Other than binge-watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report every once in a while, I don’t watch the news on a regular basis. I am not proud of this. It’s just, knowing that I have to actively separate the truth from propaganda frustrates and overwhelms me to no end. But this summer, I haven’t been able to escape the news. There have been far too many reports of law enforcement officers killing or brutalizing black people for minor offenses to simply ignore the news. The sheer number of reports begs the question, is this violence fueled by racist instincts?
In July, just a month ago, Eric Garner was tackled and choked to death by police officers for allegedly selling cigarettes outside of a convenient store in New York.
More recently, Michael Brown was shot to death by a police officer for allegedly hitting that same police officer in Missouri. When the citizens of Ferguson began exercising their right to peacefully protest into the night, the Ferguson Police responded with brute force. They threw tear gas and smoke bombs onto the crowd and arrested civilians and journalists from both The Washington Post and The Huffington Post.
Attacking the crowd and arresting journalists infringed on the rights granted to every single American in the First Ammendment. This police brutality and disregard for constitutional rights sounds eerily familiar.
It seems to me that certain police departments across the United States respond in this brute manner for two reasons. Firstly, many police departments across the United States have become uncommonly militarized. The Pentagon now provides police departments across the nation with excess military equipment. Humvees and advanced technical weaponry and equipment are now entering police departments. Police officers respond with this equipment simply because it is there. It is unnecessary. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, many people, including police officers, in this country associate racial blackness with danger and fear. In the media, villains are constantly dressed in black and dark clothing or are black men. The media bombards us with the notion that Black is bad and so we are subconsciously taught that anything dark is evil or harmful. Because of this, when the American public views someone in real life who reminds them of an image they’ve been bombarded with in the media, and programmed to hate and fear, their entire mentality towards that person changes. Whether or not that real life person has done anything to warrant such a response is negligible. Oftentimes, when this fear arises in many Americans, they reach for their excess military equipment, or their guns that were too easily acquired in the first place, and attack.
As a black person, raised by an American and African-black family, I have been exposed countless times to conversations and personal accounts about the difficulties of being black in America. In my own life, I have experienced the subtle racism that is so ingrained in our culture. For the black community, it is very clear that there is a startling frequency of the victimization of innocent black people. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely black people who have behaved against the law and have been punished accordingly. But there are a great number of black people who have been punished unjustly for minor offenses, or none at all.
In February of 2012, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a neighborhood captain because he appeared to be suspicious. In January of 2009, Oscar Grant was fatally shot by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer for allegedly resisting arrest after being detained from a fight. In February of 2009, Amadou Diallo, was shot to death by police officers who believed him to fit the description of a rapist and because they incorrectly thought he reached for a gun. In November of 2006, after leaving a bachelor party, Sean Bell was shot dead by several undercover police officers, who believed Sean and his entourage to have a gun. Add to the list Yusef Hawkins, Emmett Till, Victor Steen, Steven Eugene Washington, Mark Duggan, Renisha McBride, Marlene Pinnock, and too many more.
While there are many cases that the general public does know about, and this is hugely credited to the omnipresence of smartphones, there are many assaults that aren’t witnessed and video recorded or Tweeted. It is often unknown to the general public that suspicion and harassment (Stop-and-Frisk policy) are part of the daily life of many black people.
What’s really troubling is, even in the face of all of this evidence, there are still people that argue racism is completely over. There are still intelligent and articulate policy makers that ignore this fact, despite the glaring evidence. People are afraid to hear it. But until all Americans start recognizing the structural racism that is so ingrained in our very institutions and everyday thought, racism and bigotry will continue to lead to the deaths of those like Michael Brown. Ignoring racism does nothing to alleviate the pain from the victims and absolutely nothing to move us forward as a country. Ignoring racism causes barriers to rise between races to the point where people can only interact on a superficial level. That won’t get us anywhere. If we all don’t do our part in tackling racism, America will ultimately lose the incredible promise of what this country could, and should, be.