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This place matters

Sunday, August 24, 2014

No justice, no peace

I don't know what to say about the shooting of Michael Brown, mostly because I'm just not sure that I know what happened. The cops' account differs from a whole lot of eyewitness accounts, but the two autopsies don't confirm or deny either account. 
There is, however, no debate as to whether Darren Wilson chose to fire six shots in an area full of innocent bystanders. We do know that Wilson should have had several non-lethal implements to aid in his self defense but chose not to use them. We do know that as a police officer, Wilson would have gone through hundreds of hours of training on defending himself without killing anyone.
What we don't know is whether Wilson would have stopped Brown and his friend if they were white. What we don't know is whether Brown would still be alive if he were white.
The thing is, Ferguson's track record with dealing with African Americans is pretty abysmal. See, the city of Ferguson is about 2/3 black. Yet the Missouri Attorney General's office reports that out of 5,384 total traffic stops in 2013, 86% of those stopped were African American. 92% of arrests made were of African Americans, even though white folks were significantly more likely than black folks to have contraband when searched. 
Ferguson's not alone in unequal treatment. 90% of the individuals stopped under the NYPD's "stop and frisk" laws are black or Hispanic. In 2011, police stopped and frisked more young African American men than there are young African American men living in New York city. Even in neighborhoods where the population was 90% white, more than half of individuals stopped and frisked were black or Hispanic. For the record, only 1 in 10 of people frisked was committing any crime.  Possibly because they're searching the wrong people - white folk were significantly more likely to be carrying weapons illegally.
Maybe Michael Brown was a danger and maybe he wasn't, but that doesn't change the fact that way too many cops are choosing to use extreme force as a first resort.
In 2012, 5 dozen police cruisers chased African American Timothy Russel's car through a residential Cleveland neighborhood, at speeds near 100 mph, before shooting his car 137 times, killing Russell and his passenger. The reason: one cop thought he heard a gun fire. No gun was found. Russell did refuse to stop when the cops told him to, meaning he was breaking a law (though the 137 bullets indicate his reticence to stop was not entirely uncalled for), but what about the residents who could have been shot or run over by any one of 5 dozen speeding cop cars? The neighborhood where all this took place? 93% African American.
In the past month, four unarmed black men have been shot by cops. One was a developmentally disabled man allegedly shot in the back while lying on the ground. Another was choked out for selling loose cigarettes. Another guy, John Crawford, was shot in a Walmart full of customers.
And actually, when I say four black men have been shot, I should say that at least four men have been shot. Police forces are supposed to report all police homicides, but they very often don't - according to this story, many police administrators say that exercising transparency when it comes to shooting people would be bad for PR.  
African Americans get 10-20% longer prison sentences, and are dramatically more likely to be sentenced to death, than white men for the same crimes. Whether driving or on foot, African Americans are statistically far more likely to have police search them for drugs, despite mountains of data showing drug use among African Americans is not higher than drug use among white Americans
Folks justify the shooting of Michael Crawford by stating he should have put the pellet gun down when the police told him to - that his failure to immediately put down the fake gun he picked up off of a store shelf somehow made him deserve to die. Many of those folks will argue that it was a gross miscarriage of justice when, earlier this summer, two white open carry proponents were asked not to bring their very large, very real weapons into a Chipotle.

Was Michael Brown surrendering, or was he charging? Was John Crawford carrying a pellet gun with the intention of purchasing it, or was he menacing people with it? I don't know. What I do know is that a justice system that enforces laws differently based on skin color is anything but just. What I do know is we have to stop pretending racism is dead. What I do know is that we have to stop deluding ourselves into thinking that a little melanin magically makes you more likely to be a criminal.

Here's a video of Lavar Burton talking about what he does to keep from getting shot. Do you suppose Mr. Rogers or Captain Kangaroo ever had this conversation with their kids?

Also, cops aren't the only ones.
Y'all, when the hell are we going to figure out that it's not us and them, it's us and us? That the only thing separating "us" from "them" is a little melanin? When are we going to face the prejudices we'd so like to believe we don't have?

 Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. ~ Martin Luther King

1 comment:

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