There is a long history of deadly police confrontation with black people. Each time one of these deadly confrontations occurs it triggers a pattern that has become easy to predict. The pattern is this: an unarmed black person gets into a confrontation with law enforcement; the black man is brutally beaten or killed; there are protests and sometimes riot; the grand jury is called to determine if the officer(s) involved should be prosecuted; the media goes into a feeding frenzy that fuels speculations and divisiveness along racial lines; the grand jury returns a no indictment decision; and then more protests and/or riots.
Protest march in Times Square, NY (11-28-14)
Why is this pattern so obvious? The answer is that we don’t see it occurring with white men and the police. If it happens then the media does not report it. The number of unarmed blacks that have been killed by the police or brutally beaten is too long to include in this article. However, they have similarities where the police used excessive
and deadly force against unarmed black men and women that triggered outrage, protests or riots. Four incidents that involved riots or protests and that garnered national attention are:
1. Miami, Florida, 1980 – Arthur McDuffie a black motor cyclist who was chased by Miami, Florida police officers. This incident occurred in 1980 following the court’s acquittal of five police officers who beat McDuffie to death. That riot that followed the decision lasted over a week and did extensive property damage – especially in the black neighborhood of Liberty City. I was living in Miami when this incident occurred and witnessed my first race-related riot.
2. Los Angeles, 1992 – Rodney King suffered a brutal beating by the police that was captured on video in Los Angeles by police officers in 1992. King survived the brutal beating but when the officers were acquitted it triggered one of the largest riots in the Los Angeles area. The riot prompted King to make his famous comments, “Can’t we all get along.”
3. Ferguson, Missouri, 2014 – In August the unarmed 18 year old Michael Brown was shot multiple times and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Immediately after the killing riots erupted in Ferguson. Then weeks after the grand jury returned a no indictment decision against the police officer more riots erupted in Ferguson. The grand jury’s decision also triggered protests across the nation. I was in New York last week and witnessed on Black Friday protestors marching in Times Square, New York in honor of Michael Brown. The protestors
which included many whites carried signs that read: “No more racism,” “End white privilege,” and “No justice no peace.”
4. Staten Island, New York, 2014 – Eric Garner’s confrontation with New York police officers is perhaps the most compelling evidence of how police treats unarmed black men. Unlike Michael Brown’s death, the entire episode of the Garnerpolice confrontation was captured on video. The video showed that he was clearly unarmed and that the police used chokehold tactics to bring him down. While he was pinned to the ground (with one officer holding his knee across his neck or head) Garner repeated eleven times “I can’t breathe.” Moments later the unresponsive Garner was taken away on a gurney and declared dead at the hospital.
Regardless of how the deaths of Brown, Garner, and others before them are analyzed by media pundits the racial component to these deaths cannot be avoided. We can use statistics like Bill O’Reilly tried to do on his Fox TV show, The Factor, yesterday to show that more white men are killed by the police. There is no justification for law
enforcement who is supposed to be well trained to use of deadly force against blacks who challenge them or even show them the slightest form of disrespect. On the other hand whites can insult them, challenge them, or even resist arrest and they are likely to be treated with restraint and respect. I have seen this several times on the COPs show on TV. By the way, remember Cliven Bundy so far no law enforcement action has been taken against him – if it has, I missed it in the media.
Michael Brown’s death by Officer Darren Wilson revisited a problem that has historical patterns with law enforcement with respect to the treatment of blacks. The deadly and excessive force that Wilson used to kill the unarmed Michael Brown demonstrated again the number of negative factors vis-à-vis the treatment of blacks. These include racial animus, profiling, and the low value that the police seem to place on black life.
The pattern of unarmed young black men getting into a confrontation with the police is a volatile situation for the simple reason that race is a component that fuels these deadly confrontations. When a black man shows disrespect to a white police officer or fails to obey his or her commands it is bound to bring out the raw emotion of anger that is fueled by racial animus. No one should disrespect or disobey a police officer. Doing these things provide no justification for the officer to use deadly force especially if the person is unarmed. Shooting an unarmed person six times when no weapon was displayed cannot be justified.
Both Michael Brown and Eric Garner incidents clearly raises questions about police brutality against blacks, the extra judicial killing of unarmed blacks, the grand jury process, and police training. Clearly, the grand jury process and the training of law enforcement officers should be reformed. Law enforcement officers should not let anger or their racial animus interfere with their ability to perform their duties in a legal manner. Police officers have gunned down blacks holding a toy gun or blacks attempting to flee from them. If the police have to shoot someone why can’t the shoot to disable them first? Many lives would be saved and police involved would not have to live with thought of causing a death that could have been prevented. A shootout seems like it is the only time a police should shoot to kill.
It is unfortunate that another round of riot erupted in Ferguson following the grand jury’s no indictment decision for Darren Wilson. These riots while they cannot be condoned are a natural occurrence when a group of people feel they have been oppressed, unfairly treated, ignored, and feel hopeless. These types of riots are certainly not unique to blacks. They occurred in Ireland during the IRA protest against Britain and in the Middle East. And black people remember that mobs of white people with their families and children participated in the lynching of black people. Riots and mob violence only cease when society or those responsible start treating people fairly and justly. We can only hope that the death of Michael Brown and Eric Garner if nothing else will bring about remedial measures in law enforcement and the grand jury process.
President Obama like he did in Professor Henry Gates confrontation with a white police officer has ordered a Task Force to look into police practices. The president should be commended for his courage to get involved in these highly controversial incidents. Let’s hope that his involvement will result in some well-needed reform in law enforcement practices and with the grand jury process. And let’s hope that this time the protestor’s effort will not be in vain in bringing about more racial understanding and tolerance.
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