My brothers committed multiple crimes when they were kids. They threw eggs at cars (vandalization of personal property), stole street signs (felony theft), and got wasted regularly way before they turned 21 (underage drinking).
Then there’s the time when one of them was driven home by a police officer after being picked up at a party, only to be so fucked up that he couldn’t get his key in the door. My charming brother went back to the police car and told the officer that he was just going to have to climb in the window, if that was OK, and the officer sat and waited to make sure he made it in all right.
You read that right: the police officer sat and watched while my brother broke into my parent’s house.
That was reality for my white brothers.
My black brother, who stands at 6’3” and has never weighed less than 230 pounds since puberty, didn’t drink in high school and even today won’t appear drunk in public. He never went out on the night before Halloween to toilet-paper houses or egg cars. Despite his size, he walks so quietly that I’ve turned around a least a hundred times to find him in the room behind me, having entered without my knowing it. That man is going to give me a heart attack some day.
He’s also my only brother — out of five — who was arrested while living under my parent's roof.
White boys get driven home by the police and paternally watched over as they break into a house while black boys get shot in the street as they make their way home.
His crime was driving in a rich part of New Jersey in our mom’s Prius, with her parking pass hanging from the rearview mirror. Apparently that was considered an “obstructed view,” or at least that’s what the white cop who pulled him over told him. After the officer spotted a pipe in the back seat — and it was nighttime, so you know he was looking hard — my brother was brought into the station and charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance.
The shame in his voice when he called our parents from the police station nearly broke my mother’s heart.
This is what pops into my mind when I watch the video of Eric Garner being killed in the street for selling loose cigarettes. It’s what I thought of when Trayvon Martin’s killer walked and when Darren Wilson wasn’t indicted. It was what made me want to cry when I worked with imprisoned teens in the Bronx, kids who were sent to jail for crimes like skipping school and shooting stop signs with a BB gun.
The rest of the world is waking up to the reality of how racially skewed our “justice” system is in the wake of the killings of black men for minor crimes (or, sometimes, perceived crimes) that have occurred over the past couple of years. Protesters are taking to the streets, chanting “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” in recognition of reports that Michael Brown put his hands in the air before Darren Wilson shot him, or Eric Garner’s last words to the police officer who choked him, “I can’t breathe!” They’re also on Twitter, with the hashtags #CrimingWhileWhite and #AliveWhileBlack.
#CrimingWhileWhite is a brilliant exposure of white privilege, highlighting the millions of times that white boys and girls, white men and women, have not paid for committing the same crimes that black people have literally been killed for. #is every single egg my white brothers threw, every time an officer drove them home instead of booking them, every realistic-looking toy gun that didn’t get them shot down at the playground.
The hashtag is also attracting criticism, with some people seeing it as a form of bragging about white privilege. Another hashtag, # , has popped up in response, bringing to light the everyday injustices that black people face in a racist society. #AliveWhileBlack is every time my black brother made his voice softer so that a white teacher wouldn’t think he was “scary,” every time he declined that last drink so he could walk home without drawing attention, every time he got pulled over for being the wrong color and driving the wrong kind of car in the wrong part of town.
Taken together, the two hashtags are the macro representation of the micro reality of my family: black boys and white boys are not the same in the eyes of the law. White boys get driven home by the police and paternally watched over as they break into a house while black boys get shot in the street as they make their way home.
Image from Thinkstock