A Blue banner reads "Black Lives Matter."
This year has seen a rise in Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Photo courtesy of Ted Eytan / Flickr.

As I was sitting reading the latest issue of Street Sense, I started to reconsider my commitment to not voting in the upcoming presidential election. At a market where I distribute my papers, I had several interesting conversations about voting and my reluctance to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden. I tried to explain my ambivalence and I was told how important the election was to them, for reasons like climate change, the virus, the economy and many other seemingly important issues affecting them and so many people like them. But none of them directly mention the most important issue to me and many others of color right now. Oh, they used current common buzzwords like “social justice” and “police reform.” To my ears those words are generic as using the word Kleenex to describe all tissue products. I need a politician that I’d vote for to talk about this issue from the general to the specific — anything else is unacceptable to me. I am not interested in hearing a shotgun blast approach hoping to pacify me over my concerns. For the solution to the number one problem that affects my community, I want a politician to get up in front of the American public and give concrete solutions to the problems that cause my relatives and friends to be in danger even when they are pulled over for something so simple as changing lanes without signaling on the way to the convenience store as Sandra Bland was, or buying or selling a single 50 cent cigarette, as Eric Garner was. I’ve heard people say that climate change is the issue of their life, others say the environment or the economy, but for many like me, our major concern is being able to receive a traffic ticket for minor infraction and not be killed. 

Joe Biden had a whole two minutes in the debate to directly focus on his plan to stop this carnage, but chose to spend it engaging President Donald Trump about who was more of a supporter of law and order. It was the opportunity he had to win my vote, and he failed miserably. He and Trump both spent a grand total of 103 seconds combined on the most important issue of every Black person’s life.

So it is with this backdrop that I have no choice but to join the legion of people in this country who are one-issue voters. They traditionally are not chastised nor have their sincerity questioned for taking their stance, unlike the booing and disrespect that followed the players’ demonstration of solidarity with Black Lives Matter at the opening NFL football game. I find it peculiar that over the years these same Black players have been asked to demonstrate their support for everything from breast cancer to the troops, and no one would’ve thought about disrespecting those efforts. 

It was then I realized that I had to become like many others who simply vote in their own special interests, because the public at large really doesn’t care enough about me to show their support by observing a few moments of silence. 

Some of my cherished longtime friends and supporters are proud one-issue voters. Some of those friends, I found out after the 2016 election had voted for Trump and these are righteous people but justified their votes because he claimed to be against abortion and would overturn Roe v. Wade. Some voted for him because he vowed to protect Israel. When people say that, I would wonder to myself just how many abortions Trump may have paid for, since we publicly know he doesn’t use protection, even with strippers and porn stars. But it doesn’t seem to matter to them when they feel the person will act in their special interests. Why can’t I do the same without being talked about and questioned even by those in my own community and family?

Recently I inadvertently tuned to a conservative radio talk show after the news hit about the lack of indictments in the Breonna Taylor case, and I was reminded again just how many Americans view me and others who look like me. We’d get less support from this group than if someone was defending the killers of puppies. The things said on that show reminded me of how a defense lawyer’s strategy sometimes is to blame the victim. This is what some are doing. While I agree with the finding that cleared the officer of murder, I see something else went unnoticed in all the dicussions over their findings. But those up and down the chain of command in these types of incidents are equally responsible. 

This is just the latest of a long line of shooting and murders by the police that have gone unpunished. An indictment means nothing — prosecutors, it’s said, can indict a ham sandwich. I want to vote for a candidate who promises that they will do everything in their power if elected to see these perpetrators be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Why do cops get to play by a different set of rules when most of us in our jobs, if we make an egregious mistake that seriously harms another individual, are held accountable? If I’m a doctor and commit malpractice, I am held accountable, but if I’m a police officer and I am egregiously wrong, I’m not, because of the system that gives police unions so much power that no one individual officer will dare break ranks and testify against a fellow officer. I, like many African-Americans, think defunding the police is crazy. We need them — but we don’t need them policing our communities like they’re in Baghdad. 

But if my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are not safe, then it’s not safe for me to vote for a candidate like Biden who said nothing in the most important 103 seconds for me and many other African Americans. 

Wendell Williams is an artist and vendor with Street Sense Media.