Racism is here to stay… apparently.
The discussion on the Michael Brown decision not to prosecute Officer Wilson is being funneled into the distracted discussion that shelters the real issue. We have established a long history of overt racism, institutional racism, acceptable aggression toward people of color and white privilege, which presents itself as justifiable homicide if the dead person is black. Because of all of these things our hands are tied in a criminal justice system that seems to foster racism as an unchangeable deciding factor in the outcome of cases. We need to see racism for what it is; a variable that can and must be changed and removed from the equation.
There is so much that goes into these circumstances that are not immediately under the control of the shooter and the victim. The officer’s worldview was shaped by his experiences over time and likely made more severe by being a white police officer in a mostly black community. He does not share the experiences they have so cannot possibly see the community as one with vibrancy and culture and is likely not given the opportunity to develop empathy for the community and the struggles faced by people who are not the same color as he is.
The color lines are drawn firmly in the sand and there are two sides to that line. On the other side we have the guarded, likely cynical view of the community members who are policed by white people who have no chance to truly understand them. I am not weighing in on what happened and I am not going to pick apart the evidence. Doing that would be again focusing on the narrower issue and disregarding what needs attention.
So, at the end of the day you have a police officer, and many more like him all over the country that are put in charge of policing people who do not trust them. If this was not historically justified it sure is now. You can be a black man in this world and be shot. The stark raving mad truth was laid out last February in a Mother Jones article titled “21 Things you can’t do while black.” The list is as follows:
- Listen to loud music at a gas station.
- Walk home from a snack run to 7-11.
- Wear a hoodie.
- Drive after swimming.
- Drive in a car with a white girl.
- Appear in public in New York City.
- Walk on the wrong side of the street.
- Wait for a school bus to take you to your high school basketball game.
- Drink iced tea in a parking lot.
- Seek help after a car accident.
- Inspect your own property.
- Show up at your job.
- Talk trash after an NFL game.
- Throw a temper tantrum in kindergarten.
- Buy designer accessories at Barney’s.
- Buy designer accessories at Macy’s.
- Be a 13-year-old boy.
- Enter your own home.
- Botch a science experiment.
- Be a tourist.
- Lay face down in handcuffs.
The original article can be found at http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/02/21-things-you-cant-do-while-black.
I don’t think it would have helped to indict the police officer. The whole system is failed and we would be here in a few months from now having the same conversation. This is a startling reminder of what racism does. It triggers fear and mistrust in people of color but more sinister it removes logical thought from many processes that should require a hell of a lot more thought. The big one is policing. The everyday fears and misunderstandings created by racism are brought to bear behind that badge. It is a recipe for disaster every time.
I struggle with this topic quite a bit. I have always had respect for law enforcement. Even as I was listening to the prosecutor last night read his statement I was searching for a way to maintain that respect for the criminal justice system. The truth is that the whole system is flawed and the people in positions of power are not taking responsibility to change the environment, mostly because they are not taken to task over the killing of young black men. It allows the process to begin again. It allows those in power to say things like “let’s keep these demonstrations peaceful” because they no longer have an iron in the fire. They have no stake in putting in the extra time and effort because they have not been faulted.
It is the epitome of the vicious cycle and it is costing us the lives of our black youth.
The question I ask myself now is “what can I do to change this?” At first glance I am not sure. It is a large task requiring the help of every single person who walks and breathes on this Earth. What I am going to do is, something, anything I can. I will lay that out as soon as I come up with my focus.
Until then, do what you can to eliminate the racial aggressions that you may foster, sometimes without knowing it. If you hear or see someone doing something like this, say something. It’s time we all started speaking up and speaking out. How many more have to die?