I almost murdered a man once, and I would have gotten away with it. I’m reminded of that as the national argument unfolds over the cop who was recorded brutally arresting that young black girl in class. The cop who reminded us of an angry father shaking a baby. The debate over the the use of force settles its battle lines on the dog-whistle of, “What happened before the tape?”
Best answer on Twitter: “You got 400 years?”
Most of my conservative friends I knew in the Marines are blue collar people. Steel workers, mechanics, farmers. They just don’t see what all this supposed “white privilege” is getting them. They’re just sentimental for a 1950s culture from their childhood coloring books that show the kindly officer helping the little girl get her kitten out of a tree. But then again, they always used “flesh” colored crayons. A lot of them give any police officer the benefit of the doubt and absolute authority, while simultaneously stockpiling ammunition to fight a tyrannical government over their inalienable rights.
Last night as I grappled with my conservative friends in the Facebook comments while walking up Park Avenue to go party with Wall Street bankers, as I walked past two cops with a pocket full of Schedule 1 narcotics and not a care in the world, I decided to take an inventory of just what I’ve gotten away with from the police. As a well dressed white guy, I go through life flouting the law, from drug possession to felony weapons charges, knowing I’ll never get stop-and-frisked. My suit is too well-tailored for that. My shoes too shiny. If I’m ever in front of a judge, I’ll just say, “I need help,” and go to drug counseling without ever seeing the inside of a jail cell.
But my finest white-privilege moment was when I almost murdered a man with the full knowledge that, even with witnesses, I’d get away with it.
In 2010 with a gun to my head, the mugger didn’t know that I, this lilly-dressed white-boy with his earbuds in the middle of the night, was an ex-Marine. One who saw the trap and used those precious seconds to hide a deadly folding knife in his palm before he put his hands up. Who, with the gun pressed into his forehead, noticed what might be a plastic seam on the pistol slide. This young man with the imitation pistol was there for a grab and go, but seconds after he tried to run away with his loot he found himself face down in the middle of 119th St. with a knife to his throat.
And this was not your father’s whittling knife. This was a heavy, spring-assisted blade with a chisel “tanto” tip designed to penetrate body armor. Its razor’s edge, never once sullied by opening a box or cutting string, still factory sharp and waiting for this exact moment.
With my left hand pushing his face into the concrete and my right pressing the blade against his throat, I whispered in his ear, “Give me my shit or I’ll fucking kill you.”
He immediately complied and tossed the stolen phone into the street and began trying to wriggle and squirm free.
But I wasn’t finished. I was eager to carve out my pound of flesh. I didn’t even need to worry about witnesses. I knew that even though I had him on the ground and disarmed, I could kill him and get away with it. Not only that, I’d be paraded all over Fox News as the gentle veteran trying to get his education when the scary black man picked a fight with the wrong guy and wound up dead because #Veterans.
With the knife against his throat, I could hear the voice of my father, a lawyer, in my head: This is murder.
The cops knew it, too. After I let him go and went to the precinct, the cops quietly snickered that I should have “stuck him.” They even gave me back the spring-assisted gravity knife, of which possession is a class-C felony in New York.
Folks reading this might list all the ways it would have been legally justified as self-defense. “You were well within your rights!” They’re technically right. But regardless of where the law would stand, I knew it was murder and that I would get away with it because I was white. All I had to say was that I feared for my life.
All those cops dialing their PBA reps while standing over a corpse with bullet holes in the back? They know what I know: When you’re white and they’re black, it’s just so damn easy to get away with murder.