There’s something wrong here

Published 7:17 pm Saturday, December 20, 2014

By Dennis Edwards

As a columnist and minister, I’m compelled to analyze and reflect on the implications of my experiences in spiritual and journalistic ways. On occasion something comes along that sounds warning sirens in both areas.

I had one of those experiences a few months ago, an example of how something has gone very wrong in Suffolk and in the rest of the country.

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Back in September I was driving along Main Street thinking about how many hostile people I’d recently encountered. Angry, confrontational and openly mean-spirited men not of color who don’t seem to realize it.

I was on my way to the post office when I saw a police officer in the parking lot. Here was a golden opportunity to find out whether his experience was like mine. So I pulled up to get my mail and pick his brain. I parked near the front door, away from the traffic pattern.

The officer, who is also black, said he too had noticed a rising sense of hostility among people in general. He attributed it to a bad economy. While we were talking, an older white man walked up to both of us.

Without saying “Hello” or “How are you?” he butted into our conversation to tell the officer, “You should give him a ticket for parking in that spot.”

Both of us were startled. But the man, who never introduced himself, persisted in a kind of growing rage. Maybe it’s because I tend to be a well-dressed, relatively articulate man of color who drives what some might call a high-end sports car. But something about me was driving this guy to distraction.

The car was parked legally. I reminded him of that. Yet he insisted something be done about me. “Give him a ticket.”

This stranger seemed to think he was entitled to accuse me and get punitive action on his word alone. The law was not on his side. Neither was common sense. But he thought the officer was obligated to act, simply because he demanded it.

He exhibited a strange sense of privilege emanating from deep within, from a time that won’t be allowed to return. He seemed determined to press his misguided point. I had to tell him to leave. The officer said nothing, because there was no violation of the law or parking signs.

It strikes me that the anger I saw in him is similar to what I see among those who favor what happened to Florida’s Trayvon Martin, Ferguson’s Mike Brown, Cleveland’s Tamar Rice and New York City’s Eric Garner.

It has the look of a total abandonment of humanity in pursuit of lost privileges.

This man seemed bothered by the fact of me. My presence, my existence troubled him. It felt like he needed to challenge a black man to satisfy some inward need. I’ve seen similar patterns in prime-time television and in movies. It’s as if white men feel a need to challenge black men to prove their masculinity.

Officer Daniel Panteleo, who jumped on Garner’s neck applying a deadly chokehold, seemed motivated by some deeply personal and unnecessary desire to put him down. Officer Darren Wilson demonized Brown while shooting him to death. George Zimmerman, a grown man almost 15 years Martin’s senior, actually picked a fatal fight with a minor in spite of police warnings to leave him alone. An out-of-control rookie officer fatally shot the 12-year-old Rice as he held a BB gun at his side just two seconds after getting on the scene.

Something is wrong with people who think they’re entitled to kill like their ancestors did during slavery. Something is very wrong when they lose their ability to be rational and allow abject fear to push them away from what should be their better selves.

Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter and anchor, He is a 1974 graduate of Suffolk High School. Email him at