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The news out of Rochester Hills is sickening.

If you didn’t know, a 14 year old teenage boy got lost. His mom had taken away his phone, according to Channel 4, and was looking for directions. So Brennan Walker did what any sensible kid would do, and knocked on a door of a home with a neighborhood watch sign for help.

According to Fox 2, this is how Brennan describes what happened:

“Then she [the wife] started yelling at me and she was like, ‘Why are you trying to break into my house?’ I was trying to explain to her that I was trying to get directions to Rochester High. And she kept yelling at me. Then the guy came downstairs, and he grabbed the gun, I saw it and started to run. And that’s when I heard the gunshot.”

Doubly disturbing is that apparently, there’s an unreleased Ring security video that recorded the encounter. In it, you can hear the wife say, ‘Why did these people choose my house?'”

Brennan’s father is doing right, serving our country, deployed in Syria. His mother is doing right, too, holding down a job and taking care of her son while her husband is deployed.

Brennan’s parents are making sure he goes to solid school with a 97 percent graduation rate.

Brennan was raised right. To trust people. To ask the community for help. He was even prudent and thought to ask where there was a “Neighborhood Watch” sticker on the house.

But he was young, black and male and missed the school bus and almost paid for it with his life. A retired Detroit Firefighter of all people — someone who we’d hope would know better — almost snuffed out his future.

Brennan Walker almost became a hashtag. A Twitter movement. A statistic. Why? Because he was a “They.” A “Those People.” A “Them.”

To his credit, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard is pressing charges against the man who fired the 12 gauge shotgun that, if not for a safety being engaged at first, may very well have killed the teenager whose crime was asking for help.

“Them” and “Those People” takes away the soul

Words have meaning. Something I’ve learned in the last 20 years is that we live in a region where we think diversity is one family of color on the block and we shout down anything that makes us uncomfortable with “you’re being racial!”

I can see the comments now. But buckle up buttercup, because we’re about to get uncomfortable.

When you refer to a fellow person as “Them,” “Those people,” and “They” in this context, you’re taking away a person’s soul. And when you in your mind take away someone’s soul, it’s infinitely easier to justify mistreating them, discriminating them, and even taking their life.

Metro Detroit has a “they” problem. Sometimes I hear it when I hear Sterling Heights being referred by some of its own residents as “Saudi Heights” referring to a growth in the population there from the Middle East. Or when I’m at a restaurant downtown and a homeless person is ushered out, even though someone is paying for their meal. Or if it’s the line of, “I-696 is the new Eight Mile.” Or the countless times I’ve been in mass transit conversations and I see or hear, “if they come they’ll lower my property values.”

It’s been said by quite a few people over the years that race weaves its way into everything in metro Detroit.

It does. It was only in recent history that blacks and other people of color could legally live wherever they want.

I only need remind you of the Ossian Sweet story, when during the 1920s that many people regard as Detroit’s heyday a white mob attacked his Detroit home because he moved into a white neighborhood. This was not a rare occurrence at the time. Or restrictive neighborhood covenants in the city and suburbs that said that homes could not be, “sold or leased to or occupied by any person or persons other than of the Caucasian race.”

There are many, many people still alive in our region who lived through that time in our history. Despite the lie that some like to tell themselves that we’ve “moved past” this, it’s not some far-off concept. Many of our parents and grandparents lived in that world. Many of the covenants, though not legally enforceable, still have that terrible language in them to this day.

Concrete wall, one half mile long, Detroit, Michigan. This wall was erected in August 1941 to separate the Negro section from a new suburban housing development for whites. Photo: Library of Congress/U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information

We even still have a real wall standing near the Detroit border that was built to divide us.

The first step to moving forward is admitting we have a problem. As Marlowe Stoudamire said on our Daily Detroit Happy Hour podcast recently about reopening wounds from the events of 1968, “Who ever said we closed them?”

This isn’t a partisan issue. Fear is the greatest enemy of any people. In Metro Detroit, and America, we’re gripped by a terrible fear of our fellow Americans and our fellow humans. It’s high time we found our bravery — and together, found a way through it.

Detroit Podcast