Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hands Up, Don't Shoot

The USA Today (8/15/2014) reports that white policemen kill blacks 400 times a year, according to a 7 year study that ended in 2012.

When unarmed children like Michael Brown, and so many others, are gunned down by white policemen, these tragedies can seem purely racial. After all, this type of killing happens much more often to black and brown children than to whites.

I participated in a recent Moment of Silence on 8/14/2014 in downtown Nashville, a peaceful, nonviolent protest against police brutality attended by hundreds of black, brown and white people. I was quite pleased to see Nashville police calmly wandering within the crowd and occasionally talking to people. Some participants claimed that police violence is an issue for blacks only. Others argued that this is an American issue, a problem for all, not just for black people.

Police brutality is a problem for us all.

Amidst a myriad of concerns about such tragedies, I will highlight a few: One is how we define the term, “children.” Many people somehow view teenage boys as grown men, as if they aren’t adolescents displaying typical adolescent behaviors. While it is true that some teenage boys can be large, aggressive, and/or dangerous, why is it that police shoot and kill these unarmed children? Much less unarmed adult black and brown men?

Even if an unarmed kid has been involved in a robbery, jay walked, or acted belligerently, why do police get to decide if the child lives or dies? That decision is not in their job description. They are to enforce the law, not act as judge or jury.

However, another concern is that our police, whether they be white, black, brown, men or women, sometimes experience acute chronic stress, fears that they or others will get hurt, anger at people who commit heinous crimes or who thumb their noses at law enforcers. Hopefully, most police are trained well and know how to handle themselves ethically and dependably during crises. But, when people live under constant threat, some may act out in disturbing ways. What can we do about this?

How can we teach our police to react effectively and calmly when threat occurs, and to make quick, non-lethal decisions even when they are scared and/or angry?

I am also horrified by the prison industrial complex and the militarization of our police departments. For-profit prison corporations’ make more money when prisons are full, and color matters a great deal in our judicial system. Unequal sentencing is a known fact, victimizing blacks and impoverished, marginalized people.

As Michelle Alexander states in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, our judicial and prison systems have become our new forms of American slavery, blatant and barely disguised. Does killing black children reflect this slavery motif that white land owners are in charge and can do whatever they want to blacks?