Point of View Columns

The Silent Plague

The past few weeks/months/years have seen a proliferation of sad and tragic videos of Black men being killed by white police officers. From Ferguson to Detroit to Staten Island to Brooklyn Center, the sad and tragic scenario of death and desolation is replayed seemingly countless times. But this proliferation raises a very important question – is the simultaneous proliferation of police body cameras and cellphone videos the reason that we know about these tragedies or……has this been going on all along and our awareness is simply based on the advance of technology.

It is possible to believe that the awful occurrence of Police on Black crime is increasing because of the economy, COVID or the malevolent presence of 45. But a bit of logic is important to note. Because during the past few decades there has been some real progress in terms of police training as well as situational awareness. Yet, despite this progress, these police homicides seem to proliferate like malevolent weeds in the garden of our lives.

An alternative thought is that it was actually worse years ago. When there were no police body cameras or pesky cellphone videos police could do whatever made sense to their universe of perspective and there was no alternative reality.

Consider the fact that if the death of Davoun Martin at the hands of the police had occurred in 1970 there would have been no video or photographic evidence. The police officers involved would have concocted a story about Mr. Martin presenting a danger/reaching for a gun…whatever, and that would have been the end of the story. Literally, no one reading this would ever have even known his name, much less the circumstances of his death.

Accepting this alternative theory, it is possible to realize that police/law enforcement authorities have been killing Black men without consequence for centuries. Keep in mind that since the appearance of Black people in America in 1619 there were actual laws which mandated that it was not a crime for white men to kill Black people for any cause whatsoever until the end of the Civil War in 1865.

That virulent mind set had already spread into the body politic prior to the ratification of the Constitution and it was only due to a civil war and the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments that Black Americans were according a semblance of citizenship and humanity. Nevertheless, the dehumanization of Black Americans has persisted through the deconstruction of Reconstruction into the Jim Crow Era into present day America and the arrival of the James Crow Era.

During all of these centuries the devaluing of Black lives made it simple, easy and logical for law enforcement to impose capital punishment on Black Americans for whatever real or imagined offense might come to mind. And that is why it is possible to believe that technology is not the reason why there is a proliferation of Blue on Black Crime in America.

We have every historical, statistical and anecdotal reason to believe that the law enforcement institutions of this nation have been killing Black men, women and children with impunity throughout the history of the United States. It has been such a part of the DNA of American law enforcement that some police officers have been unable to stop such vile conduct even with the knowledge that body cameras, cell phone video and street cameras are everywhere.

In other words, it has always been here. Before the founding of the Republic.

Except now we see it in real time.

And sadly, we will continue to see this infernal replay until justice and the recognition of the innate humanity of Black Americans becomes a reality.

We can only hope that that day will come sooner than later.

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Point of View Columns

A Matter of Life and Death

It should come as no surprise that there is not much new in this New Year. After all stubbornness is as much a part of the human condition as occasional genius, and neither feature is observant of the calendar.

Which brings us to the societal conflagration in America, most recently occasioned by the tragedies in Cleveland, Ferguson and Staten Island, but the embers of this particular inferno have been smoldering for centuries. The absolute need and desire for enforcement of the law in communities of all color has been in regular conflict with the underlying history of government sanctioned brutality against people of color in this country.

A thorough understanding reveals serious stains and scars on the glorious image that has misinformed and misguided us for centuries. From the Black Codes of the 1600’s to the March of Tears and the Dred Scott decision and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1800’s to genocide in Tulsa and Rosewood and lynching sanctioned by legal inaction in the first half of the 20th century, there are real reasons why people of color are wary of law enforcement even as its necessity is recognized.

That is why it is logical, reasonable and rational for Americans of all colors to be outraged over the legal whitewashing of the lethal encounters with the police that occurred after the police homicides in Ferguson and Staten Island. There is no reason but racism that makes it plausible for every person of color to fear that any encounter with the police, no matter how innocuous, can have fatal results.

Nevertheless, there is a one ton gorilla standing in the crowds that protest racially tinged homicides that are accompanied by a badge. The outrage and disgust and demands for institutional and cultural changes in this country arise when there is a lethal outcome from an encounter between white police officers and victims of color.

The one ton gorilla stands by quietly as the marches and rallies and “die-ins” proliferate. The one ton gorilla can afford to be quiet because as long as it stays quiet it is seemingly invisible to the protestors who vociferously call for an end to the violation of human rights. The one ton gorilla is quiet because this simian giant represents the ongoing death of black Americans by guns in the hands of black Americans.

The one ton gorilla is ignored for reasons that defy logic or reality. More black people die at the hands of black people than by reason of racist law enforcement. If police were killing black people at the rate that black people kill black people there would be justifiable cries of “genocide”. Yet, a black person killing black people does not evoke a similar response.

In the sad aftermath of another sad murder, some candles are lit, there might be a march or two, but the outrage and disgust are strikingly absent. We are told that unemployment, absence of fathers, poor education somehow justifies the extinguishing of the life of another human being.

We also find that there is a glorification of a culture of violence and killing that is found in too many videos, songs and movies. And the promoters of that culture are idolized and imitated, leading to…………more violence and killing. And as the cycle spins the one ton gorilla sits silently and invisible.

There is no sense in arguing which death is worse….death by badge or death by thug. The victim is dead, the family is bereft and we are all lessened by the needless loss of life.

There is also no sense in ignoring the one ton gorilla.

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