Photo by Koshu Kunii on Unsplash

Derek Chauvin has been found guilty by a jury of his peers for the murder of George Floyd. One human life was given justice, another human life was condemned to concrete walls. Both of these people have families who will never again experience their presence or remember them without some form of pain or regret. 

I, myself, was shot at by an officer the night I was arrested. When I pulled over in my stolen car, I didn’t put the car in park. I sat there with my foot on the brake and my gun in my lap as the officer approached the vehicle. I fought the desperate thoughts of a person in a zero state of mind who will do absolutely anything in order to avoid the responsibility of their cowardly life. 

I was a crystal meth drug addict who preyed upon my community, and I did not want to stop getting high. I did not want to face life on life’s terms. I did not want to change. So I resolved to slam my foot onto the gas pedal instead. A few miles later I found myself cornered in a dead-end street. 

My stereo system was blasting as I stared at the officer standing outside his patrol car with his weapon drawn. He was shouting commands at me, but I had no interest in anything he was saying. I was desperately wondering what I had gotten myself into and my only concern was getting away. I slammed my foot on the gas again and angled the car to drive around the officer and his car. 

But the second my foot hit that gas pedal, the first bullet hit my windshield. I immediately ducked as two more bullets followed. I didn’t see it coming. I was nowhere near the officer. From my perspective, he tried to kill me, and I had done nothing wrong. For years that was the view I had and it was a view that filled me with anger, hatred, and rage against authority figures, police officers, and correctional officers. 

It was not until my 11th or 12th year of incarceration that my outlook changed. I had spent the entirety of my adolescence and adult years looking at everyone else as the problem, using other people as an excuse and justification for my actions. Now I was realizing there was no excuse, absolutely none. This altered my perception of my situation. 

The second my foot hit the gas pedal and the engine roared, I made that officer feel like his life was in danger. How can you argue with how you made a person feel? He had no idea who I was. He didn’t know I had been on a three-week crime spree, robbing anything and everyone. He didn’t know I’d only slept about five hours in that time. He didn’t know how desperate I was to not be held accountable. All he knew was that I wasn’t complying with his commands and that he was in the direct line of the car I was accelerating toward him. 

My shift in thinking allowed me to forgive and respect this man. It allowed me to understand the situation would not have existed if not for my choices. 

I had been a homeless, drug-addicted criminal and gang member. People like me, like who I was then, still exist within our communities. These are the very same communities officers like the one I encountered are sworn to protect and serve. So where does the responsibility lie? 

If I hadn’t been living that lifestyle, the situation wouldn’t have existed. If I wasn’t driving a stolen vehicle, I wouldn’t have been pulled over that night. If I hadn’t been on a three-week robbery spree, committing multitudes of gang violence, I wouldn’t have had the fearful, guilty, and shame-riddled conscience that refused to be held accountable. 

If George Floyd hadn’t used a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill, the police wouldn’t have been called. If George Floyd had complied with the instructions and commands given to him, if he had simply gotten into the back of the patrol car, he wouldn’t have ended up on the asphalt with Officer Chauvin’s knee pressed into his neck. 

This same pattern repeats and repeats. Yet, as it repeats, our sole focus is on the officers and we cry out in rage for police reform. 

Recently, a veteran officer shot a man who had an outstanding warrant when he tried to get back into his vehicle to leave. The officer yelled “Taser!” but her service pistol was in her hands the whole time. Another officer killed a 13-year-old boy who was weaponless as he put his hands up into the air. This boy was a suspect in a local shooting and had a weapon in his hands while the officer pursued him by foot. Another officer shot and killed a 16-year-old girl who had called the police for help, but who was engaged in a fight and holding a knife when the officers arrived. 

Yes, use-of-force policies need to change. But what good is police reform if people remain the same? 

Where is the anger, passion, and rage within our families, our homes, our communities, and among those we call friends and loved ones? Why are we not holding each other accountable for our drug addictions and criminal lifestyles? Instead, with an all-or-nothing mentality, we excuse, justify, and rationalize the way we live and demand the world caters to our needs. 

From this perspective, I believe that if a change is to come, it will only come through a two-front war. We, the people, must change, and the system must change with us. 

But we must understand that change does not come with entitlements. It only comes with increased burdens and responsibilities. We must stop placing expectations on life and begin asking what life expects from us. 

If we want to truly honor the lives of those who have fallen under this complaint, we must view our problems not singularly or simplistically, but as a whole and with integrity. Doing this will be difficult because we will no longer be able to point the finger or cast blame. 

Instead, we will each be forced to reflect upon our own lives and to accept our own responsibilities. We will have to look at the things that we do and be honest about the things we fail to do. We will have to examine how we are raising our families and recognize roles and needs we are failing to meet. We will have to ask ourselves: are we contributing to our communities or are we draining them and giving nothing back? 

Yes, the police need to be reformed, and yes, the system needs to change. But from the position of truth where I stand, I believe there is an evil that exists in the world. It existed in the person I myself used to be. We all play a role within the reality of injustice that has plagued us throughout the decades and throughout the centuries. We can not call on a system to change without acknowledging that all systems are made of people. We cannot expect a system to change unless we, all people, begin to hold ourselves accountable.

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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Joseph Guardia

Joseph Guardia is a writer who has dedicated the last four years of his life to lifestyle recovery and restorative justice based on the insights he has developed from his own experiences. He has been incarcerated for 15 years, currently at Calipatria State Prison in California.