Posted on August 22, 2014
The Killing Of Unarmed Black Men By White Police Officers Is Out Of The Box
I am sure that by now we have all heard the story of 18-year-old Michael Brown, and how he was unfortunately gunned down by Darren Wilson, a St. Louis County, Missouri policeman, under murky circumstances. As of this writing, there are conflicting reports and several different accounts as to what actually transpired on the afternoon of August 9th, earlier this month. But regardless of how it all turns out, there are other lesser known stories—and of course the stories that we don’t hear about at all—that cause many red flags within the minds of people all across America, and in particular within the thoughts of black men who have been victimized themselves, or know someone that has suffered what they perceive as unfair treatment by white police officers.
I have heard several good black kids tell me that they hate the police. Being a mature adult, I admonish them for making blanket statements about officers of the law who have taken the vow to serve and protect people within their communities. I continue to advise them that not all policemen are bad, and that not all white police (in particular) target them because they are black. But the fact of the matter is, there has to be some racial profiling going on by many police officers, as well as pandering to racial stereotypes by whites in the general population—even if only on a subconscious level—in certain situations before the police are even involved. When something happens too many times, you just can’t turn a blind eye and act like it doesn’t exist. And there are plenty of racial undertones when innocent, unarmed blacks are killed by police.
To be honest, every black man is cognizant of the fact that white cops may disproportionately use excessive force when it comes to any situation where black males and white cops have to deal directly with one another. Even though black men know intellectually that not all white cops are bad, the killings of unarmed black men by white cops breeds real mistrust and is reminiscent of the days when black men were hunted down and lynched in this country. These types of situations make seemingly ordinary encounters with white cops all the more stressful, particularly when the cops treat blacks disrespectfully as in the case of a St. Ann, Missouri officer who pointed a loaded gun and threatened to use deadly force against an innocent protester of the Michael Brown killing. This is just a truth that all black men must live with, even though we subconsciously attempt to put it at the back of our minds just to feel some sense of normalcy in a somewhat hypocritical society that ironically prides itself as being the most progressive in the world.
My own racial sensitivity antenna started to rise after a 24-year-old black man, Jonathan Ferrell, was killed by a Charlotte, NC policeman after simply trying to get help after being in an auto accident on September 14, 2013. Granted it was late at night, and I’m sure that the white woman whose door he knocked on was taken aback by seeing a black man when she opened the door. But, Ferrell had knocked on her door as opposed to breaking in, and he didn’t attempt to barge his way inside when she opened her door, both of which should have been an indication that he didn’t have nefarious intentions. I guess that it was just too much to ask for a black man to request help at a white woman’s door that time of night…even more so to ask that a white cop assess the entire situation before deciding to use deadly force notwithstanding that at least one other cop was there to back him up.
Even more recent is the choking of 43-year-old Eric Garner who died July 17, at the hands of New York City police officers (and, yes I said, “police officers” because others were holding him down). To think that a human being died over a situation that ostensibly began over the fact that Garner had a history of illegally selling loose cigarettes. When viewing the video, an irritated Garner didn’t look to be doing anything illegal to me. In fact, he had just broken up a fight according to the person who filmed the killing. The video clearly shows at least five New York City police officers subduing Garner (for really no reason at all in my opinion, but to hassle him), with one of them applying a fatal choke-hold. Out of all the five, you would think that one of them would have tried to deescalate the situation, or at the very least advised the officer applying the choke-hold to let up on Garner when the victim advised that he couldn’t breathe. But, Garner’s death isn’t even the end of recent executions.
On August 5, a 22-years-young black man, John Crawford, was gunned down in Wal-Mart by police in a Dayton, Ohio suburb. Crawford was apparently walking around with a toy gun that he had picked up in the toy aisle. As fate would have it, two white customers saw Crawford walking around with a toy gun that they apparently thought was real, so they called the police. Responding officers in this case rushed to judgement and shot Crawford dead. The mother of Crawford’s children, LeeCee Johnson, whom Crawford was on the phone with at the time of the shooting is emphatic that the police shot first, then told Crawford to get down. She says that hopefully video evidence and phone records will corroborate her account of what happened. In retrospect, I have to ask myself, “Why would a person be walking around Wal-mart minding his business…on a cell phone…with a gun in his hand…if he intended to do someone harm?”
Out of all the stories of police brutality, the Michael Brown story is currently getting the most attention because several witnesses said that Brown was holding his hands up to surrender when the officer repeatedly shot him anyway. That is very bad indeed, but all of these stories are as equally horrible in my eyes. And, like I alluded to before, these are some of the situations that we know about, but these instances don’t necessarily portray the general disrespectful manner in which many white officers treat blacks as a manner of course everyday. It makes me wonder if white law enforcement officers in general are basing their actions out of some latent fear of black males based on stereotypes and preconceived notions. Events that led up to Jonathan Ferrell and John Crawford being killed included whites calling the cops because they feared that young, black men were up to no good. Though it is impossible to prove—like nearly always—I bet that just the fact that the men were black played a major part in the whites’ thinking. Little did they know that their discrimination, race based or otherwise—which ultimately turned out to be an error—would set such terrible events in motion. White officers of the law, on the other hand, can’t afford to make those types of errors because lives are at stake. Officers need to be well-schooled in different populations and cultures because they will undoubtedly have encounters with different races during the course of their careers. Moreover, law enforcement officers at all levels need to obviously receive more training in how to deal with normal and potentially super stressful situations. And, lastly, to be more blunt: some officers need to look beyond the veil of their own racist notions, see the humanity of black men, and realize that a black person’s life is just as valuable as their own.
Besides training, police officers may get their most important lesson in humanity and racial sensitivity by actually communicating with persons of other races, and particularly the people who live within the communities that they have sworn to protect.
I have worked at the same place for more then five years. I have seen more cops than I can remember cruise slowly by the storefront, and only once has an officer ever come in and introduced himself (and he was black). One time a white policeman stopped and got out of his car, stepped up on the sidewalk and gazed through the window. I thought that it was a little odd, but then I realized that he saw me standing and looking out the door. Even after he realized that I wasn’t a lookout man, he could have at least came on in and introduced himself, waived, nodded his head or something. I mean we were only separated by a door and two feet at the most. If he had come and introduced himself when he first started patrolling the area, perhaps he would have known that I had been employed at the same place for at least a couple of years, on the same schedule. Moreover, I have also lived across from a police substation for nearly three years. I am sure that some of the officers have seen me sitting on the porch, or taking numerous walks in the neighborhood with my family. How many times do you think that a cop has ever waived or introduced themselves? Zero. Perhaps if officers of the law actually took the time to get to know more than just a few choice residents of their local community (if nothing else but on a superficial level) maybe they would not so be quick to abuse their authority and kill unnecessarily.
I am sure that the Michael Brown incident will become the poster child case for all manners of different agendas, as there are many different dynamics in play. But Michael Brown is just one story among many, and when you are truly confronted with various stories about police killings of unarmed black men, it’s not so easy to sweep elements of a racial nature under the rug. Like the Bible says, what’s done in the darkness will be revealed in the light. Now that the light is shining on this issue which belies a lack of training, awareness and racial sensitivity, will we try and stuff the ugliness, apathy, or sense of false security back into the odd light of this Pandora’s box—light that is akin to the greenish-yellowish hue that sometimes overtakes the sky before an abnormally violent storm? Or, will America brightly light the path towards genuine justice and equality for all?