So whom shall I fear?

2021 has been a whirlwind. The events of January 6 have forced me into an internal dilemma; what does it mean to fear in this country and in my town?

I watched people force their way into the Capitol Building and The Rotunda I visited in the summer of 2018. I know that this shocked many people. My urgent question, “Where was the fear?” Why wasn’t there fear in the form of law enforcement, in riot gear, despite some heavily armed protestors at our Nation’s Capitol Building? Where was the military show of force, weaponry and protection? Where was the social, political or governmental fear?

Less than a week before the events of January 6, as a country, we had seen fear. An Ohio court had ruled not to prosecute the police officer who shot twelve-year old Tamir Rice, and a Wisconsin court had ruled similarly for the police officer who shot Jacob Blake seven times. These rulings each said there was a reasonable fear and justified use of force. Is the fear of Black men, Black Women and Black children greater than what we saw January 6? I think about national events and wonder where our nation’s fear lies and what I am expected to fear and what I am told I never have to fear. I was in college, at Grambling State University, an Historically Black College/University in Louisiana when David Duke held and ran for office; I know racism when I see it. Brookline is not exempt.

My fear began in my childhood. My father’s activism brought death threats through postal and hand delivered envelopes. Sometimes my father was stopped and questioned by Brookline Police while walking our dog in our neighborhood. When I was one year younger than Tamir Rice and playing football with friends on an icy field, police officers told me I was lighting firecrackers. They asked me, not my White friends, for identification. When my White friends began to challenge the officer’s actions, he left. When I was four years younger than Trayvon Martin, I was told I “fit the description” in my yellow raincoat while walking behind my elementary school on the way to a friend’s house. Similar stops occurred after that but my last BPD stop was in December of 1998, at 5:45am when I was told I looked suspicious because I was wearing a trench coat in cold weather while walking to get my car from our off-street parking space. After revealing the many police officers I knew and that I had lived in the neighborhood since 1977, I was then told I should be happy that the police were watching my neighborhood for suspicious people; just like my father had been told while walking our dog.

I listen to my Black students, our Black students, Black Brookline High School students complain about similar experiences. I wonder why there was so much fear during a protest in Brookline that the Brookline Police called the Norfolk County Deputies Office for support in unmarked, riot gear. Recently, Brookline Select Board Member, Dr. Raúl Fernandez commented, “My concern here in Brookline is that we have had supporters of the president in our community and on our police force, or at least we did prior to Jan. 6, I hope that support has vanished in the wake of these events, particularly among law enforcement, because anyone who still supports Trump today and walks the beat with a badge and a gun is a clear and present danger to the rest of us.” I wonder why there is so much anger, that I equate with fear, about Dr. Fernandez’s words. Should I be afraid of people who continue to endorse someone who called the people in Charlottesville “fine people”? Should I be afraid of people who continue to endorse someone who told the insurrectionists on January 6 that he “loved them”? Should I be afraid that perhaps some of those who still endorse someone like that carry a badge and gun here? The town where Cawthornes have lived well and suffered racism? The town where my father’s coaching Brookline Police Officer’s children probably saved him from more racist interactions? The town where my going to school and playing sports with Brookline Police Officers have definitely saved me from more racist interactions? And, the town where I teach and was the BHS Varsity Football and Women’s Basketball coach have definitely saved me from more racist interactions?

When I am influenced to fear others but trust that there are only a small number of police officers I should fear, I wonder why those influences don’t match my experience in Brookline. I don’t live in perpetual fear here, but I know that I haven’t always been protected or safe either. Am I expected to forget my experiences? Do I wait for the Brookline Police Officer who doesn’t know me to be fearful? Am I to be afraid because I sit on Town Commissions and Task Forces that challenge the normalcy of racism in our Town? Am I to be afraid now that I have written this? Am I to fear that retribution may come at the expense of my wife or my daughters?

I wish the answer was simple. The answers I do have is that I am not going anywhere, that I stand with Dr. Raul Fernandez, and that my fears are real.