Today, as I remember George Floyd on the anniversary of his murder, I think about feeling a knee on the back of my neck as I lay on the ground prone, across the street from Washington Middle School, on a dark night over 35 years ago. I don’t know how many people reading this piece have ever felt a law enforcement official’s knee on the back of their neck.
The difference between George and me is that the knee came off in time.
As a Latino, I cannot pretend to understand what it is like to be a Black man in America but I can relate with the feeling of total helplessness during an interaction with law enforcement. I can surely relate with the feeling of not knowing if you’re going to come out alive on the other end of an encounter with a police officer.
I don’t hate the police. I just wish they would see us differently. I wasn’t a grown man doing anything illegal the first time that I was treated this way by a police officer. I was 13. I didn’t have a bunch of tattoos, and I didn’t have any type of arrest record. All I had was my address and the color of my skin. Unfortunately, both of those things consistently led to me finding myself on the negative end of encounters with Long Beach PD as a teen.
I wish they would see us differently. I wish they would give themselves an opportunity to know us because as I was taught by Father Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries, it’s harder to hate or demonize those you know. I don’t hate the police because I’ve given myself an opportunity to get to know them.
I currently serve on the Public Safety Realignment Team for the County of Los Angeles. On that same team are several high-ranking members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department as well as the District Attorney for the County of Los Angeles. I see these folks as my fellow human beings that are simply trying to do the best with what they have, just like the rest of us. I hope that the feeling is mutual. I truly believe that until all of the police see all of us as human beings worthy of existing, worthy of breathing, this vicious cycle of police violence against members of our community will continue.
Father Boyle has often said that community trumps gangs. I believe in this wholeheartedly because it was the Homeboy Industries community that helped me leave the gang lifestyle behind and allowed me to become a contributing member of our community. It was actually a community of other gang members that helped me through that transition. I also believe that community trumps hate and division. I don’t have the magic answer, but I do know that community is a big part of the recipe that will begin to close that huge division between the cops and the community. Accountability and human dignity are two other key ingredients.
I have felt many knees on the back of my neck. I don’t hate any of the men or the women who those knees belonged to. But I do despise the system that has created this huge divide between members of law enforcement and the community.
Jose Osuna is a formerly incarcerated North Long Beach resident who spent almost a decade working at Homeboy Industries before working with organizations that help individuals impacted by the justice system. He is a member of the Post’s Community Editorial Board.
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