Lately I have been on ‘race overload‘ and was all-too-thrilled to see that I am not the only one who has similar feelings. In sitting back and observing the world for the past couple of months I have been going back and forth with my own feelings of defeat and helplessness. However, I have decided that I cannot be silent on the events of the past two months, with the shootings of John Crawford in Ohio; Ezell Ford in Los Angeles; Armand Bennett in Algiers, Louisiana; Dillon Taylor in Salt Lake City, UT; and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The murder of unarmed minorities by police — or by members of the general public who feel entitled to police ‘others’ — is a national epidemic that is reflective of longstanding, deep-seated racism and the institutionalization of both the overt and the subconscious devaluation of the lives of minority men and women, BUT ESPECIALLY young black men and women.
Looking at cases such as Brown, Crawford, Ford, Bennett, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, etc. as being separate and distinct both in circumstance and result is naive and counterproductive to racial equality and progress in race relations. No longer can we turn a blind eye to the violence and injustice and murder of black men and women. Especially over the past two years, society–and the police in particular–have confirmed what we have suspected all along: the US does not value black life (Kanye actually got this one right, but too narrowly focused on George Bush). With murder after unanswered murder of unarmed minority youths by police and vigilantes, the recent unrest in Ferguson was almost inevitable.
You may be curious as to how devalued black life actually is. Let us take the following as an example. The Huffington Post has been lazily reposting the same incomplete slideshow of police brutality incidents (seen here at the bottom of the article), and the first two slides are about police cruelty towards animals. This slideshow includes the likes of Oscar Grant, Christopher Long, Kelly Thomas, etc., but it was the police brutality against animals that were egregious enough to take up the first two slides?!? Even in the present, highly publicized case of Michael Brown the police department in Ferguson released the name of the officer who murdered Brown while simultaneously assassinating Brown’s character by releasing footage of a convenient store robbery that the officer had no knowledge of prior to the stop. In this endeavor, the police have all but explicitly justified Brown’s murder by equating the value of his life to <$50 box of cigarillos (this is a really generous estimate of the cost here).
Just when you thought that police across the country were put on notice that police brutality will not be tolerated and that the public is watching after Brown’s murder by Darren Wilson, the LAPD shot and killed Ezell Ford, yet another unarmed black man. Still think police care? They don’t. The New Orleans Police Department considered an officer shooting a black man (Armand Bennett) in the head such a regular part of daily police business, that they didn’t even bother reporting it to the public; at least he survived…. Two days after Brown’s murder, Dillon Taylor was shot and killed by a police officer in Salt Lake City who was wearing a body cam. The chief was so dismissive of the role of his shooting in the larger epidemic that they could not even devote the entirety of the press conference to discuss Taylor’s killing without veering to the discussion to one of his opposition to a local ordinance surrounding the processing of rape kits! (One account of the chief’s comments can be found here; his opposition to that is illogical, but that is not an issue I will address here. The only point being made here is that the officer’s shooting of Taylor had literally nothing to do with a sexual assault.) Perhaps the only solace to be gained from the past two months came in the form of the sentencing of ex-New Orleans police officer to 17 years in prison for burning the body of Henry Glover in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; although a skeptic would argue that this just proves that it is okay to shoot unarmed black men in the back since the officer who actually committed the murder was acquitted, but burning the already wrongfully murdered body may violate standards of human decency.
And if you thought the police and state/local government cared about minorities exercising their Constitutional rights to peacefully assemble, protest, and to exercise free speech and freedom of the press…they don’t. During the first week of protests in Ferguson the police have responded to citizens expressing their discontent, anger, frustration, and calls for justice with SWAT and an intimidating, offensive and (overly) militarized police response; arresting the press; using rubber bullets and tear gas; and implementing a curfew, thus rendering Ferguson closer to that of Gaza, Iraq or Afghanistan than to the “free” and “democratic” United States. How little do the police in Ferguson care about the exercising of Constitutional rights? So little that they have arrested and threatened to mace and shoot reporters and have gone so far as to shoot tear gas at people in their own backyards, which led to the engagement of Amnesty International on U.S. soil for the first time in the nation’s (and organization’s) history. Meanwhile, a pointless protest in support of Brown’s murderer was merely monitored by leftover police on bicycles.
So again, it is imperative to understand the murder of unarmed minorities by police and vigilantes as a national epidemic. Until recently both police and society have by and large demonstrated apathetic disinterest in the causes of this epidemic, up to and including denial of its very existence. Even in the wake of the egregious actions by law enforcement over the past couple of months, the acknowledgement of the systemic racial issues from which this epidemic was born is not universal. Unfortunately this epidemic is one without any known cure in the absence of fundamental systemic change in the psyche of the American public and societal racial attitudes. This epidemic of homicide by cop and the subsequent cover-up and militarized response is a threat to democracy within the United States and to the status of the personhood of the nation’s minority citizens. In the wake of the current events unfolding in Ferguson, hopefully the US is finally on the brink of being ready to have a real discussion about race, racism, and citizenship within the United States. In the mean time, start by making your drop in the bucket here by supporting a petition started by Shaun King relaying 5 action items that government can implement to protect citizens from police brutality, or by joining local community organizers in brainstorming and acting to make a difference.
by Portia Allen-Kyle