DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – They are the conversations in black families, passed down through the generations, the life and death lessons on interacting with police.
“My parents sat us down at the table and said, ‘do what you have to do to come home to us’,” shares Jason Shelton.
The UT Arlington Associate Sociology Professor is now Dr. Shelton, and yet even now, he does not let down his guard.
More challenging, still, he is the parent being asked to explain.
“They’re asking us questions, ‘why Daddy? Why would you be afraid to run?’,” he says of his daughters, now 9 and 11, following Ahmaud Arbery’s murder in Georgia, which came to light in recent weeks.
It was time for the talk. Again.
“I said well, these are the things that happen in our society. Too many people look at the color of our skin and decide we are guilty and then we have to prove our innocence.”
As both parent and professor, he says the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has struck a different nerve.
There is the profoundly disturbing video of him handcuffed and on the ground, gasping that he can’t breathe as an officer kneels on his neck for some eight minutes.
But Shelton, who is also the Director of UTA’s Center for African American studies, says there’s something different about the nation’s reaction.
“This isn’t just my African American students,” says Shelton. “I’m getting emails from white students who took my classes years ago. I’m getting into conversations with kids I went to high school with that want to talk about this. Whites. My point is, this issue is resonating across a wider range of people today, and that’s why this is feeling different.”
And while as an academic, he may understand what is fueling the riots in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, he knows that riots produce destruction, but no solutions.
“We don’t want violence. We don’t want lives wrecked and ruined, we don’t want people losing their businesses,” says Shelton, while pointing out that riot ravaged neighborhoods often never recover. “That’s why we have got to take this seriously and we have got to engage on these issues, so we don’t have violence.”
So what’s next?
“In the end, what fixes social problems, is policy,” insists Shelton. “In order to create change, it cannot be random. We need policy.”