With heart pounding and palms sweating, I threw up my hood and climbed onto the flatbed truck. I knew what I was about to say was contentious, I knew it would make people uneasy, and I knew it would call out the police officers that accompanied us but there was no turning back. I stepped up to the mic and yelled.
“Put your hands behind your head! Now!”
The stunned youth reluctantly obeys the white officer. “What did I do wrong sir?”
“Don’t ask questions,” the officer barks, digging for the teen’s wallet. He looks over the ID and the questioning begins.
The teen has experienced this before and knows what made the officer suspicious: the dark color of his skin. For many people of color, these stop and frisks have nothing to do with justice and everything to do with race.
According to the New York Times, the N.Y.P.D. recorded more than 600,000 stops last year; 84 percent of those stopped were blacks or Latinos. It is easy to pin racism on institutions or the actions of a few but what about the countless times our silence, in particular the silence of white people, breeds the same racism as physical violence?
Many white people deny that racism exits, while many people of color experience it nearly every day. Race is not something that some people have and others do not; privilege is. Jesus stumbled and fell on his way to crucifixion under the weight of all our hatred but it did not crush him. In the same way, we must recognize racism as a crushing force and then choose, together, to stand up to its dehumanizing power as we walk the path of liberation for all.
This year marked the 30th year that Pax Christi Metro New York organized this walk following the fourteen stations of the cross. Yes, my words were so small in the face of the beast that is racism but if I can name racism when I see it and recognize when I myself am racist, then I am taking a stand to end the hatred and that is a long overdue start.