Editor’s Note: This letter was submitted by Lt. Col. USAF Ret. Lorenzo Pugh. It is published with his permission.
Over the years, each time an unarmed African American is murdered at the hands of policemen, we – my wife, Dorris and I — have mostly just talked with each other, and close acquaintances, hoping these incidents would end; hoping the conditions and elements which causes them would change. Sadly, neither has happened. I feel a need to express my perception on these matters to you, my friends, family and comrades, who know me better than anyone else. My apologies in advance, if this offends anyone, or their societal beliefs.
We often hear, “ these people don’t complain about shootings in their own neighborhoods or homes, and this occurs daily. So why are they complaining about the much fewer encounters with police”, or “why don’t they stop killing each other first”?
In the past, I had trouble finding the words that I believe, would be persuasive as to why these police encounters are so much more painful and devastating for African Americans. Focus for a few seconds on the daily violence in many African American communities, especially in larger cities. It is like having a heavy weight on each shoulder, which are both physically and mentally draining. Many try to get away, or lift the heavy weights off, and a few succeed. Our fellow citizens who live in these communities, hope that one day, somehow, their limited efforts will result in a better life for themselves; that they will be able to get decent jobs, save money, educate their kids and improve their communities, or move to a nicer one. They cannot go to the police because laws require that you identify the bad guys in person. The bad guys will then, either kill or torture whomever identifies them. Most likely, the bad guys will get away with the crimes of drugs, extortion, gang shootings, rape, etc. or, be back on the streets in a year or two. Also, friends of gang members are still in the neighborhood and will come after anyone who they believe, “rats on them or their friends”, even if the accused is convicted, put behind bars and sentenced for multiple years.
But the other underlying reasons are that the people they would have to trust for help – the police — are also killing these desperate people in their communities; not as often, but, their bad acts, and their great probability of getting away with little or no punishment, multiplies the pain and devastation, because these acts take away the littlehope remaining that justice for people in their communities even exist. So, trust is already destroyed. Take away their hope, which is also part of their reasons to live, and you will reduce their productivity, decrease their creativity and lessens their efforts to improve communities and make them decent places to live. I believe much of America/USA has missed out on the vast potential of these communities for the last 150 years, maybe more, and I often imagine what this country would be like if the South had taken an all-inclusive position after the civil war. Perhaps no KKK; no Rosewood or Tulsa episodes; no Watts burning and 1968 riots! A higher productivity and GDP! Less stress and a healthier society! Just Imagine!!!
Most of you know me, but you know little of my struggle to escape the life of a poor sharecropper’s child growing up on a small dirt farm in West Tennessee. There was lots of love from parents, especially my mom, and love and discipline from the entire community – a wonderful thing in those days that was valuable in keeping us on the “straight and narrow”.
You would be surprised to learn that at the age of 16, I was kicked by a young police officer, blindsided, while sitting in a chair taking my driver’s license test – for wearing a baseball hat. No, he did not ask me to remove the hat; he just walked up and kicked me. I raised halfway up out of the chair, before looking to see who had kicked me, ready to do battle; he stepped back about two feet and put his hand on his gun. There was about a 10 second timeframe as we both stared at each other. I was deciding if I could get to him before he could finish his draw. The lady administering the test , sitting across the table behind the young officer, was in near panic mode, shaking her head and lipping “no, no, no”. I asked twice, “Why did you kick me”? He replied each time, “take your hat off”, both of us tense and wondering what would happen next. I sat back down and removed my hat, not because I didn’t think I could get to him before he got his gun out, but because there were 5 or 6 other older officers on the other side of the room, and they all had guns too.
About a year later, at the home of a classmate who lived in another community, a guy out of the blue – African American – pointed a double barrel shotgun at me from about 10 feet away. He thought, untruthfully, that I was there to see his girl, — and said, “you better start running”. I was pretty fast, but knew I could not outrun his shotgun, so I walked towards him, arms out, explaining why I was there. There were obstacles in college, going thru USAF Pilot Training School, and during 21 years in the military, but each obstacle was a challenge I had to meet, and conquer if I wanted to achieve my goals – to make a better life for me and my family.
The two incidents cited above occurred in 1959 and 60, fifty nine and sixty years ago. Things have changed – for the worse – both from the police, and in the communities. Now the police shoot first, then tell a different story to the investigators, or choke you to death; the gangs and thugs just shoot you and ride away. The people in these communities cannot solve these problems by themselves. If they could, they would have already. It will take all of the country to fix this. I am onboard to support as much as I think will help. I hope some of you will also help, even if it’s just lending an understanding ear, to try and understand why they need help. If you agree, send emails to friends, to local, state and national elected officials and ask them to help fix these problems.
Lastly, a few people have hijacked the peaceful protesters and are committing looting, violence and destruction. They do it every time, but please try and separate these bad acts from the purpose of the protests. Looking at the protests and the looting, burning and destructions as all one big lawless act is akin to putting another heavy load onthe shoulders of already overburdened people. They cannot stop the killings, drugs, gangs and crime in their neighborhoods; they cannot stop the police from killing unarmed black men and boys, and they cannot stop the violent people from joining their peaceful protests. They need help from the rest of the country for all of these things. They also need our understanding of their plight; their cries for help! And to help light a fire under our political representatives to fix these problems. Then and only then can these communities grow, and contribute to society to their full potential.
Thanks for your time in reading this. I see or read about these murders and they are painful to me and my wife, because we both know, “ but for the grace of God, loving parents and influence from our family and community, we would be ………….”.
Most respectfully submitted,
Lt. Col., USAF Ret.