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A matter of perspective (opinion)

By Don Dike Anukam
Reno's Black Lives Matter protest in 2017.

Submitted by Don Dike-Anukam

Don Dike-Anukam
Don Dike-Anukam

This has been a very difficult week for race relations in this country, namely because of several ongoing issues. I’ll start with the recently-released cell phone footage of now former Franklin Templeton Investments Vice President and Head of Investment Solutions Amy Cooper having an encounter with birdwatcher Christian Cooper (no relation) in New York City’s Central Park.

At the time the video was shot, Amy Cooper was in the park with her unleashed Cocker Spaniel, which she’s reportedly since given up, when Christian Cooper asked her to leash the animal. The interaction quickly escalated into a confrontation that may have lasting effects on both Coopers’ lives.

The dispute began when Christian asked Amy to put her dog on a leash. In the video he recorded of the incident, she can be heard telling him, “I’m taking a picture and calling the cops. … I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”

That moment bothered me more deeply than any in recent memory, mainly because I’ve seen that perspective before and I’ve seen that moment happen to me.

I could immediately put myself in Christian’s shoes. Where I’ve been simply pointing out a wrong someone else is committing, offering to help, or just coming into close proximity (unaware)—without any thought of race, sex, class or any perspective—then had the offender or the person attempt to introduce a race-based dynamic to the situation as a way to potentially get me to submit, back off, or harm me.

Amy Cooper’s assertion that she’d be telling the police she was being threatened by an “African American man” made this incident more personal than anything I can remember in recent memory. I had an immediate and visceral response. It was a “code” word for potential aggressive law enforcement treatment, one, and two, I felt terror, pure terror, of a thought I wasn’t coming back home or something horrible was about to happen.

Now contrast this with the ongoing events in Minneapolis, Minnesota—where a black man named George Floyd recently died at the hands of police.

Floyd was unarmed.

The event unfolded right in front of an eyewitness recording a cell phone video, which shows disturbing detail of one officer placing his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes. Four police officers have been fired since Floyd’s death. Floyd was allegedly trying to pass off a counterfeit $20 bill at a store.

I want to raise an interesting point of contrast between the events that are going on in Minneapolis and the protests that have occurred here in Nevada and in state capitals throughout the country in the last several weeks.

Law enforcement asks protesters to back away at a May 2, 2020 Reopen Nevada event that marched to the Governor's Mansion in Carson City.
The law enforcement response as protesters encroached upon the Governor’s Mansion at a May 2, 2020 “reopen Nevada” protest. Image: Ty O’Neil

I want to speak specifically to the “Reopen Nevada” protests and events.

Both groups—those protesting the killing of Floyd and the “reopen” protesters—were and are contesting real grievances to government and government leaders.

Uniquely differing, however, is the response by law enforcement.

Events in Minneapolis have become violent, with police firing tear gas upon protesters.

Yet, in Reno, Carson City, and Las Vegas things were not violent.

And in Carson City—in the peak of the pandemic—protests had participants in the crowd carrying firearms on full display. These protesters did not get tear gassed. They didn’t face an outwardly aggressive law enforcement response.

To those who would cite it as a reason for an aggressive police response, yes, looting has taken place in Minnesota. The question I ask is, why? Why the difference? I don’t wish to say why, as I don’t want to tell you what to think, but I simply wish to ask and leave it there for you to consider.

What reassures me most in this moment is that without haste—and with almost sudden and spontaneous timing—Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam and Reno Police Chief Jason Soto went online Thursday to condemn the events that transpired in Minneapolis and the behavior of that officer.

That gives me hope—not only in Northern Nevada but in society.

At least in Northern Nevada, those who are sworn to protect the public are showing leadership and condemned the actions of that rogue Minneapolis police officer, who does not reflect what they and countless many others do—devoting and risking their lives to serve our community every day.

This is the kind of leadership that’s needed to call out what’s wrong, indecent and inhumane.

As the coronavirus rips apart and destroys minorities’ communities and poverty and unemployment are creating uncertainty and doubt, people—namely those who feel uniquely marginalized, maligned and mistreated—need to hear that people in authority and power care.

It’s a small step to healing inequities and divides that exist in a highly politically, economically and socially divided community and nation that exists today.

Submitted opinions do not represent the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article here.

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5 comments

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Billy Hurt June 1, 2020 - 1:03 pm

The “armed” protesters weren’t looting, destroying property or attacking people big contrast between a peaceful demonstration with arms and a violent and disrespectful riot with bricks.

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Connie Citizo May 30, 2020 - 8:39 pm

Some of the newbies to the area did damage Reno PD vehicles, vandalized property, and set a fire. The difference between the old timers in Reno, like you and me, and the newbies- and the reason you never saw protests in Reno before- is because we were a people who valued community and did things for others. We were a people of positive action before being invaded by California. Protests are negative actions and polarizing and counterproductive. When I see people damaging the place where I have spent my whole life, I do not feel sympathetic to their cause. I just want them to take their negative selves back to California, which is already a dystopia. It might not be too late for Reno, if we can get these people to leave.

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Norm Robins May 29, 2020 - 2:21 pm

This is a good column in every respect. Thank you. It’s the kind of dialogue we need, and it addresses a need worth handling, thoughtfully, calmly, and forcefully. We simply must get rid of bigotry among us. It is killing us.

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Chip Evans May 29, 2020 - 12:00 pm

Your feelings of terror are totally justified, Don, and should be understood as part of what it means to be a black person in America. Thank you for sharing your reactions.
I join you in commending our local law enforcement officials for speaking out about the injustice of the murder of Mr. Floyd. We must all do better, do more to create a more equal society and one that holds all government officials to account for their words, actions and the consequences of their behavior.

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Elaine Hoem May 29, 2020 - 11:14 am

Thank you, Don, for your measured and heartfelt article. I hope you will write more – of the good, the bad, and the ugly – as it is so very evident today. As a white woman, I want to know more of your experiences so that I may be better able to see all of us clearly, without any hidden prejudice, and with compassion. I am glad you contrasted Minneapolis and NV. I too am proud that we are holding it together in the midst of threats. And I am scared of those who protest with guns and beliefs that they are in the right even though their actions jeopardize themselves and all of us.
And thank you, too, Darin Balaam. I appreciate anything and everything you can do to keep the Reno police force free of prejudice and hidden anger as possible. We need all our officers to be models for justice, civility and human rights for every single one of us.

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