During the racially heated 1960s, civil rights characterized a decade of social combat. This time period also saw plenty of physical conflict that was taken to the streets. Black and white photos of black and brown people being mangled by government dogs, blasted by fire hoses or just straight assaulted with police nightsticks have been permanently burned into our past, all while they were only fighting for their humanity. As Americans, some us believed those hardships marked a point of social growth.
However, it is 2015 and the same old crap still continues. Police brutality needs to be treated as a national crisis. The topic was finally brought to national attention following the murder of Trayvon Martin. His bag of Skittles must have been a very menacing weapon in the eyes of neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman.
Next, the murder of Michael Brown brought the predominately black city of Ferguson, Missouri into the spotlight. This case was problematic for the black community because Brown was already stereotyped as a thug. Whether you’re a Michael Brown opponent or supporter, witnessing a grieving mother who just lost her child to those who are meant to “protect and serve” is resonating.
The 2014 Staten Island case of Eric Garner was particularly disturbing because the entire execution of the father of three was caught on video, and perpetually played by news organizations here to Timbuktu. According to the New York Times, from 2009 to 2013 over 1,022 complaints were filed by New Yorkers in which they said New York Police Department officers used chokeholds, which were banned since the death of Michael Stewart in 1983. Of the 1,022 complaints, only nine were substantiated. Nine out of 1,022? To make matters worse, NYPD Police Commissioner Bill Bratton doesn’t believe race is relevant to his officers when making split-second, life-ending decisions; go figure.
The most recent occurrence of police brutality bloodied a black UVA student, Martese Johnson. His bloodied face which was mashed into the concrete while being cuffed has made the front-page of publications all over. The Alcoholic Beverage Control cops who arrested Johnson, an honor student, claimed he possessed a fake id, which he was never charged with having, and was publicly intoxicated. Witnessing this video imparted some fear in me; all you have to do is swap Martese for Graham.
The elemental root of these events is easy to see Slavery was only abolished 150 years ago. Black and brown folk are the only bodies in this country ever accounted by the state as valueless. The Nation.com columnist Mychal Denzel Smith said it best, “History is present whether we invite it to the table or not. We don’t escape America’s history of racism because we believe ourselves to be good people, or that we’re just doing our jobs. It’s already defined our lives.” Aside from our shameful history of slavery and genocide of native people, the modern root is veiled racism and unconscious stereotyping. How can we come to trust our community protectors if they are racially profiling? Sad thing is, many local law enforcement makes people feel anxious and unsafe, watched and controlled. A solution lies somewhere, but where? Changing these sentiments will be one hell of a task for the American mind.