It took getting shot by police to understand police brutality.

Photo: KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images

There’s no such thing as a bad person, only a person who has seen injustice.

I have forever considered myself a pacifist. The kind who always thought that violence, under no conditions, was ever warranted. The kind who would break up the fights at school. The kind who’s followed the teachings of civic disobedient pioneers. But this weekend I learned that pacifism, kindness, patience, acquiescence… it doesn’t mean much if you’ve never personally been seized by the talons of injustice — pacifism is easy when you’ve never been the one being dehumanized.

It’s easy for white folks to sanctimoniously demand “peaceful protests only” when they have never been the ones to be lynched, brutally beaten, and have never feared that their child, their brother, their father or that they themselves might one day become the one in every thousand black men to be killed by police. It’s not just a statistic to 50 million Black Americans — it’s a perpetual fear.

And in this case, for white folk, empathy won’t do the trick. Neuroscientific technological methods have shown that white people don’t vicariously feel black people’s pain. While the neural region that feels empathy (the anterior cingulate cortex) lights up when watching someone of the same race experience pain, the neural activity is significantly subdued when watching someone of another race experience the pain. White people don’t feel black pain.

I didn’t understand the myopia of my pacifism, until this weekend when I got shot point blank 8 times by an army of police officers, for nothing other than believing in my right to exist in that moment.

What pains me more than the bruising and broken skin from the rubber bullets (four shots to my back, two shots to my leg, and one shot to my arm, a shot to the my head– just inches from my eye), is that there were young kids nearby… that there was no violence, no rule breaking happening… that I believed that I had no need to be afraid of the police when they ran towards me… that so long as I showed them clearly, with my hands up high in the air (and in broad daylight) that I was of no threat to them, or to anyone else, I would be safe… that if I had been black, those bullets could have been the lethal kind.

I was dead wrong about police brutality. It is not about one bad apple in the bunch. Nor is it about an entire system that has completely lost grasp of its job description. It’s a system whose job description was created, not to keep people safe, but to protect property. It’s a system built to take care of those who have, from the have-nots. Policing is not about community wellbeing. Communities are not well. Communities are mourning. Communities are desperate. Imagine — If community well-being was a part of your job description, what would you do under these circumstances? The acknowledgement of suffering perhaps? Acknowledging injustice perhaps. Seeking understanding. Offering support. Joining in solidarity. Listening to the needs of the community whom you have pledged to serve.

But that’s not what I saw. And now I understand why people are marching, waiting, waiting, waiting for a response that might rectify the dehumanization, and the injustices rooted deep below the surface of a government system meant to protect its citizens.

To all of those who consider themselves pacifist, and who scoff at the relentless pursuit, and demand for justice that is manifesting in violence: What would you do if your peaceful protests didn’t change anything? If nobody seemed to care that you were afraid? That people blamed you and your people for the injustices that you faced? That everyday you knew you would wake up to a new name to add to the list of lynchings of your people? Of waiting for a loved one to be the next name? Being afraid to bring children into this world? Of realizing that finally, when the injustice has finally been exposed and tens of thousands are in the streets standing by your side across the country, that it won’t be enough for the system to change. What would you do?

Painting those who are “looting” as the scum of the earth, and the dregs of society feeds the flames of dehumanization, and misses the story. For these are not the bad people whom you seek. They are simply the ones who have faced the injustices that you have been spared.

at the nexus of media and behavior change, founder @PathosLabs