Police Brutality in the U.S.

Per leggere la traduzione italiana vai qui/ Italian Version: La violenza della polizia negli Stati Uniti


On July 6th–just two days after it’s 240th birthday–Black Americans in The United States went into a state of emergency over the unnecessary deaths of three black men by the hands of police officers in the span of three days. How ironic to live in a nation that celebrates freedom, equality and justice for all, yet the concept of treating black Americans simply as human beings is a concept lost to the “greatest country” in the world.

To recap quickly: On July 4th, Delrawn Small was shot by an off-duty officer in Brooklyn, New York in a road rage incident. As we mourned the loss of Delrawn, the next day on July 5th, Alton Sterling was shot several times by police officers who pinned him down in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As we mourned Delrawn and Alton, on July 6th, Philando Castile was shot multiple times by an officer in his car in St. Paul, Minnesota in front of his fiance and her daughter.

By the time Philando Castile’s name and circumstances around his death were brought to light, police officers in the United States had killed at least 136 black people in 2016. Of course, more names have been added to that list in the last few weeks. The killing of black people in the United States has led to a state of emergency within the black community. No longer can Black Americans stand idly by as people who look like them are brutally murdered by the police officers sworn (and paid!) to protect them.

Let’s take the case of Alton Sterling whose murder was brutal, unjust and shared for the whole world to see.

Two white police officers arrived at the front of a convenience store after receiving a call that a man outside a shop selling CDs had a gun and was waving it around. When police officers arrived on the scene they were apparently already aggressive and shortly after tasered and forced Alton to his stomach, where police placed their weight on his back to pin him down. The video shows that a struggle occurs as the officers force and hold Alton down.

This most likely due to Alton Sterling not necessarily trying to resist arrest, but resist the aggressiveness of the cops manhandling of him and the weight of people on his back (a normal reaction if your body is placed in an uncomfortable position and lots of weight is restricting your access to breathing). At one point, one of the cops yells that Alton has a gun. It is not clear if he meant that Alton had a gun in his hand or somewhere else on his person, but what we do know is that a few moments later, Alton Sterling is shot and there is no gun in his hand.

This is all corroborated in the video taken of his death and of the store owner, a friend of Alton who allowed him to sell his CDs, who witnessed the whole altercation. Not even a day after his death, the media put out that Alton Sterling had a criminal record. However, his background was not brought into light when these police officers confronted him. How were they to have known who Alton was or what he had done in his past? They couldn’t have. What those officers saw was not a person, what they saw was a black body who they had already deemed a criminal.

Alton Sterling didn’t deserve to die the way he did.

In the case of Philando Castile, who was pulled over by cops, who claim they pulled him over for a broken tail light.

Philando followed every order given to him and even told the police officer that he did have a licensed gun with him in the car. Philando did not reach for his gun to harm the police, but was instead reaching for his wallet to show his driver’s license as the officer had instructed. Philando’s responsibility of informing the officers know that he had a gun in his car (he had no intention of using it) got him shot four times without reason. After being fatally shot, his girlfriend began to calmly live stream and narrate the aftermath as Philando lay dying.

This is what I, along with many other Americans, woke up to on our Facebook news feed (I personally couldn’t bring myself to watch it as I think I’ve been traumatized enough by these videos). People asked why didn’t she call 911 instead of live-streaming his death. Remember, 911 was already on the scene-they had caused the scene in fact. Instead of trying to save Philando, the police instead had their guns drawn on his fiance and her four year old daughter and they had just shot the man she loved four times.

Later, it was revealed that Philando was actually profiled because the officer said he matched the description of a robbery suspect due to his wide nose (a common feature amongst Black Americans). Philando was not a robbery suspect, he was a popular and loved cafeteria supervisor at an elementary school. Furthermore, Philando had been stopped and pulled over by the police over 50 times for “various infractions” or racial profiling.

Philando Castile didn’t deserve to die the way he did.

Age does not factor into play when it comes to racial profiling and police brutality. Black children have also unfortunately been the victims of the police using excessive force.

The death of Tamir Rice, a twelve year old boy, in Cleveland, Ohio shocked the U.S. as we watched cops pull up to Tamir and in two seconds fire bullets into him. Tamir’s death could have been prevented if those police officers had actually tried to talk to Tamir to understand what he had in his hand (a BB gun). Instead, they shot at Tamir as if he were a criminal and not a twelve-year old boy.

Tamir Rice didn’t deserve to die the way he did.

Understanding Police Brutality in the United States

To understand police brutality and its intersection to black and brown people, one must begin to comprehend
systematic racism in the United States and all its perversions. Although history books have sugarcoated the truth on its creation, those who read, understand emphasize know that without a doubt the United States was never built on freedom but rather on the bones and blood of the indigenous Native Americans of the United States.

Not too long after the genocide of Native Americans, Africans were stolen and brought over from Africa to become slaves. Even after slaves were freed, discriminatory laws called “Jim Crow” were put into place to oppress people of color. The era of the “Jim Crow” Laws was a racist way of life in the United States (mostly in the South) that affected the way of life for Black Americans by mandating segregations of facilities, schools, buses, trains, restaurants and other institutions between white people and black people.

Although “Jim Crow” was abolished in the 1950s, its ideologies permeated America’s social, cultural and economic consciousness resulting in an disproportionate amount of people of color in the prison system, housing discrimination, unequal pay for people of color and racial profiling. Its effects are still felt still to this day. So there is little to wonder as to why police brutality has permeated into our society and culture.

Police brutality does not begin when people are choked, beaten or shot. It begins when police see black and brown bodies and decide that they are guilty before they are seen as human beings. Police officers are known for racially profiling people, meaning that they use the perceived race of someone to unjustly suspect someone of committing a crime. The problem of racial profiling and police brutality has gotten so terrible that other countries have taken notice. A few days after Philando Castile’s murder, The Bahamas issued a travel alert to their citizens coming to the United States warning,

“…In particular young males are asked to exercise extreme caution in affected cities in their interactions with the police. Do not be confrontational and cooperate.”

Essentially every person of color in the United States has experienced or is expected to experience racial profiling –in stores, by the police, or even on the street– and we just hope that it does not kill us.

Police brutality is not new. The cameras, however, are new. And with this being the new reality now people around the world can see America’s shame–we are finally beginning to hold the mirror up to ourselves. The world has seen these brutal killings- on television, in newspapers and now on our social media feeds. In fact, on Facebook it is easy with the click of a button to share and re-watch these videos of very violent deaths.

This is what makes the killing of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and Tamir Rice so disturbing, horrifying and heart wrenching is that the presence of video footage in each of these murders. One would think that this would be definitive proof of all of those police officers immediately being arrested and put into jail. However, due process in America’s justice system seems to only be reserved for those who put on a uniform and call themselves police officers. Further perpetuating police brutality, is the lack of justice that victims and their families receive through the legal court system in the United States.

This is not shocking when you look at the people who are the prosecutors and and district attorneys in the country- Over 95% of them are white and 83% of them are men. At the same time, people of color in America are prosecuted at a disproportionate rate compared to their white counterparts. So how can the families of people killed by the police expect to get justice for themselves or their families when the system doesn’t even look like them? For most victims and their families, the they don’t.
Lately, there has been much talk about how to make police brutality go away. Ideas and discussions range from having police wear body cameras that record their every movement, immersing the police in the communities they serve or training police better to not resort to gun violence to resolve an issue. Maybe one of these is the answer or maybe the answer still has yet to be discovered, but it is clear and evident that law enforcement has reached dangerous and violent levels that can no longer be denied.

Good Cop. Bad Cop.

Edmund Burke said

“ The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

I do believe that there is a general understanding that police officers have an incredibly difficult job to do. They do put their lives in danger everyday in order to protect citizens and they must be able to think and act quickly to diffuse situations. However, if the first thought and action when confronting a person of color, especially if they are unarmed, is to shoot them first, then it is obvious that being a police officer is not the right job.

Although it is generally understood that not all cops are bad, all cops are complicit in this racist system by keeping their silence and refusing to call out the increased levels of police brutality endured by people of color in the United States. The cone of silence around police officers is deadly and perpetuates the sick system of excessive force. Why is that 1,207 people were killed by the police in 2015 in the United States? That number is higher than other countries have in their history of law enforcement. This is unacceptable.

Am I Next?

My body should not be a target to police, especially living in a nation that states that one is innocent until proven guilty. I am Black in every facet of my life. It is not something I am paid to be, put on or take off- that is what a police officer does. So after the anger and the public retaliations of these killings begins to subside, the question is asked:

Am I Next? 

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