Life with Gracie: Yes, Zianna, it is a shame

A little girl, just 9 years old, wept last week as she talked about being black at a Charlotte City Council meeting.

“I’ve come here today to talk about how I feel, and I feel like that we are treated differently than other people,” Zianna Oliphant told the crowd. “I don’t like how we’re treated. Just because of our color — doesn’t mean anything to me.

“I believe that …”

She bowed her head and then broke down in tears.

If we could’ve somehow peered through her dark skin, we would’ve seen her heart break into a thousand tiny pieces.

It was sad to watch and even sadder knowing we — those of us who call ourselves adults — caused those tears.

For more than two years now, we’ve watched as video after horrifying video has shown police shootings of black men and did nothing.

Remember Alton Sterling, pinned to the ground outside a store in Baton Rouge, La., when he was shot in the chest and back at close range by police officers?

What about Philando Castile, who was stopped for an alleged traffic infraction in a St. Paul. Minn., suburb and shot several times by a police officer?

And the fatal shooting two weeks ago of Keith Lamont Scott that brought on little Zianna’s heartache?

I could go on but you get the picture.

We like to argue about the Black Lives Matter narrative, forgetting that the threat of police abuse has long been part of African-American life.

We make the argument that black men are thugs, forgetting it isn’t unreasonable to ask for a trained police force to enforce laws fairly and when they don’t, to put in place needed reforms.

We point to black-on-black crime and wonder out loud why no one is talking about that, refusing to admit that one has nothing to do with the other and refusing to see the damage the recurring deadly assaults cause.

Six days had passed since the fatal police shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte and the pain was still evident in the words little Zianna spoke, in the tears that wet her sweet face.

This isn’t an indictment against the police. They do too much good for any blanket condemnation.

But there’s no doubt we’re undergoing some fundamental shifts in our relationship with law enforcement. That’s troubling on many levels, but the big one is this, said William Lugo, a professor of sociology and criminology at Eastern Connecticut State University: We will have an entire generation of kids believing the police are trying to kill them, rather than protect them.

“This goes way beyond mistrust,” Lugo said. “These images could remain burned into children’s minds regardless of the progress that might be made over the next 20 years in policing and training.”

Zianna said she was born and raised in Charlotte. But until recently, she said, “I’ve never felt this way.”

“I can’t stand how we’re treated,” Zianna told the City Council, as tears streamed down her cheeks.

“It’s a shame that our fathers and mothers are killed, and we can’t even see them anymore. It’s a shame that we have to go to that graveyard and bury them. And we have tears, and we shouldn’t have tears.”

She later explained to NBC News why she was crying.

“I was just feeling like what the police are doing to us, just because of our skin, is not right,” she said.

“We are witnessing the growth of an entire generation learning very early on to fear the police,” Lugo said. “This is not a direction we want to move towards regardless of one’s political views. As this trend continues, the ravine that separates the community from the police will only grow. Zianna’s comments should be a wake-up call that this problem is being burned in the memory of the next generation, and not just the next news cycle.”

Last week, a little girl wept, saddened by the violence and our neglect to do something.

And yes, Zianna, we should all be ashamed.

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