On a Sunday evening in early March, I arrived to find a police officer parked in my workplace’s garage. I stopped as soon as I saw his car and honked to get his attention. He jumped out of his car, ran to mine, and pointed his gun at my head. Just like that. So quickly. He didn't believe it when I told him I owned the building.
I am a family doctor for refugees in Aurora, Colorado, and I drive to that building every day to work with my patients. But he is white, and I am brown, from India. I believe his treatment of me was influenced by my color, and that he pulled his gun too fast. I believe things would have definitely been worse if I were darker, and better if I were lighter. This is the unfortunate truth. We have a culture of police brutality in America, especially towards people of color. There are many recent examples from Aurora, now including mine.
When we watch three police officers escalate a walk home into a chokehold death, we have a culture problem. When those three are cleared by a District Attorney, we have a culture problem. When we see three more reenact the chokehold, we have a culture problem. When four police put a 6-year-old girl and her sisters face down on the pavement, guns drawn, we have a culture problem.
When the officer pointed a gun at my head in my own driveway, it was a reflection of that culture problem. And for every one of those terrible viral videos, there are 100 more that aren’t recorded. This is a culture problem.
The police officer who threatened me was suspended for 40 hours. That suspension, in my opinion, is insignificant for pointing a gun at someone’s head, and with that action, for a moment, threatening to take my life.
And in all honesty, I don’t think what’s been done helps. Even firing a few police officers who did harm won’t help. Internal Affairs Investigations don’t help when their charades are readily overturned by Independent Review Boards. Creating Civilian Oversight Boards doesn’t help when they hold no power over the Police Unions. City Council won’t help when their only tool is a new Chief cut from the same cloth. Cultural sensitivity trainings don't help.
Ending qualified immunity helps. According to Forbes, “In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court created qualified immunity, which shields officers from any legal liability, unless the rights they violated were ‘clearly established.’ Thanks to qualified immunity, countless victims have been unable to vindicate their civil rights in federal court.” It is a pioneering step in Colorado, and one that may slowly change the culture. Because that’s the real solution: changing the culture and then the laws.
Our nationwide debates are strawmen in a field where the whole crop has gone bad. And when your whole crop is bad, you need to look at the climate: We need to face that the police reflect us, the country.
My older friends insist they earned their successes all through hard work, downplaying their skin color and overlooking their family property stolen from indigenous people. Such vestiges of colonialism can be found in many countries in the world. The United States was founded on enslaving Black people, and has not come far enough since.
My parents were born under British rule in India, a country that fared the opposite of the United States since colonialism. I was born in Canada, but have lived most of my life in America. I tried hard to fit in, even earning my Boy Scouts of America Eagle rank before I became a United States citizen. Still, I have always felt like an outsider, never fitting in, regardless of where I am.
I am now a family doctor for refugees, people who fled to safety, only to find danger Colorado where police officers can point guns at people parked in a garage.
We are far from a land of the free.