Khary Mason, a veteran Detroit Police detective and poet, felt compelled to write an essay aimed at his colleagues in blue after the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. His message: "Your silence will not save you."
Mason says officers with badges should feel a duty to speak up about police abuse because it could happen to a loved one "or you yourself."
"When I began to see my family members reflected in the population that I swore to protect and serve, it became more difficult to pull the trigger, to throw a punch or to be violent without consequence because ... I saw my sister, I saw my brother. Those that I had been chasing all along were the mirror image of me," he writes.
Yet he expects "many will choose to keep their mouths shut, opting not to share what life has taught them because they are afraid. They are afraid that it will endanger their standing."
In this video, Mason reads his essay titled "Save Us." The text follows.
Jan. 21, 2017 -- I remember combing through images on Instagram. That was the day of the Women’s March in Washington. It was a welcomed sight because the day before the world watched as our nation’s cradle of power turned from Babylon to Hitler’s toilet with the placing of one hand and the raising of another.
His predecessor…was the glimmer of hope and grace many prayed they’d live long enough to see. Following the traditions set by those who came before him, the old left a handwritten letter for the new that said plainly “Please Don’t Fuck This Up.” After carefully placing his chair beneath the oval office desk, Our President strolled the halls before leaving the alabaster house, closing the back door for the last time. Before the latch came to rest, his legacy had been deleted… Before the new regime could march through the front, gone would be any trace of our royal family and their many contributions to the betterment of this country. The headline should have read “The crowning of Sesame Street’s most very stable genius”.
The lid had been lifted allowing the noxious fumes of hatred and greed that had been brewing for eight years to escape. They would ravage the landscape for generations to come, breathing new life into an enduring confederacy, bathing their beliefs in the blood of the innocent. In attendance were the grinning trolls that, now openly shat upon commoners from their gilded perches. He had been given the keys to a kingdom, granting him sole permission to turn back the clock, holding freedoms hostage.
I’d recently returned from a teaching endeavor on the continent of Africa, Nairobi Kenya to be specific. I remember my last days there, they were filled with anxiety wondering if I’d be allowed back into my own country, wondering if I’d be allowed to see my family again. Although I loved being in my ancestral home, a deep fear began to coalesce giving birth to, an imagined life without them, and the struggles they would endure played out as I boarded my connecting flight in Amsterdam. Several times in my life I’ve heard “Go back to Africa Nigger”… Wispers of that saying began to echo in distant thought but they grew closer and louder as I neared home, signifying the perceived change that was to come. Those that felt that way would now have a king who was capable of carrying out their every wish…& no one would be able to stop him.
I began searching this galaxy of imagery after seeing pictures of my new friends who’d returned to the states from Kenya to march in the streets of the nations capitol. They marched with their daughters, they marched with their mothers, they marched with their wives, sisters, girlfriends and neighbors in support of humanity’s rights, women’s rights, racial equality, and immigration reform. Before I knew it hours had gone by. I hadn’t noticed the sun sweeping across the sky. Time stood still for me as I witnessed the beauty of that day, and I wondered if the next would be any different because of it.
Now, I am only able to remember one image from that day. I’ve searched for it endlessly without success. It was a cornucopia of SHE who guides us, a mass of women united for a common cause, holding hands & signs in protest. My memory now… only allows me to see the face of one woman and the words words of one sign.
They Bear My Likeness
For decades I have arrested those who bear my likeness with the understanding that society would become a safer place. But years of watching, stalking, chasing, and catching the rabbit have taught me that I and those who look like me are in more danger now than we have ever been.
I spent years thinking that I was somehow different from those I was hired to protect and serve. Then I began to question who do we serve, who do we protect and who do we police? Why are we used to separate the poor from the fortunate? If you haven’t been in the rooms where small groups make decisions for the masses, travelled this country, and the world beyond it, worked and lived in places filled with pain then gone on to work and live in places that privilege was built to protect. Then this will be difficult for you to understand.
It wasn’t until I looked in the mirror that I realized what must be done. In the beginning I couldn’t look at myself for more than a second at a time. I recoiled like a vampire in the presence of garlic or silver. I was seeing the damage that I had done to the people that I was supposed to be protecting.
Early in my career when I’d make an arrest, my bosses, be they white or conditioned blacks and hispanics would say good job boy, but the boy in that sentence had always been silent… Until now. If lives were in danger high fives would materialize in the moment followed by a couple of beers after the end of my tour of duty. I began to believe that I was a part of a brotherhood, which made it easy to go out and do it all over again for the thousands of days and nights that would follow.
My family… now includes sheep dressed in wolves clothing, who think they know me. Individuals who commute from the country to claim their right of passage, feeding a primal urge to feel more alive by hunting humans for sport. I now wonder how they could have known me when I had forgotten who I was. They say that we exist to make society safer. But no one is asking why...why do you shoot, why do you steal, why do you run, why do you fight. And because no one is asking, nothing changes.
When I left patrol I got a birds-eye view of what all of our hard work had accomplished -- more black bodies in chains. So I began to ask those questions and my peers would begin asking if I was OK, or would say that it was I who had changed. The truth was, I was just beginning to truly do the work that I was hired to do.
When I began to see my family members reflected in the population that I swore to protect and serve it became more difficult to pull the trigger, to throw a punch, or to be violent without consequence because even with death looming above I saw my sister, I saw my brother. Those that I had been chasing all along were the mirror image of me.
Warn the Slave Catchers
As my days wearing a badge near their end, I am able to see more clearly that I too will join the ranks of the rabbit with no suit of armor to warn the slave catchers that I was once one of them.
Many will travel from their first tour of duty to their last cloaked in the cliches of superheroes' mantras, never truly understanding their purpose, unaware of the harm that they have caused or the dangers that they themselves face, lulled into a false sense of safety believing that somehow their fate is not tied to the tyranny their doubles continue to endure.
Many will choose to keep their mouths shut, opting not to share what life has taught them because they are afraid. They are afraid that it will endanger their standing.
Many are so blinded by propaganda, unable to see the signs, that they will fail to act before someone they love stumbles into that forbidden place, that place where the line between hatred and indifference is as thin as the edge on a razor blade. That place where sun kissed skin is a death sentence.
Her blurry image comes to visit me every day. She has the face of an angel…she could be my mother, my sister, my wife, or my daughter. But her sign, her sign, I have always seen clearly. Life allows us to leave many things in the spaces that we learned them to be learned again and again. Still age has not dulled this memory... Her sign… it was yellow with black writing, and it said “I NEED… A BLACK COP… TO SAVE US”.
If you see her,
Tell her …
I love her,
Tell her …
I will never forget her,
Tell her …
I lay awake at night thinking of her,
Tell her …
I will always fight for her,
Tell her …
I will not rest until I secure every last right for her.