Previously published on THE GOOD MEN PROJECT
Race, Police, & The Bridge of Compassion
By David Leo Schultz
An accidental act of compassion two days ago is haunting and bothering me deep in my soul.
I was at a stop light, and I saw a seemingly homeless man who was bearded and bedraggled holding up a sign that read: Starving – need help.
I never carry cash, but on this particular morning on my passenger seat, I had four dollar bills laying there.
At that moment I did what I only imagine most of us do. I had a mental debate on whether should I give this dude my money. Maybe you can relate, or maybe you’re more gracious and giving than me, and there would have been no debate at all.
The debate in my head went as follows: What’s this guy going to do with my money? Is he going to buy food or drugs? Is he really in need or is he a con-man? Is he lazy and therefore jobless or is he, like so many of us, out of options and in momentary despair.
For no other reason than, “Why not—it’s just four dollars.” I rolled down my window, honked my horn and gave him the four dollars.
Now I’m not telling you this story to pat myself on the back or to have you look at me as anything special. Matter of fact there was nothing special to my act of compassion at all. The only reason I was even able to execute this random act of kindness was an accident. I never carry cash.
But on this particular morning, I went to the drug store and paid my purchases with my debit card. I swore that when the little machine asked me if I wanted “Cash Back” I pushed “No.” But when the Clerk handed me my receipt, he also handed me ten dollars.
As someone who is lazily trying to quit smoking, I went to buy a pack of Djarum Cigars. This is my John Candy/Uncle Buck way of quitting. Anyway—buying my smokes—I received my change of four dollars. The four dollars I gave to a homeless man.
But when I gave these four stray dollar bills—that honestly didn’t mean anything to me—to the broken and bearded man, what he did has me undone. And for the last 48 hours, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
As I handed him this meaningless money he took the cash with his hands, clenched the dollar bills tight, and brought them to his lips and kissed them. And he immediately started crying. He looked up at me and said, “Bless you.”
I was stunned. The only thing I had to offer such as response was, “Bless you too.” But as I drove away I knew I was the one more blessed.
I couldn’t explain it and I still can’t—which is why I am writing in this moment—to make sense of it all. But as I drove away from this homeless saint, I couldn’t help but think of the current climate of race and law enforcement in our country.
I know. It’s weird. I don’t know why. But that’s what happened.
Some of my favorite and talented friends in Los Angeles are black. And I’m not going to lie. I can’t stop thinking about how fortunate I am to be white. Because when and if I’m pulled over by a cop, I’m not nervous at all. And not just because I follow instructions, but because of the color of my skin. And I can’t help but think of my black friends, that they aren’t as fortunate, and not because they aren’t law abiding citizens who follow instructions, but because they have a different color of skin than I do. If nothing else my heart breaks that they have to do something that I don’t when they are pulled over, they have to be nervous and more careful. I hate that.
And I also have police officer friends. My wife’s cousin is one of the most upright, honest, and loving guys I’ve met. And he’s a cop. Even though I don’t know him well, I am in awe of him. He risks his life, every day, to protect others. Matter of fact my best friend in the whole world is in law enforcement, and like an idiot, he sometimes doesn’t carry a gun—partially because he wants to be like Sylvester Stallone—and partially because he doesn’t like guns.
My friend posted a training video not too long ago, one that describes what it’s like to have to make split decisions in the line of duty. He explained how terrifying it could be—no matter how brave or trained you are—to make those split decisions that can so often be between taking a life and preserving your own, or not taking a life and potentially sacrificing your own.
This is not an easy subject.
And yet, we all know—unless you’ve been living in a cave all your life or you’re an alien from Mars—there is an undeniable racial bias that permeates American culture and skews perspectives on both sides of the fence. It’s undeniable. Matter of fact, to deny that will only continue to keep you dumb, deaf, and blind. Can it change? Yes. And no matter how hard it will be to change, we must. But, even with the best and smartest strategies in the world, one truth remains, it will take hard work and time.
It’s been stated before; there are bad people out there because there is evil in the world. And these bad people exist—not because of the color of their skin or their work uniform and occupational status—the bad is much deeper than that, it’s a matter that defies race, ethnicity, religion, and sexuality, it’s a matter of the of the heart.
No matter which side you are on—and we are all aware of the Grand Canyon-sized gap that stands between the two—something must be done.
So far, as it seems, we’ve only tried to fill the gap with hate, shame, arguing, debate, on-line trials, journalism, memes, bible verses, protests, picketing, racism, blind defensiveness, and frankly the list is endless…
But what if, WHAT IF, we tried compassion.
I’m not talking about the smile-and-shut-up type of sloppy sentimentality that comes from turning a blind eye to the deeper problems and pain that bubbles beneath the history of racism and social divide.
But a down and dirty type of compassion that plummets you into the shoes of another.
The type of compassion that puts you into the history and skin of another.
The type of compassion that puts in the type of split-second decision making that could mean—if you make the wrong one—either you take an innocent life, or you lose yours. The end result could be that you both don’t go home that night to have dinner with your loved ones.
The type of compassion that allows you to hear the cries and witness the tears on the other side—the other side of the gap—the other side of the coin or the fence that you so vehemently defend.
The type of compassion that allows you to see past the color of a person’s skin, to see them as your brother or sister, a fellow human.
Matter of fact, to be void of such compassion does exactly that; it makes you less human.
To silence your ears and close your eyes to the pain of another is to turn off your humanity.
But, to allow yourself to hear the cries and feel the tears of another, to embrace the uncomfortableness of another’s plight and pain can destroy the pride within. It can make you realize, “Oh, yeah—I see what they’re talking about. And I more than see! I feel it! I may not—and will not ever—have a front row seat to what they are going through, and I may not have the answers nor will ever, but what I can do—rather than do nothing—is offer myself.”
We can offer our compassion. And as we do – we can watch as they take that compassion, grace, and mercy, and know that even if only for a moment they won’t feel alone. They will feel understood, and more importantly, they will feel loved.
But it will cost you, even if it’s only four dollars. At the very least it will cost you your pride, but it’s through your humility that you will also be blessed. You will be blessed enough to open your eyes and ears to the pain and cries of another.
So go out and love well. Even if it is by accident. As a matter of fact, let us all be accident prone in regards to loving our neighbors.
Because only love—not the romantic or sentimental kind, but a down right real-life-every-day kind, the compassionate kind—can begin to fill the gap that stands between us.
I love you all no matter what. Not because I’m perfect. But because I have been perfectly loved.