's Black, is 22 years old and 6'9". He's been stopped by the police twice for minor traffic violations.

    When he was asked to step out of his car, he did so with this warning: "I'm getting out, sir, but I want you to know that I'm really tall."

    In both cases, the officers smiled, taking in his height. My nephew breathed a sigh of relief. Both encounters were good ones. And yet we, his family, worry: What happens if he runs into an officer unwilling to give him the benefit of the doubt, one who simply wants to cut him down to size?

    Black people know that there are good police officers out there. We want to believe that there are only a few bad apples. But imprinted on our brains are decades upon decades of painful images of encounters with the police, officers siccing dogs on protesters. Rodney King being beaten, engulfed in a flurry of batons, and, in this cell phone era, videos of men, women and children dying at the hands of the police.

    We know that there are good officers. But we are terrified by the police, and not only because of the ones who inflict lethal harm, but because of the ones who intimidate, who humiliate, who wield their power in ways that may not cause bodily injury, but are harmful nonetheless.

    Black people, like everybody else, want law and order. And those who live in the toughest zip codes need both the most. So, even though we know that there are good police officers, they're not the ones we imagine when we sit our children down and give them the talk.

    They're not the ones we contemplate, even in our most desperate moments, when we have to decide whether our desperation is worth dialing 911. That's because we are unsure what type of officer will answer.

    We pray for the day when we encounter the police and won't have to worry about our height, our hoodie, our hair, our hands, or our blackness.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dawn Turner, we thank you for giving us that to think about.

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