I am writing this very late at night, especially for me...two nights a month I meet with six other Planning Commissioners for our county and sort out land use situations. For the most part it is interesting, and useful. I think we are a helpful group, we keep people from having a land fill in their front yard, too many cats in their homes and we keep businesses where they belong, doing what they are supposed to do.
It's not usually exciting, the items come along, and we deal with them with the help of the full time planners for the county. There are lots of rules to follow, and we do our best. Occasionally neighbors get together with torches and pitchforks and cause a big scene...but usually we hear an item, make a decision and vote on it...next...
Tonights meeting was really long...but we finally finished and the last order of business was public comment. Very few times has anyone stayed for the whole meeting......whole, long meeting....to offer anything for public comment. But tonight someone did.
A man came to the podium introduced himself and told a sad story of problems and then redemption. But then he looked at us and said that he had been recently stopped, or pulled over, whatever you want to call it. He panicked and ran. Now all the trouble he had put behind him was with him again. All because he ran. The sorrow in his face was palatable, he was so sorry...but it was done, and now he had no idea where to turn. Our chairman explained we couldn't help, we are land use board. He gave him ideas about who might be able to help him, but explained our limitations.
And then he said the worst thing of all....."No one can help me, no one hears me. I don't have money or influence......" He was simply hopeless. And I was profoundly changed.
The exchange that went on after that was unthinkable. My dear friend and fellow planning commissioner told of the eight times he had been pulled over for no reason. Simply being black...he told the man at the podium how his father had warned him that it would happen in his life and how to react when it did. What? Eight times? Cliff? What? Does this really happen?
Please know I am bright white, I am Nordic white...the extent of the prejudice I have experienced is some bad blond jokes and a few polygamy jokes - I am Mormon...I hate polygamy jokes, but it isn't even worth mentioning in this context. I felt so many different emotions in that few minutes..., acrimony, outrage, incredulous-ness (is that a word?) but I settled on sadness. I was sad that it happened, sad that he was back where he started after doing all he could to change. Sad that he wasn't able to explain to anyone who would listen that he had changed, and even hope they would believe him.
He was stuck. Stuck being black with a record.....and I guess for that there isn't redemption. I guess he doesn't get to change. No matter what he does he is going to be black with a record...someone who can't be trusted, someone who can't move on, someone who is judged and found guilty.....of being black with a record.
I saw him face to face. I saw the pain, and the hopelessness. And I hurt. But he is wrong about not being heard. I heard him, and no matter what he changed me. Staying for that whole, long boring meeting was worth it for a bright white girl to feel some of his pain...and be changed