I shudder with each death of a black man killed by a police officer. I often shed another tear, reflecting upon the times I was stopped, for little more than driving while black or being followed while shopping in stores. I’ve been stopped and searched far more times than my white colleagues and through intimate discussions with them, most simply can’t or won’t try to understand.
Sadly, I have grown accustomed to being profiled and treated like a criminal for no legitimate reason.
It happened during high school in Palm Beach County.
Following my freshman year in college it occurred when I returned to Florida.
As a young Army captain following my nearly five years serving overseas it happened.
On a cold rainy night in South Georgia I was stopped for speeding in my new truck. The young white police officer screamed and pointed his pistol in my face while my hands were on the steering wheel. I yelled repeatedly, “I am an Army officer.” He removed me from my vehicle and pressed my face against the hot truck hood. I never resisted him, but that situation quickly spiraled out of control until his supervisor arrived and acknowledged the big mistake. They quickly backed down and ushered me away in the rain while I sobbed for 45 minutes with mixed emotions; feeling lucky to be alive and quite upset that I was treated with such violence and disrespect.
As a more mature adult It happened again when we moved to Florida.
I have been overwhelmed watching video of Mr. George Floyd, repeatedly stating, “I can’t breathe.” No doubt that others who share my same skin tone feel the same.
I never met Mr. Floyd and don’t know of his innocence or guilt. I do know that no one in America deserves that treatment. No one.
This could have been me, my son, my nephew, my brother or my dad.
“The death of Mr. Floyd is deeply disturbing and should be of concern to all Americans,” according to the head of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo. “The officers’ actions are inconsistent with the training and protocols of our profession and MCCA commends Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo for his swift and decisive action to terminate the employment of the officers involved.”
We can’t bring Mr. Floyd back; but we can take steps in Tampa Bay to help ensure this does not happen again, not in our community.
We have seen this movie before, Eric Garner in New York, Walter Scott in South Carolina, Oscar Grant in North Carolina, Amadou Diallo in New York; Manuel Loggins Jr., Ronald Madison, Sean Bell, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling and others.
We are better than this. We survived a civil war, a civil rights movement and must embrace lessons from those significant periods of our history. We witnessed the death of Emmett Till, a dark period of segregation, strained race relations, violent protests and marches for equality. Are we headed back to that era?
We swear in young officers with far less training than our military members receive. We send them into our communities, often alone. Most make great decisions and do what is right.
Training, de-escalation and treating all people equally are key. Community conversations and respect for others are likewise key.
I respect our men and women that serve, protect and defend. They have a tough job.
We don’t want to awaken to riots and civil unrest.
Police officers should know that we are not the enemy. We pray for you daily, want what you want, and we all care about the same things.
Let’s work together and ensure meaningful communications and dialogue about tough issues. We can do this together, or we will do this apart.
Let’s self-reflect and consider individual positions that affect people we each know. I then ask that we come together to find the best solutions for our community.
I am a veteran, business owner, leader in our community and a black father. We can open our eyes and ears wide and help make things better, or we can close them and face the consequences of inaction.
Brian Butler is a retired Army officer and CEO of Vistra Communications, a marketing, communications and consulting agency headquartered in Tampa.