Written by Justin Wilson, MD, Manheim Township. This piece was first posted on Sept. 24, 2020 on Facebook. Reprinted here with permission from the author.
I don’t often post much, and I definitely never post anything political or about current events. But now, I have been moved in such a manner that not posting my thoughts would be soul crushing and a serious error in judgment, given what’s at stake. This is going to be long, so bear with me.
First, I want to get something out of the way before questions arise about my feelings for my community and country. I served in the United States Army and was discharged honorably with the rank of Major.
I love my country.
Furthermore, even though I am getting a little “long in the tooth” for military service, the skillset I provide would make them happily accept me again for service, should the dire need arise. I meet all the weight and PT requirements they would require to join again, and I would do exactly that.
I say again, I love my country.
My family has given love to this country for many generations with military service – including my dad, uncles, and cousins – dating back to the Civil War, at least. Enough said?
I am a Christian man who gives to the church. I love my Lord and Savior.
I give monetarily to the community and volunteer my time. I love my community.
Lastly, anyone who has met me for more than a minute knows I am a kind individual. I provide healthcare to many. Anyone who walks through the front door and is under my care is treated no less than I would treat my own mother, regardless of whom they are. There are no race, creed, religious or sexual orientation requirements for that love, it is freely given.
I love people.
So, before anyone wants to criticize my right to vocalize criticism or say that I’m attacking/don’t love the country, I would hope that they have done ALL of those things, and would again step-up to the plate with service to the nation, as I would, before they speak. That being said, I would not personally criticize another’s right to express their beliefs in a lawful and respectful manner, even without having done the above. The only requirement I would have, if any, is to be a decent person.
Now, to the matter at hand.
My heart had been limping along for the last couple of months, but when that devastating grand jury verdict was released, it was completely shattered. I am not a man who cries easily (ask my wife) but I was brought to tears over the decision not to charge the police who killed Breonna Taylor with any serious crimes.
All the memories of Halloween costumes, Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas presents, they all come to mind. And to know that the person who I love so dearly in those memories could be gone in the blink of an eye without a sign of public outcry over this atrocity is, to me, both baffling and infuriating at the same time.
As I have stated, I love my country, but in a loving relationship there must be MUTUAL love and respect.
After today’s events, how can I possibly say that my country loves me as much I have shown it love?
When I look at pictures of Breonna, I see my own daughters. By a twist of fate, one of their lives could have easily been the one that was taken. I will not always be able to control where they spend their time. If they are in the wrong place at the wrong time, should I expect that they could be killed, and sit back and watch as their killers get to walk free without any ramifications.
This is NOT like being killed by some criminal.
Criminals are apprehended, or at least an attempt is made, and they face the criminal justice system. Hopefully, they will face it in a fair manner.
But, to have police kill a sleeping woman, and by all accounts, let her bleed out, is beyond my comprehension.
During my training at Brooke Army Medical Center, it was made clear to me by my instructors that if I did not take full measures to save an opposing combatant that sustained life-threatening injuries, if I didn’t fully service him – even if my intention was to help one of my soldiers who may have suffered a less serious injury – I was looking at a court martial and possibly even jail time. So, I am led to believe that enemy combatants across the world are entitled to better treatment than “citizens” in this very country.
Those police officers were given special treatment from the very beginning. The decision not to indict was a foregone conclusion, and for those of us waiting for the day that justice will be impartial, we already knew what it was going to be. I ask you, how can a justice system expect to operate in such a manner?
I also ask those who may think that they are unaffected by disgraceful acts of injustice, do you think that you’re immune? I have memorized all the episodes of Forensic Files, and those that get railroaded by the justice system are not only people of color. It is perhaps more common, and certainly in the spotlight, at the moment. But you simply need to watch that show to know that it happens to White individuals as well, almost exclusively ones without resources.
I think people mistakenly think that Black individuals want justice for us only. That could not be further from the truth. We just want justice – impartial justice for everyone.
For in a country, with a track record of denying rights and justice to a social group such as lower income White people who lack resources – combined with an indifferent attitude from those with more income, more resources – we know that Blacks cannot possibly be far behind.
So, what is my point? It is simply that it will take us all, and I do mean all (not including blatantly racist scum-bags) to achieve this.
Viewing color with blinders on is so easy, I do not think most people even know they are doing it. I have been told that I don’t tan. I have heard that Blacks don’t blush. My father has been told that even though he was dirty from a hard day of work, along with his White counterparts, that he could not wash the filth away because he was Black. And that was from someone close to the family.
I have had two young girls say they didn’t want to get on a swing after my friend and I were on it. “Don’t get on those,” one girl said to her younger sister, “those Black kids were on it.”
I have also heard that because someone is “big and black” that if that person comes up to give a friendly “Hello”, it is okay for you to pick up your child and run for your life. That was an actual event.
My wife was singled out, twice no less, in a church setting because of the color of her skin. “Oh, we need a dark person for our video,” was one event. And, from a White lady she had never met, and being the only Black person at a Bible study, the lady said “I see we share the same last names, but I know we’re not related.” How the hell does she know that?!
My “favorite” one is when I heard someone say that our pigment washes off in the shower. I’m an aspiring fictional writer, and I would have a tough time making that one up!
I went to a predominantly White elementary school where the “N” word was used behind my back, at first, told to me by a good friend, and then eventually in front of me. That kind of thing sticks with you. I could go on, and on and on, I have a virtual plethora of stories.
What does this all lead to? Dehumanization.
Therefore, it is very easy to simply dismiss the lost life of someone who has been dehumanized, and perhaps, take that same life in certain settings. You, of course, should know what I am referring to.
Those views are more ubiquitous than one may want to believe. If harbored by an officer of the law, does it take a great leap to think that this individual may have a very low threshold in deciding to turn a situation deadly, when the other party may not have been doing anything wrong, criminal, or certainly, anything worth a summary execution.
It will take reflection from everyone to come to terms with those feelings before we can move forward.
I often wonder if we were transported back 60 years, what side of the fight for equality people would fall on, with all other variables, like current race, kept the same. I think most would say, “Oh, yeah, I would certainly fight on the side of equal rights and desegregation.”
But following people’s comments now, I’m not so sure who would and wouldn’t.
I can’t say, of course, because I can’t see into their hearts, but I would want to ask them why they think they would have supported the Civil Rights Movement. It is quite possible they would follow the predominant belief system of the time, which was not that of equality. It takes effort, actual effort, to look upon, not just a familiar individual, but an entire group of people, with the same love that you would give the group that you’re a part of.
I say that because there will always be those that are thought of as, “Oh, you’re different from the rest of them. You’re ok, more like me.” That is not some crackpot theoretical thing. “My dad is racist against blacks, like Mayor Goode (the mayor of Philadelphia at the time), but he is okay with people like you.”
I have been told exactly that.
I cannot and will not be used as “that black person” who, because I am thought of as okay, or passing some metric in the person’s mind, they cannot possibly be racist because they have “a Black friend”.
We are said to be the ones hung up on race all the time. But, I can guarantee you that every time race has been brought up to my wife and I, it was from the other party. It’s almost like we have to exclaim, “Yes! We’re Black! We are aware!” If Black people are told not to be so sensitive and to just “get over it,” why can’t those who harbor these antiquated beliefs “get over it”, and stop first judging people by superficial factors. Stop judging period. You have no authority, and you will often be wrong if meaningless characteristics like the color of one’s skin is your primary guide as to the quality of the person’s character. This has proven in the past to be a deadly mistake for some.
What does this boil down to? This is not just a “Black” issue, and it does not matter what side of the aisle you are on, or who you vote for in November. You do not have to put out a “BLM” sign on your lawn – we don’t have one.
What anyone – and everyone – can do is make clear to your politicians and local law enforcement that you want fair treatment for everyone, not just the privileged or “x” group of people. Skin color does not even have to be mentioned, but of course implied. Is protecting the people (ALL people) and protecting the police mutually exclusive by design?
I think if you can look at a young woman, like Breonna Taylor, and feel nothing about her death, and simply feel happy that the officer got to go home and gets to live out the rest of his life care-free, then I believe soul-searching would first be in order.
In her, I see my two daughters and all the promise they offer the world. But given the wrong place and time, their lives could be snuffed out and my wife and I would be left without ever having the hope of an impartial course through the justice system. We would watch their killers walk free. And not only that, but we would know that there is a significant portion of the country that believes that their killers should NOT be charged, that they were justified.
I want to give thanks to all of those who have walked with us hand-in-hard from the very beginning. Yesterday, going into Target, I saw a White young lady walking in with a BLM shirt on. This was before the verdict was announced. I just said, that clothes and signs are not necessary for you to give your support, but seeing that just helped me to think that I- and more importantly, my girls – are not alone in this struggle. I don’t even have a shirt like that, and I didn’t know her, but I was really touched. Another young White lady I saw in Starbucks had a shirt that read on the back, “no justice, no peace”.
So, to those out there willing to stand with us, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
For those who hear my respectful tone, and still have a problem with what I said, you can comment, hopefully respectfully, explaining your position. But, I am honestly at the point where if you could say, “Oh well” or “Get over it” or “Her life was meaningless anyway” about Breonna’s death and resulting fallacy of justice, I would think, “Could you say that about me, or my daughters?” I
f that is how you feel, you might as well save us both time, forget the comments, and simply “unfriend” me. I will always be cordial and professional, but I honestly do not know how we could have a meaningful relationship, other than on a professional level, knowing that you don’t care if we die.
If your belief system is such that you think I should put another person’s life above that of my daughter’s, that my love for them should take a backseat, because someone has a difficult or dangerous job, I don’t see how we can reach a mutual understanding.
I do want to say I hope no one dares say I am anti-police. I honor their sacrifices, and when an officer is lost in the line of duty, I grieve for them and their family to the same degree. In that situation, however, the perpetrator, once apprehended, will get his due punishment.
Should not everyone have that right?
I still do not think that officers of the law should be immune to the very laws they are tasked with upholding, under any circumstance. No one should be immune; not a police officer, prosecutor, defense attorney, judge or politician. And if the laws favor them in this way, they cannot possibly be considered impartial and just.
The narrative that is being established is that a Black person or family does not even have the right to feel safe in their own home. If the police, even under the circumstances of a mistake or botched raid, need to kill you, then that’s just how it is.
I believe we are a very small step, given current events, from having even those that aren’t in law enforcement having the right to kill a Black person in their own home, “if need arise”. Can you see how the story will be presented as “a good citizen” thinking some criminal action was taking place. So, in the process of acting for the “good of the community”, as any “good citizen” would, he entered a home, which was defended by the homeowner, but had to return fire for his own self-preservation. It was unfortunate that the homeowner was killed in the process, but the “good citizen” was well within his rights to defend himself and should not face criminal charges. Then people would say, “This is just a tragedy all the way around, with no winners. But, no criminal charges should be levied. That person feels bad enough, and for you, THAT should be enough.”
As a Christian, I pray to God for justice, for all. But, when reading people’s comments, and I know many are those from people who would consider themselves Christ followers, I am honestly brought to a place where I have to wonder if we are praying to the same God. Or is it that Blacks can only pray to this God under certain circumstances established by “those who know him better.” In other words, by certain someones who serve as our gateway to salvation?
I am not asking for you to choose one life over another, such as an officer’s life over a citizen’s life, or the reverse. I am simply asking you to regard their lives in the same manner – as equals – both deserving of the life that God has granted, and that no one has the right to remove.
I quote The Lord of The Rings, when Frodo said that Bilbo should have killed Gollum. Gandolf’s response was, “Many who live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.”
I am a geek so I would like to quote another phrase. You can learn so much from children’s shows. On the first episode, and likely the last, of the Power Rangers that I saw, their mentor told them that one of their responsibilities was to never escalate a battle unnecessarily. I honestly believe that is what is happening today in many instances. Snap judgments are no less immoral and criminal.
I believe Christ’s teachings compel us to value and respect everyone’s life. Another philosophical question I would like pose to you is, “Do I even have a soul or spirit to save?” According to Dog The Bounty Hunter, I don’t. I do not believe that his explicitly expressed belief is unique only to him. Then the question becomes, if a person who has the legal right to kill, without potential repercussions, would they even hesitate killing a Black person if nothing thereafter for this person even exists? That person is simply being sent to the everlasting void, “where they belong!”
An important step, in my humble opinion is to go beyond self-realization. Those that harbor hate should be marginalized. And no, I’m not talking about controlling their thoughts. Everyone is free to believe what they want, and express those in a lawful manner. I just know from the short time I spent in Germany, and through the explanation of a friend who was living there, that those views would not be tolerated.
How would that apply here? In this country, those with racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic or homophobic views are still thought of as “salt of the earth, decent, church-going, red-blooded Americans.”
“Oh, they just dislike fill in the blank but they are otherwise great people.” Those individuals need to be challenged, educated, and told that those views are free to keep, but that social isolation is the recourse. I myself have had to reflect on a view which was not kosher. Loved ones have challenged that belief of mine (no one is perfect) and I was forced to change my thinking.
I think the best example of that was when I first started Medical School, and I mean on the very first day. The Hippocratic Oath was explained to us at some point that day. And at the end at the day when everyone was heading out, I happened to be standing with a guy who I just met, a Black man who was to become my best friend in Med School, and the topic came up about helping everyone. In my youthful ignorance, I heatedly asked him, “Even if it was a guy in the KKK?”
He turned to me and coolly stated, “If you have respect for this profession, you will.”
I was flabbergasted. My disgraceful sentiment was exposed and had nowhere to hide. I was a changed person from that day forward knowing that everyone deserves the very best I can give them every second of every day that I provide the care for which I was trained. I have no right to decide who gets my care and who doesn’t, potentially making an irrevocable decision about whether they live or not, which is not an exaggeration.
But, I know of some who would not bring the same type of integrity to their job. There is a firefighter in Ohio, perhaps volunteer, who expressed that he would rather save a dog from a burning house than a Black person. And, that is how people actually feel; he is far from alone in that belief. Without a doubt, there are those who would put the lives of animals above that of certain people. Can he, or someone in another profession where lives are at stake, perform their job effectively, FOR ALL, with those beliefs? Could I be an effective physician if I was willing to only treat certain patients who fell under my care?
I would hope all would realize that it would be impossible.
I want to remind those people that God created people, and yes, we are people, in His likeness. The solution that is most in order for those that stubbornly refuse to let go of that which is immoral, unethical and hateful will have to be to live on the fringes of society.
To simply accept their views – though, you may think that they are not your views – is being complicit with them. They, in essence, ARE your views.
I would like to relate a failure of mine which I would like to take back. I was in early high school and a friend and I were talking about giving up a seat on the bus to an elderly White woman. I was not thinking of it so much as a race issue at the time, I was just told to respect my elders, so I said I would give her the seat. My friend who was raised on the same principles, but, I guess, he harbored some resentment said, “But what if she was one of the ones who made Blacks move to the back of the bus in her day.” I know for a fact he would not do that now,. At the time I didn’t really say anything.
But, looking back with a much more mature and developed mind, I would say, “Yes, she could have been one of those, but we don’t know anything about her story. What if she walked with Civil Rights marchers and participated in sit-ins? What if one of her sons was one of the college students killed in Mississippi in ’64? How are we honoring her contribution or her sacrifice? We just don’t know. And, besides, it’s the right thing to do.”
No one said it was going to be easy, and people may want to cut ties along the way for taking a moral stand against bigotry. The lead pastor in the aforementioned church addressed race to his assembly and some actually left the church stating that race should not be addressed in church! I believe it was a tough choice to talk about it, but he made the right one, even though he probably knew it would cost some of his congregation. I applaud him for his love, spirit and dedication to just one of many moral issues facing our society.
This is not just a “Black” issue. It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you are on or who you vote for in November. But, ask yourself, “Would I be ok if this happened to a family member?” If the answer is, “No,” then it shouldn’t be acceptable for this to happen to anyone else, even if they are not related to you, even if they are different from you.
After coming to this conclusion, the next step is to clearly voice to those in power (politicians, law enforcement, judges, etc.) that everyone deserves fair treatment, not just the privileged or certain groups.
The killing of an unarmed, sleeping person is unacceptable and deserves justice.
I am writing this wordy monologue in effort to express my concerns over the state of this nation, from my point of view.
I am a veteran who is very disturbed by the current course of the nation and I would like to reach those who have shared my same experiences and those who may not have an understanding of the different treatments people who fall out of the “mainstream” receive.
I want those that live on the same land as I, with all the freedoms and liberties that the American flag flies for, to know that you can love and be proud of your country, but at the same time be very unhappy about injustices that a great many still face.
I hope my writing gave you some “food for thought”. I know for myself, I feel like a broken person who cannot go on at times. But, one look at my daughter’s faces and I gain the strength of “ten Grinches plus two!”
There is no room for defeat or capitulation when their futures are in jeopardy.
People may wonder, “What gifts do I have for the cause of justice?” I found myself wondering the same thing. I am not pounding the pavement on the peaceful protest front; they are far braver than I am. I am not organizing events; they are far smarter than I.
What I do have is a computer, a printer with paper, and a brain, however limited. I can write my beliefs and concerns to those in the position of power. And, the lovely part of this is that anyone can do it.
What can others do? I think a beautiful example is from the dance studio that our daughters attend. They have always shown us love, but they closed their studio for a time and made it clear that they did so for the cause of racial justice. That act, that one act, just touched us SO MUCH. They have our everlasting love and gratitude. They used that which was in their power to send a message. Any and everyone should do the same if they believe in the cause. I think Dolly Parton, the beautiful person that she is, is an excellent example of what steps a person can take in their business and personal life to show people that they have value.
I appreciate the opportunity to add my voice to the chorus of voices calling for the United States to confront a very ugly and uncomfortable side of our society and to move forward together with caring and understanding. As is evident in my essay, I want to build a better world not just for my children, but for children everywhere, of every color, creed and culture.
I refuse to simply sit silently and watch things happen without speaking up.
As Edmund Burke says, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Please stand with me in an effort to help change the course of our great nation for the better.
Finally, for those that still choose to unfriend me, know that I still love you. That love is freely given, and not something that I would be free to take away, even if I wanted, which I don’t. I am called by Christ to love my neighbor – not just those I love in close interpersonal relationships – but my neighbor, all of them. And that is exactly what I am going to do. It is there for the taking, whether or not you accept it. Thank you.
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