The conflict of a white trauma surgeon with a black husband

The police lights flashed, and the 2012 Yukon Denali immediately pulled over.

The police officer got out, and began to walk to the vehicle.  As he approached the driver’s side of the vehicle, he saw the large black man behind the steering wheel and moved to put his hand on the butt of his gun.  The driver, sensing the change in dynamic, immediately shoved both hands out through the open window and called out it was okay for the officer to approach the car.

That “large black man” is my husband.

I was just featured in an article in Forbes, and I was chiding Americans for not discussing end of life topics with their loved ones just because it is uncomfortable.  However, I am ashamed to admit that I have fallen victim to this myself.  Dr. Brian Williams, a friend and colleague of mine, recently had an interview on CNN that reminded me of my own failure, because I have not addressed this aspect of my life before now.  And this was consciously done because I found it to be uncomfortable… But no more.

The situation occurring in America now can not tolerate any more non-discussion because the topic is “uncomfortable”… So here we go.

As a trauma surgeon, I have a wonderful and unique relationship with law enforcement. We work side by side, and a day never goes by without some interaction between myself and an officer or detective. We testify at trials and all too often we take care of them when they are injured. I treasure this relationship with the people who keep us safe. It is important to me, and one that I enjoy immensely. However, I know that I live in conflict.

I am married to an amazing man who has been my best friend for the past 16 years.  He happens to be black, and I happen to be white.  Although I know him to be the wonderful husband and father that he is, that he has so many accomplishments both from the football field and now in law school, I also know he is “just” a black man to the police.

I fear for him.  

Right after the shootings occurred in Dallas, I called him with tears in my eyes, and reminded him to be careful.  To make sure his tail lights always work.  To not go a single mile per hour over the speed limit.  To do everything in his power to prevent any encounter with law enforcement…  Because I know that his 6’6″ 300 pound frame makes people, and especially the police, nervous.

When we were in college together, I got sick with a terrible stomach flu, and he took me to the emergency department.  It was 3:00 in the morning because he was in 2 a days for football and we needed to get home before his early morning run.  Shortly after we arrived, another black man, approximately 5’10” and 160 pounds, entered the emergency department with blood on his face and shirt.  Two police officers entered the emergency department about 15 minutes later… One white, and one black.  The white officer beelined to my then boyfriend, now husband and began to question him, while the black officer watched.

Which leads me to my point… How can we make this better?  How can we prevent more innocent lives from being lost-  regardless of gender, race, or occupation? Because yes, All Lives Matter.

It has been a campaign in inner city communities “If you see something, say something”.  This is an effort to encourage community members to tell the police if they see illegal activity, to make their community better.

Well, quite frankly this movement needs to move across not only racial lines, but the Blue Line.  Police shootings should be investigated by an agency other than their own.  When a police officer sees another officer acting in an inappropriate way, or begin to question clearly the wrong black man, they need to be able to say something- to that officer, to their superior, whomever.

Far too many young black men fit an unfortunate stereotype.  We need to educate, provide opportunities and invest in their future so this stereotype no longer exists.

We need to engage each other… Black, white, law enforcement officer and civilian.  We need to have these difficult and uncomfortable conversations, and even more importantly as Dr. Williams so eloquently stated, we need to start Listening to each other, really listening.

I not only see, hear, and understand both sides of the coin, I live them.  I am in pain over the losses that our law enforcement agencies have suffered, as I view them all as friends and colleagues.  I relive in my mind my own patients that I could not save-law enforcement and civilian alike.

And I also fear for my husband.  I fear that one day he will get pulled over, and won’t come home to me.  We have got to start listening to one another, trying to view this situation from a perspective other than our own, and most of all…

The Shooting Has to Stop.

I am the proud mother of 2 boys, who are biracial.  My 4 year old looooves police cars.  Recently we were in Chicago, and these amazing CPD officers (thank you!) happily engaged my child who was so excited to see their vehicle.  They invited him to not only sit in the car, but to turn on the lights.  My son still, over a month later, talks about this day.

It breaks my heart that if things don’t change dramatically in our country, that I will one day have to tell him some things that will change his love for those flashing lights.

Although I have never posted any personal pictures on this page before, and certainly not of my children, I am going to change that today, for a reason.  I want to leave all of us with some hope, an image of innocence…

The image of a little boy in love with a police car.

image

To my friends and colleagues in Dallas, to the victims and their families- my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Now, let’s all get uncomfortable, and change the conversation.

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15 thoughts on “The conflict of a white trauma surgeon with a black husband

  1. Sad. Embarrassing too, as I have family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances of all persuasions also. I think we just have to keep on trying to reach out, work together.

    Well here is something for your son. They have citizen police academies. I went to one and loved it. They allowed you to do a few rides with them on the beat. Saw all sorts of stuff, did the shooting range, Marine patrol, gangs, drugs, SWAT.

    Those rides? I choose during the day animal control. Safe. Some of my fellow academy recruits wanted Friday/Saturday nights in the roughest part of towns. Turns out a few of them went along on the wildest night in ages. Now remember, you are committed until shift end. They ended up going to the hospital with the cops with the rabble rousers.

    Gives you a new appreciation for humanity, all the way around.

  2. This is all so true! I am white but I feel blessed to have had a mother who taught me not to judge anyone because of race, religion, disability and so. We would have been knocked across the room for saying the ‘N’ word. I was also fortunate enough to have had a lot of black friends growing up. I make a point to look everyone is the eye and give a little nod, black, yellow or blue! That being said, as a white person I have also become fearful of the police with all the shootings. It seems no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary the police are almost always found to have justifiable cause in a shooting. I’m no cop, don’t want to be, too dangerous for me. I realize for them things can happen in milliseconds and a choice must be made, sadly though we have seen far too many times where that was not the case, such as shooting someone in the back or just outright smothering them to death while they begged for their life to no avail. If we continue to judge, the police and public, before Anything else the violence will never stop. I pray for our future generations and hop they understand that we Must stop killing our brothers and sisters of all races!

  3. Jamie, thank you for sharing in this difficult conversation. I’m so sorry for the burden of the extra nagging fear that you must carry around.
    I think your suggestion about the police not investigating themselves makes sense to us. But would you feel comfortable having your trauma M&M run by non-trauma attendings? Let alone non physicians? I don’t know the answers.

    • Great question – However, it would still be law enforcement individuals conducting the investigation, just from a different department or agency…I think a better comparison would be to have my trauma M&M run by trauma surgeons from another institution – and although awkward to say the least, isn’t a “bad” thing either. I think having a police department to investigate its own members, especially in as sensitive and as serious an area as this just isn’t the best way in going about it. I believe we can do this better. Thanks so much!

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  8. As a white woman living Ina racially, socioeconomically mixed area of Chicago, I have been the victim of black on white crime. five times. So can you imaagine I might legitimately be guilty of racial profiling.?….?….. The problem is complex. Certain areas in Chicago have high rates of crime, lots of shooting etc. Law enforcement is not respected. Policemen are human- they are afraid. , too. Sorry if your feelings are hurt but both parties share blame.

    • Mary, this isn’t about hurt feelings per se- it’s about the fact that two groups of individuals are downright scared of each other which is leading to more unnecessary violence. The question we should be asking ourselves is why do so many young black men fit a horrible stereotype? It is not because of the color of their skin- it is because this segment of our population has been ignored. We can not continue down this path, and we have got to start bridging this gap, or more innocent people are going to get shot and die. More wives, little girls and boys will be living without their husbands and fathers. Thank you for reading.

  9. Those of us who are white—& thus less terrorized when stopped by the police—must show people of darker skin the simple respect of believing THEIR experience: 40 million Blacks did not get together & decide on the same story about police. For a multitude of personal & political reasons, the terrors have happened.* Admitting what has happened is the 1st step down a very long road to making all our lives better.
    *Truly, this is not unlike millions of women admitting they had been sexually terrorized—& our shocked society not letting itself believe it was possible.

  10. The most important part of this piece is “conversation and listening”. Demonstrations and shouting may increase awareness but it does little to bridge the divide. As the adoptive mother of Asian children, we have frequent conversations about race and stereotypes. Teens are often not politically correct in their views but state the facts as they see them. These are the same conversations that should be happening with adults – without fear of censorship from either side.

  11. This piece really spoke to me. I come from a white, Italian catholic family in an equally white suburban town. I did not see these very complex and very important problems until I opened my eyes and my ears to them (mainly in college). It is so easy to live inside of a bubble, to believe that if the world were color blind it would be a better place***, to pick sides defensively, and to ignore the fact that as a white woman I do have a privilege. Until we all open our ears to each other and truly listen, we will continue to live in this violent chaos. If we have to pick a side, let it be the side of humanity. I cannot remember who said it but I once heard that “All lives don’t matter UNTIL black lives matter.” I cannot begin to name the amount of people close to me that have defended the “all lives matter” saying (regretfully even myself) without seeing how inherently wrong the phrase is. The thing is, institutionalized privilege can be so carefully hidden and so deeply embedded in society that those privileged are blind to it. But it is our duty to our fellow sisters and brothers to open our eyes to this privilege and to recognize that one population is being privileged to another populations detriment. We have to remember that human beings are all of equal value and worth. The day that we can look at another person and see them as another human being and not black, white, female, male, etc. is the day that we can truly move forward as a society. My heart goes out to you and I feel for the tricky situation in which you have been placed. I pray that your son will never have to change his view of those lights and sirens.
    ***I believe that “color-blindness” actually wouldn’t be a good thing for our society. Of course I think that we should recognize each other as fellow human beings above all else. However, it is nice to *celebrate* differences in race and culture (and of course gender, religion, etc.). After all we should be a salad bowl in America, not a melting pot. A tomato stays a tomato, and lettuce stays lettuce. But when their unique flavors come together they make a delicious and unique salad.

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