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A Black Lives Matter protestor in Downtown Minneapolis. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Kevin Paul

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I grew up in the backseat of a cop car. 

For all but the last six months of my life, my father has been a dedicated member of the Baton Rouge Police Department. His long (and often weird) hours became so normal to me, for a good chunk of my younger years I legitimately thought he was nocturnal. He would normally wake up and go to work around the time I finished my homework, and would usually get home when I was still at school. The days when he would pick me up were extra special, because it meant either he was actually off and I could spend more time with him, or that he was taking time out of his busy work schedule just to see me.

Thus, I gained a healthy respect for law enforcement at a young age. Many of my dad’s co-workers became de facto aunts and uncles. I thought nothing of sitting in the back of a squad car or walking into a police precinct; that was the only thing I knew for a very long time.

However, none of my dad’s diligence could change the racial climate in Baton Rouge. It has been toxic for a while now: essentially a hot powder keg sitting on the Mississippi River. Anyone with half a brain knew it would only take one event, one action, one motion to force a city-wide conversation.

Unfortunately for Alton Sterling and his family, he got six of those “motions” fired into his body this week.

Mr. Sterling was a citizen just like you and me. When the police were called to his location after a complaint, they tased and pinned him to the ground before ultimately shooting him fatally. The same police force whose mission is, per their website, “to prevent crime and to promote the safety and well-being of all.”

My dad’s defining story of his time with BRPD came from his second day on the job. A woman came to him and said a man had stolen her purse and was running away. He thought to himself, “What am I supposed to do, I just started, etc.” But he realized that by simply wearing the uniform, he was immediately held to a higher standard. My father made the choice a long time ago answer this call. However, as we’ve seen recently, many of my father’s peers have rejected this call.

What’s funny is that, even as a decorated member of BRPD, my father would always tell me to watch myself whenever left the house.

“Be safe. Some of these cops out here are idiots.”

Every weekend for the past six years he’s told me that, and every weekend he’s meant it. Think about that. A long-tenured and well-respected veteran of the police department of a capital city has to tell his son to protect himself… simply because the police can’t be trusted to do it for him.

I say all of that to say this: law enforcement has repeatedly failed the black community, is currently failing the black community, and if trends continue, will continue to fail the black community long after any of us are gone. When police officers swear the oath to serve and protect, they are called to swear it for all citizens. Period.

My Black Life Matters: in Baton Rouge, in Tuscaloosa, in the United States and anywhere else I might go. Often, the trite phrase “All Lives Matter” gets uttered whenever black lives are mentioned. And to an extent, I agree: all lives do matter. But it seems as if “all lives matter” only when it becomes evident that black lives do not.

Don’t tell me that all lives matter only when you want to silence, belittle or ignore black people. I want you to see race. I want you to recognize, accept, and embrace my blackness. I want you to be an ally in the fight against racial inequality. I want you to be a soldier for the marginalized, the oppressed and the left behind.

If “all lives matter,” prove it.

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