I can never understand, for obvious reasons, what it’s like to be an African-American living in this country. Empathy can only go so far. Some things that happen are simply too hard for me to comprehend.

Fifteen years ago or so I was sitting in a newspaper office on a Saturday evening, working near the paper’s sports editor, who happened to be African-American.

We heard over the scanner that local police were searching for a suspect, for whatever crime was alleged. The police dispatcher gave a detailed description of the subject. With every item said over the scanner, my coworker “checked” himself. The details included a color of shirt, which my coworker was also wearing that day. They described that the suspect was wearing a baseball cap, as was my coworker. The dispatcher then said the suspect was wearing jeans. You guessed it, so was my coworker.

I watched out of the corner of one eye as my coworker looked at his clothing after each description was given.

Very quietly, he finally said, “I’m not going outside right now.”

I certainly didn’t have that worry, but my coworker had reasons to be concerned. I have a certain privilege that my former coworker didn’t, whether it was real or perceived.

Part of me understands that some people get in trouble for how they act toward law enforcement. I understand that, I truly do. I’ve seen it in person when someone doesn’t comply to orders, or requests, and what happens when tensions start to mount on both sides.

People of all races and ethnic backgrounds need to respect the men and women in uniform.

Still, recent news items have left me grappling for how to deal with what it’s like for someone to live as an African-American, even in non-police encounters. Phrases such as “walking while black,” “driving while black” or “jogging while black” have emerged over the years.

• A black man out birdwatching in New York City had an Anglo woman threaten to call the police and say an African-American man was threatening her.  When she called authorities she said just that, even though a phone video taken by the man showed no such thing.

The woman has since lost her job over the incident. 

• Three men in Georgia were charged in connection with the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old African-American who was shot and killed while jogging.

Two of the men charged allegedly killed the jogger while a third shot video from his car. The father and son shooters told authorities they thought Arbery was the man who committed break-ins in the area. 

It took months for charges to be filed. Even if Arbery had been a suspect, that gives others absolutely no right to take action into their own hands.

In my heart and mind, I truly don’t think a white jogger in the same circumstance would have been attacked then shot to death.

• The latest incident happened in Minnesota, where George Floyd, 46, died last week at the hands of Minneapolis police. 

Floyd, 46, died Monday, with his last moments caught on video.  He was accused of trying to pass a fake $20 bill.

While he was being arrested, Floyd was held down by a Minneapolis police officer who put his knee on Floyd’s neck. As CNN reported, “The video shows Floyd pleading that he is in pain and can’t breathe. Then, his eyes shut and the pleas stop. He was pronounced dead shortly after.”

The officer who used his knee to subdue Floyd and three others involved were fired. The officer who had his knee on Floyd’s neck has been charged with  third-degree murder and manslaughter. His actions went way, way past law enforcement.

It reminded me of Eric Garner, who in 2014 died while in a chokehold by a New York City policeman. He too pleaded that he could not breathe.

Conversely, as upset as I am over the treatment of Floyd, Garner and others, I’m equally disturbed by the resulting actions in Minneapolis. Riots and looting broke out after Floyd was killed. Videos have shown people walking out of stores with lamps, televisions, clothing and such. I never have and never will understand how torching businesses, blocking traffic and looting help us get to a day when the things are made better for all.