#DoNotGoBackToNormal


In my lifetime I have witnessed incredible progress for humanity.  The facts show a significant decrease in poverty and disease, with corresponding improvements in education, healthcare, human and civil rights.  But I’ve also seen us repeating the same mistakes over and over again. I remember Rodney King and the protests and riots that followed his beating by police.  I remember Michael Brown’s death at the hands of a policeman and the subsequent protests and riots. We now mourn George Floyd and we are in the middle of peaceful protests and riots. I’ve seen this play out on large and small stages: Anger, violence, some platitudes from “woke” CEOs and the same dribble from the same voices of the left and right. Here’s a question: How do we NOT return to ‘normal’? How do we NOT allow complacency to set in?

In my life, I have done stupid things. I’ve crossed the line of proper judgement and of the law. I’ve been caught speeding and been caught by police. Every time I’ve told them I was guilty and that what I did was stupid and that I was sorry. And you know what? They let me go. I’ve never been arrested. Never spent time in jail. Why did police officers do that? Not once or twice, but probably more than a dozen times in my 58 years? Because I was polite? Because I was contrite? Because I was white, and specifically a white male?

George Floyd presented a counterfeit $20 bill for a pack of cigarettes and was arrested, handcuffed and died due to the actions of one or more police officers.  I created and used a fake driver’s license to buy alcohol and cigarettes when I was 18 and was stopped by a police officer outside the liquor store.  I asked for forgiveness and he took the beer and cigarettes and my fake ID, and he told me to not do it again.  He did not handcuff me. He did not choke me to death. Why?

Ahmaud Arbery was jogging and chased down and killed with a shotgun by two men. If I told you Ahmaud Arbery was white and the two men were African-American, what would your response be? Don’t rationalize. Be honest. You’d be shocked for two reasons – first, that never happens; and second, because you subconsciously acknowledge that institutional racism exists.  I have three sons.  My friend and colleague Darnell Self has three sons and a daughter. Our families are alike in many ways. Each of our families spend a lot of time together, communicate openly and are extremely close; raised in faith; focused upon education and living a life to make a positive difference in society.  Do you think Colleen and I worry that our sons will be jogging and gunned down like Ahmaud Arbery because of the color of their skin? No, we do not. Do you think I fear that they will be pulled over by police and treated like Sandra Bland? No, I do not.  But Darnell and Traci Self do, and they have every reason to – institutional racism exists.

Law enforcement and civic leaders and elected officials – quite frankly every citizen -- needs to see that this is not about guilt. Slavery existed. That will never change.  This is not about science. White people and black people are genetically the same. We have the same biological potential to think and feel and live. This is about right and wrong. This is about fairness. This is about equal treatment under the law. You cannot “give the benefit of the doubt” to a white person and not to a person of color.  You cannot decide someone is evil or depraved or guilty because of their skin.  You cannot condemn them to death for doing something that is wrong and illegal because you view them differently, as worse than someone that looks “better.” 

When my white friends discuss “privilege” there is disagreement because they were born poor; because they worked hard and made a better life for themselves; and because their families never owned slaves. I have thought those thoughts and felt those feelings.  But it misses the point. It misses the reality.  We are white and that means white society looks at us without the same contempt and condemnation as it does for people of color. We could pursue the American Dream of advancement. Not easy but permitted. The same is not equally true for people of color. This is not about affirmative action. This is about how people view and, therefore, treat people every day in every situation. I was blind but now I see.

“I am not a racist” is deluded self-talk. It is simple-minded self-justification. It is a rationalization. Racism is not an intellectual exercise. It is how we immediately react when we see someone that looks different than ourselves walking towards us on the street and we stiffen or cross to the other side. That is why police offers kill people of color and do not do the same to white people. The animal part of our being has us react to things we perceive as different with fright or flight. When we see someone that appears in ways different than ourselves – the way they dress, the color of their skin – we make an instant assessment. Are they friend or foe?  But while we cannot stop this immediate response, we must recognize it and control it because we are not animals. We are humans. God gave us reason. Now that I have said that out loud, I don’t get to use my animal instincts as an excuse for racism. You must recognize that feeling for what it is – how animals behave.  We must all use our reason to gain control over ourselves as humans. We must NOT “judge by the color of skin, but by the content of character,” to paraphrase The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. When you think like an animal you act like an animal. You immediately assume a person’s intention and his or her character.  “That person intends to harm me, and they are evil.”  Seriously, stop for a moment. Let us move past the social justice crisis we face today. Let us recall how many people felt about people from the Middle East after 9/11. Or better said, people who looked like they are from the Middle East. Remember when a racist killed a Sikh Hindu man because he thought he was Middle Eastern? Let us remember how we felt about Japanese people after Pearl Harbor. We put them in concentration camps. And, of course, let’s recall how many viewed Asians at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic only a few months ago. Blame based upon bias:  judgement by the color of skin and not by the content of character.

When we hear calls to mobilize, strategize and organize to get out the vote, this is very practical. Fill out the census. Register to vote. Vote.  But it is also a call to do it differently. This is not about putting on the jersey of one political party and voting with it, nor against the other political party.  I’m challenging all of us to focus on the issues. If you want social justice… if you want criminal justice reform… if you want economic opportunity, then you must spend the time and know where candidates stand. Quite frankly, if you do not believe we have the proper laws, then get involved in ballot proposals to change or create new laws!

It is also important to profess that law enforcement is rightly hailed as heroic. What law enforcement officers do every single day is heroic. They put their lives on the line to protect our lives. That is why we hold them to the highest standard, a heroic standard. That is why reform in policing techniques is required in our society.

But most importantly: Do not go back to normal. Do not allow complacency to settle in. For more than 48 years, PPLSI has fought every day for equal justice for all. In fact, our founder, Harland Stonecipher created the name, LegalShield, in 1999 in response to the brutal assault of Abner Louima by New York City police. Every breath we take is drawn to fight for freedom, equality, opportunity, and justice. We are not in a business that waits for a tragedy and then pretends to be “woke,” making grandiose statements and issuing platitudes that end up changing nothing. Our LegalShield and IDShield memberships and our business opportunity change everything. The only question is how many people are we empowering and protecting today. That is a question for every associate. That is the question for your Servant CEO. That is the only question that leads to real change.

We must lead the change. It starts with us and it extends to everyone we meet. We must individually and collectively decide that love will triumph over hate. That unity will triumph over division; justice over abuse; equality over discrimination; freedom over subjugation; and opportunity over despair.  Together we will go higher. Together we will lead the change.

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