His name was Darren Goforth. He was a deputy in Harris County, Texas, beloved by his family and community, and he was horrendously gunned down by a stranger as he pumped gas into his patrol car. Sit with that for a moment, if you will. While he engaged in a completely mundane and routine act, an act that is routine for most of us, he was executed. There was no time for him to defend himself, and no time to call for help. His death, without question, was tragic and terrifying. I can’t begin to fathom how the people who loved him can go on; their anguish must be so overwhelming.
Less than 24 hours after Deputy Goforth was killed, a man who is believed to be responsible for the murder was taken into police custody. I can imagine that this news, at least temporarily, provides some sort of relief to his loved ones. I imagine there must be some sense of justice for them, and perhaps it is somewhat helpful to have somewhere to focus their anger. What we know about this suspect is that he has a criminal history. And we know that he is black.
I want to be able to say that the races of these two men is inconsequential. I want to say with certainty that Goforth’s profession and whiteness had nothing to do with why the suspect chose him. And that may prove to be true. Yet already, the Harris County sheriff is speculating that the Black Lives Matter movement is somehow responsible. Already, social media is exploding with outrage, with so many people believing this murder happened because blacks have been picking on police officers. I want to be very clear, we should, indeed, be outraged over this murder. But it is only one thing in a long list of things that we should be outraged over.
I have seen the ridiculous comments making the rounds: Black Lives Matter is a terrorist group; this is all Obama’s fault; Notice how no white people are rioting? These comments, although certainly outrage-inducing, are easy to dismiss in their absurdity. What I have a more difficult time dismissing, though, is the large group of people who seem completely incapable of seeing any legitimacy to the claims of people who say they are suffering at the hands of the police.
I know that sometimes people will admit that there are “some bad cops” on every police force. Semantics aside, of course, that statement is true. And of course, it is also true that police officers have incredibly difficult jobs. They frequently deal with people who are putting their worst behavior on display, and I don’t think anyone would dispute that they have to put themselves in entirely dangerous situations. It is also true, though, that our gratitude for their service has been replaced by blind hero worship. We have placed their profession in such high esteem, it is no wonder many of us willingly excuse any and all behavior committed at their hands.
Regardless of why an individual decided to kill Deputy Goforth, I am saddened by his death. And I am saddened by the deaths of Oscar Grant, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, and the countless other black individuals who were unarmed, but still ended up dead because of the actions of a police officer. I know it is possible that some people, perhaps even the murderer himself, may think Goforth’s death was deserved, believing it to be some sort of comeuppance. Frankly, that belief is despicable. Equally despicable, though, is not becoming angry or even questioning when an officer takes the life of an individual under questionable circumstances.
I am not personally involved with the Black Lives Matter movement, but I believe in its necessity. I also believe in the necessity of some type of law enforcement body. I don’t believe these two things have to be separate, and I am hopeful that someday there are enough people listening and acting so that real changes come about. For right now, though, we still live in a time when some parents have to tell their children that their skin color is a threat; their blackness automatically arouses suspicion. They have to teach their children how to grow up and not get killed. If that fact is not upsetting to you, if you deny that it is a reality, then you very clearly make the case for why we need Black Lives Matter. Sit with that for a moment, if you will.