White Privilege in a Police Car
By DeeAnn Veeder
I almost posted it. A photo. On Facebook. My son and his friend. Both 13-years-old.
A policeman came to my door one Monday last November. We had just moved into town the week before, town being a village of 5000 people in the upper Hudson Valley of New York. The policeman was at my front door to introduce himself and the ‘Your Cop’ Village Police Program.
My son was home on a half day and his friend was over. They were playing X-box in his room. Last spring my son got crazy excited when we saw the new village police car; it’s a Dodge Charger, black, all fitted up with stuff, lots of stuff, a boy’s first-car dream. So I asked the officer if the boys could meet him and see his car. “Sure,” he said.
“Hey guys!” I yelled up the stairs. “There’s a policeman here to meet you! He said you can see his car!”
They came trouncing down the stairs. (Now I know how to break up an X-box game.) “What?” “Where?” “Here?”
The officer’s presence in the living room slowed them down a bit. But they pulled it together and walked calmly out to his squad car. The officer was kind, pedagogical even, and he showed us everything about the car and told us about his job.
They have a $600 annual allowance to fit themselves up with what they need. Before they can have a pepper spray, they are pepper sprayed at the Police Academy. They are tazed before they can have their own tazer. He was earnest about knowing what he might do to a person by feeling it first. I asked if he was shot before he could carry his glock. There was an uncomfortable silence.
After our Your Cop showed us everything in the front seat, the boys asked if they could see the back seat. The officer opened the back doors. The back seat and floor were hard plastic and sectioned in half. One half had bars. Both halves could be washed out with a hose and drained.
My son’s friend asked to be handcuffed, but the officer declined, telling him that it hurts. Then the boys asked if they could get in the back, and the officer said they could. They wanted me to take their picture so I took one with my cell phone.
There they were. Two boys who, by their very skin color, were able to learn about a police car and sit in the back for fun, as a joke.
I almost posted this photo on Facebook that Monday, because by my very skin color, I could do that, I could forget for a minute. On the very day many Americans, Black Americans and their allies, were waiting with desperately hopeful hearts, I almost forgot. I almost forgot the grief, this centuries old, wordless, gut-wrenching grief. On that night we learned it was all a sham, the Grand Jury charade in Ferguson, and that the whole systemic bullshit of this country was still strongly in tact. I almost forgot and posted a photo on Facebook of my white son and his white friend, posing happily in the back of a police car.
That is white privilege.
DeeAnn Veeder is an artist, writer, and mother of two living in the Hudson Valley.