Black, White, and Red All over

Classic dad humor. My dad used to ask, “What’s black, white, and red all over?”

Wait for it….

… A newspaper! (Get it? Read, not red.)

Hah. Now I look around our country, and black, white and red seems like a pretty accurate color palette. Racism, violence, fear and blood-boiling anger are being brushed across our landscape at a rate many of us can hardly keep up with. If you ever wondered what you would do if you lived during the civil rights era, stop wondering. This is happeningĀ now.

Black, white.

And red. All over.

This Thursday morning, mother of 26 year old Mario Woods was found weeping over the blood stained cement in the Hunters Point neighborhood where her son, Mario, was killed the day before. A suspect in a reported stabbing earlier that day, Mario was confronted and ultimately killed by 10 police officers. Over twenty shots were fired.

“He almost made it home,” she said.

Today I had to walk into school, just a few blocks down from where Mario was shot, and have a crucial conversation with my fifth graders. Some of my students had seen a video of the police officers shooting Woods. A few of them had no idea about what had happened, and were startled by the news. A few were at the scene of the shooting and witnessed everything.

In our circle, when one student claimed that he felt worried, I asked why. He said that since he was an African American male, he feared that one day this may happen to him. I nodded in response, anger welling up inside me. I knew that I could not look him in the eye and guarantee that as long as he stayed out of trouble, he would never be confronted by a police officer with the same hostility they showed Woods. All of my students have seen the news this year. My African American students (about half of my class) know that the stats are not in their favor.

In a letter writing activity to the Chief of San Francisco Police, one of my students wrote eloquently:

” Dear Chief Suhr,
I feel sad because your officers killed a person, instead of just thinking of a solution. And I know he did not follow directions, but they should [have given] him another chance. And that’s why I write this letter. Please next time try to solve the problem. ”

In my class, we talk a lot about solving problems. My school pushes students to be independent and to work really hard when they have an issue, rather than taking the easy route. The student who wrote this is ten years old. He comes to school and works hard every single day. He solves problems. Out of all of the perspectives I’ve seen on this incident, his is the one that has stuck with me the most; he presents an untainted worldview that is compassionate, yet rational.

God is not a solution. We can not simply pray for the communities that are affected by all of the terrible gun violence and police brutality that is going on. A nice gesture, but not a solution. It is not enough to accept that these things happen and hope that it will get better.

It is not okay to make the judgement to take someone’s life and later claim that the suspect lunged toward you. At KIPP, we do not accept excuses. We do not take the easy way out.

When it comes to death, there is no grey area. Put away the guns and find a solution.

No more red. No excuses.