With all the protests, demonstrations, die-ins, speak-outs, and sit-ins happening across the country as of late in response to the growing awareness and impatience with police violence and systemic racism, it’s nice to know there are a few good cops out there who get it. Conservative and racist as the state of Pennsylvania can sometimes be, there must also be something in the air there that helps some of its police officers step forward and stand up for what’s right.
Officers such as Capt. Ray Lewis out of Philadelphia are a rare and beautiful breed. Capt. Ray has demonstrated on behalf of love, equality, and anti-violence for years at this point, and has brazenly worn his uniform in the public eye to do it. And now Pittsburgh has a police officer it can be proud of – Police Chief Cameron McLay.
As encouraging and heartwarming as it can be to see McLay embracing responsibility for complicity in systemic racism as a white police officer, he is causing quite a stir and receiving quite a backlash from the conservative right, especially from dubious publications such as the Tea Party News Network (TPNN).
And what has their tea strings all in a knot? A simple picture of Chief McLay holding a sign reminiscent of Capt. Lewis. The sign simply reads:
RACISM @ WORK
Isn’t that wonderful? And Chief McLay holds the sign with a grand smile on his face.
It should be noted here, however, that McLay didn’t make up his sign and head out to a local demonstration as Capt. Lewis does all across the country. Chief McLay held up the sign for a photo op at the request of the activist collective Fight Back Pittsburgh.
Now, whether McLay really means and acts on that or not aside, at the very least he understands that such actions are what is necessary to help the country heal and come together in order to work out a more harmonious future – a future resonating with something more akin to equality and justice. Just the public act McLay is committing is enough to begin the process, and it should be celebrated, encouraged, embraced and commended.
Unfortunately, our conservative media friends have very different feelings.
For example, TPNN writes regarding McLay and his sign:
Our nation’s police are under fire and the match was lit by Barack Obama, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, activist Attorney General Eric Holder, and Communist New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, formerly known as Warren Wilhelm, Jr. Police officers have been called racist and accused of being the KKK. They have been assassinated, beaten, shot at, and threatened. That makes this police chief holding this particular sign even more baffling.
More knee-jerk white guilt reactions followed the sane and simple act. FOP President Howard MCQuillan stated in an interview with KDKA:
The chief is calling us racists. He believes the Pittsburgh Police Department is racist. This has angered a lot of officers.
What McQuillan fails to understand is his own utter failure at understanding what racism is. There is no doubt in the equation. Police departments are factually racist, 100 percent. They are one oppressive arm of the body of systemic racism. What McQuillan is reacting to is actually the emotion of being angry that he believes he is being called prejudiced or a bigot. That is an entirely different conversation and assessment that would have to be determined on an individual by individual basis amongst any police department.
But that’s not what Chief McLay’s sign is about. There is a difference between “racism” and “prejudice” and it is that misunderstanding that leads to so many flare-ups and miscommunication gaffes in the larger dialogue around racism in this country. McLay’s sign addresses the FACT that the American system, as a whole, uncontestably was set up and designed to benefit white men and that it is the responsibility of white men to be aware of that and work to rectify that, to change the system as they operate within it, to work toward true equality and justice in order to eventually fix the flaws in the system so that it ultimately becomes designed for all people equally. Because McLay is a police officer, his sign refers to his profession specifically, but it could have just as easily been any other profession.
Contrarily, McLay’s sign and gesture in NO WAY suggests that the entire Pittsburgh Police Department is prejudiced or made up of a bunch of bigots. It’s not a personal attack, if you understand the difference between racism and prejudice. It’s a general recognition of the American system and an acknowledgement that responsibility falls on especially white men to be aware of that, and to work toward changing it. That’s all.
Because of the backlash, however, from folks who are too emotional to take the time to learn and understand the difference, Chief McLay issued the following response:
I was hired to restore the legitimacy of the police department. I did not seek these young activists out. I was stopping for coffee at First Night. Their message is not anti-anybody. It is simply a call for awareness. The photo was a great, spontaneous moment in time. Please join dialogue for community healing.
Chief McLay also stated in an email to the FOP:
I saw no indictment of police or anyone else in this sign, but I do apologize to any of you who felt I was not supporting you; that was not my intent.
By those statements, it does seem McLay, himself at least, understands the difference between racism and prejudice, and that comes as a great relief to the public, and those demonstrating not only across the country, but around the world.
All we really need is education and a willingness on the part of white folks to admit not that they are bad people, not to take on the stigma that they are prejudiced bastards, but simply to acknowledge that the American government was set up initially to recognize and benefit solely white males. That is historically proven, and the system has only grown out of that from there. Have we improved the system over time? Yes, but that doesn’t mean it is anywhere close to fixed.
We still have a long way to go. If we can only just acknowledge that, we can link arms and march forward toward a beautiful future, together.
Featured image: Fight Back Pittsburgh