Although summer doesn’t technically end until September 22, the Labor Day weekend is seen by many as the unofficial end of summer time fun. However, for many African American males, the summer of 2014 will go down in history as one of the most anxiety-ridden and angst-filled three month spans of the last 20 years with the multitude of deaths of unarmed Black men at the hands of law enforcement officials. For many in the African American community over the age of 35, these types of occurrences are nothing new as police brutality and excessive use of force are simply a way of life in many high crime areas across the United States, and have been for many years. However, with the deaths of Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, John H. Crawford, and Mike Brown, as well as the ensuing riots in Ferguson, MO, the mainstream media has jumped all over police brutality like flies on stink. And yes, this phenomenon has always been a puss filled boil on the veneer of the American democratic experiment that is often concealed. But every so often this putrid boil bursts and its innards, though unsavory in their makeup, are left to bleed out and fester for the world to see. Freedom? Liberty? Justice? Falsehoods for many.
The country that claims it is the bastion of liberty is revealed as a cauldron of contradictions. At no time since the 1960s has the national spotlight shined upon the police interactions with the African American community as a whole, and African American males in particular. The national outcry was so profound that the citizens of Ferguson found unlikely international allies in Palestine and even North Korea.
On August 13, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination went on record on the issue of police brutality in America, urging the United States to halt excessive force by law enforcement officials. The panel of 18 independent experts made the U.S. delegation squirm in their seats while speaking on America's persistent racial discrimination against African Americans and other minorities. While the recognition of the Black struggle in America by the U.N. does add some legitimacy to the struggle, there are many Americans of Africa descent who look at these numbers and say “Well….duh!” Sadly, it’s only when others recognize our struggles does the world begin to notice. The same can be said for the plethora of white journalists who have reported on the issue and began covering in earnest in a manner that would lead one to believe that racism fell out of the sky in June of this year.
The summer news cycle was rife with Black blood shed at the hands of law enforcement and both conservative and liberal talking heads took to the airwaves to defend or admonish law enforcement for their actions. There were nationwide protests and candlelight vigils, Rev. Al Sharpton was on the ground in Ferguson and led a march in Staten Island, New York to protest the death of Eric Garner, and there was a newfound willingness among African American gangs to call a truce with their African American rivals in Ferguson. Racism, by its very nature is difficult to quantify without tangible evidence. One would be hard pressed to explain whether these happenings are the result of a cabal of rabidly racist police officers or stem from a culture of institutionalized racism via policing methods that traditionally has seen men of various communities of ethnic minorities as public enemy number one. The difference between the two is that the rabidly racist police officer goes into minority communities with hatred in his heart while the racially ambiguous officer is locked into a system of doing things that is racist. It really doesn’t matter at the end of the day as the results are still the same.
On August 14, New Orleans police officer Lisa Lewis shot 26-year-old Armand Bennett in the forehead following a scuffle that occurred while attempting to apprehend the man that authorities say had fled the same officer earlier in the month, and had four different warrants with his name on them. The controversy stems from officer Lewis’ uniform camera having been turned off prior to the traffic stop. She says she was on the way back to the precinct prior to making the stop and turned it off because her shift was coming to an end. However, the attorney for Bennett’s family say he she turned it off because she intended on killing him. Was he executed or was Lewis acting in self-defense? The truth may be on her side for all anyone knows, but the political atmosphere in which this incident occurred means the NOPD’s word will not be taken for face value and if the eventual resolution favors the police department it will only add to the distrust that already exists between the community and the NOPD.
Since the death of Michael Brown at the hands of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, there have been several incidents resulting in the deaths of unarmed African American males, including 36-year-old Dante Parker of Victorville, California-a pressman at the Daily Press newspaper who was tased by police on August 12 because he fit the description of a robbery suspect. He began breathing heavily afterwards and died at a local hospital.
Unfortunately, these things aren’t shocking to many of us. They’re seen by some as one of the many crosses that African Americans have to bear simply for existing in the United States. However, the fact that the nation is suddenly shock and aghast at circumstances that have permeated minority communities in America for over a century is frustrating beyond measure. In August professor and author Marc Lamont Hill quoted a MXGM study that said an unarmed black person is shot by law enforcement, vigilantes or security guards. This number caught fire on the blogosphere, but further scrutiny by Politifact revealed that only 136 of the 313 cases cited featured a victim that was unarmed when fired upon.
Though it has been revealed that the initially numbers were off, there are certainly individuals who are still parading them around as fact on some obscure blog at the boundaries of the Internet. A far more credible study conducted by the ColorLines and The Chicago Reporter concluded what many of us already know, African American males are shot and killed by police far more often than any other ethnic group. In New York City, San Diego and Las Vegas, African Americans were killed by police at least double their percentage in the general population. The same report also provided a ray of hope for beleaguered and fearful communities from across the nation. Washington, D.C. once had the highest rate of police involved shootings in the nation during the 90s. However, that rate has since been cut dramatically due to training and accountability. That’s a nice warm and fuzzy stat, but the fraternal thin blue line mindset of many officers dictates that they defend their own to a fault. The lack of accountability that seems inherent with police involved shootings only adds to centuries worth of distrust between African American communities across the nation and the law enforcement agencies that are called upon to defend the most vulnerable among us.