I got an email from Quentin Williams, and apparently he’s been busy.
Williams is a lawyer and former FBI agent who stopped by Central Piedmont Community College last week to offer advice to young black males about how not to get killed by police. He even wrote a book on the topic.
His central message: When in the presence of law enforcement, don’t do anything stupid (like making a sudden move) and “find it in your heart to be humble.”
“Humility, appreciation and compliance,” he said, can mean the difference between going home to our families or going to the morgue in a body bag.
Since his CPCC visit, Williams has been a guest on Charlotte Talk (WFAE) and was invited to testify before a South Carolina state Senate subcommittee.
Kudos. It’s hard to quibble with Williams’ overall goal to get more of our young men home alive. But “humble” myself before law enforcement? No way.
Let me state three things emphatically:
1. The men and women who put on the uniform to protect and serve us deserve our respect and compliance.
2. It is never in the interest of a resident to resist arrest or attempt to flee.
3. And above all, if confronted by an officer, even if you believe that officer is in the wrong, don’t be a butthead.
Still, something strikes me wrong about the notion that I (or any American) would be asked to “humble” myself before an agent of government.
As a black male who has felt the occasional sting of disenfranchisement, I worry about the message this sends to young black males. Would we burden any other race or ethnic group by demanding humility based simply on the color of their skin and their natural desire to stay alive?
We all can agree that something has gone terribly wrong between police departments and some sectors of the black community. But don’t ask me to fix what’s wrong by humbling myself. Racism is not a problem I created, nor is it a result of my haughty spirit.
Here’s another option: Let’s give equal justice a try. If a police officer would not rush into a Walmart and shoot a white man who’s simply shopping for a B.B. gun, then don’t rush into a Walmart and shoot a black man who’s simply shopping for a B.B. gun. And if an officer would not pull his cruiser into a public park and, within two seconds, shoot a white child who’s playing with a toy gun, then don’t rush into a public park and, within two seconds, shoot a black child who’s playing with a toy gun.
During his talk at CPCC, Williams told of his own encounters with police, even when he carried an FBI badge. Over time, he said, he learned to put officers at ease by going the extra mile — putting his keys onto the roof of his car during a traffic stop or putting both hands out the window where an officer can see them.
All well and good. But isn’t it a sign that something is horribly broken when such extreme steps are needed simply to ensure that an innocent black man is not shot?
I wasn’t totally asleep in my 4th-grade social studies class.
I remember reading about a lawyer and planter named Patrick Henry – a “patriot” we now call him. Henry is credited with swinging his Virginia colony toward joining the Revolutionary War by delivering an impassioned speech that ended with the words “…give me liberty or give me death.”
Lesser known is the sentence that came before Henry’s now-famous ending, when he asked the question, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?”
“Forbid it, Almighty God!” he answered himself.
No one with even an ounce of brain matter wants to find himself in a violent confrontation with police. But Patrick Henry had the right idea. As a nation and as a people, our basic freedoms must never be offered up in exchange for life itself, especially when both are our birthrights as American citizens.