In 1998, Franklyn Reid, 27, died at the hands of Police Officer Scott B. Smith, also 27. The unarmed shooting of Mr. Reid dominated the news around New Milford, Connecticut for nearly five years.
As someone who lost a black brother to gun violence perpetrated by a white police officer, I’ve spent hours mulling over how racial tensions affected the situation and where we go from here. The fact that the New England, suburban community where I grew up was predominantly white, could have contributed to unnecessary persecution of minorities.
But, actually, the majority of residents treated minorities equally and fairly in my view. So when this tragic incident occurred, although the anticipated reaction was for people of color to lash out and demonize law enforcement, that wasn’t the case.
My family’s restraint highlighted an overlooked fact: people can care for people regardless of circumstances. The conversation transitioned from racial injustice to right versus wrong. Although lives were torn, hate did not course through our journey. Instead, compassion for two families whose paths were instantly connected by the bullet of a gun became the catalyst for a book co-authored by myself and Judge Charles D. Gill, who presided over Connecticut’s landmark trial. Our book is expected to be published in 2019. Our intention is to tell the dramatic story while delivering a message of unity and support for each other, regardless of race.
Love, Not Hate – Moving Forward Without Racism
When a loved one’s life is suddenly taken through violence, the shock is mighty powerful. It feels like heaven and earth have opened a floodgate of emotions. We cannot change what’s been done, we can only seek dignified answers to assist others and abolish future occurrences.
Everyone errs in judgment, though some decisions are so detrimental that they become catastrophic. When conflicts between blacks and whites become deadly, the race card is often played. One may say this is a natural response. After all, investigations and police headcams have helped identify the issues: the deaths of minorities by law enforcement attributed to undue force sometimes based on either unfounded fears for personal safety or brutality due to hate and the senseless killing of police officers from those seeking retribution.
Some police departments try tackling the situation directly with policy changes, while protests and the media keep the events top of mind. Soon after these events unfold, we find ourselves in tragic repetitive cycles still seeking a resolution. How regrettable that this pattern results in missed opportunities for sustainable reforms. But that’s who we are.
I believe it’s in our DNA to fight amongst each other, erect barriers of mistrust and reinforce them with uncompromising stances. Humans create racism; we breathe life into it whether subtly or blatantly. It replicates like a virus from people to industries, often buried within one’s mind like a sick cell hidden within the body. Racism is an authoritative structure which wields power over a massive group of people. And when has anyone volunteered to relinquish their power? So it looms over America as the ultimate “elephant in the room,” with many hoping it will resolve itself and others not minding its presence. But what does this passive point of view accomplish, except allowing more division and anger? We continue to react emotionally and ignore the facts that point to the cause of the conflict.
Yet I believe we can move forward. How? Most importantly: shift how we view violent actions — from a racially-based framework to the simple perspective of right versus wrong. If we can look at the police officer’s actions against my brother and the facts of the case, the wrongdoing is clear. If one abolishes skin color references and reports solely on the actions of a person, then judging whether someone is guilty of wrong-doing becomes easier to assess. In the greater scheme of life we are all brothers and sisters; albeit dysfunctional families with issues that are resolvable. For a harmonious and safe society, we must work together, support each other and seek common grounds. I harbor no animosity or hatred towards Officer Smith, the man who shot my brother, and I’m sure he feels the same way towards my family.
Given the circumstances, I hope that the way we conducted ourselves can inspire others to also act with restraint. By switching the focus to right versus wrong, rather than this race against that race, I believe we can all embrace the opportunity to move down a path towards unity and change.
Wayne Reid is Assistant Controller in Porter Novelli’s New York office. He and his family have subsequently formed strong bonds with the trial judge, as they seek ways to learn and improve. Wayne is in the process of writing a book about his experience.