Another day, another murdered teen. When will we wake up and push for stronger vetting on the people to which we relinquish near-complete authority? How can we push for regulation of people from other countries for fear of terrorist attacks yet we continue to ignore the acts of domestic terrorism that are regularly taking place on our streets? To really understand what’s going on here, we must revisit the beginning of our great nation. In Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, she details how Federalism was created in order to protect the institution of slavery, as well as ensure slave-holding states were well represented in the infantile government. The newly-formed government had cooperation from the southern states contingent upon the guarantee that slaves would continue serving as the South’s main source of labor. The provisions went as far to grant southern states political power based on counting slaves as 3/5 of a person for political representation in Congress. This also gave slave-holding states more sway in the Electoral College (the device used to elect the nation’s President.) Essentially, American democracy was based largely on slave labor and the society of racial superiority that came along with it.
After the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves throughout the entire country, southern plantation owners were riddled with debt and no longer had the workforce they relied on almost exclusively to harvest their products. They were downtrodden and demoralized, focusing much resentment towards their four million former-slaves-turned-new neighbors. To these plantation owners (and even poor whites in the same areas), focusing their dismay on the result of the war helped them cope with their own feelings of failure and ineptitude. They instead concentrated on exercising total control over the new minority. It started with minor vagrancy laws, which prohibited any black person from being without a job, gave police forces easy prey to throw in jail, and slowly morphed into the Jim Crow laws of the early twentieth century. Laws that forced segregation in public spheres and reestablished social dominance over blacks in the south. “Separate but equal” was the law of the land and southern whites were using it much to their advantage. During the Reconstruction era after the Civil War, black citizens were flourishing in political and economic spheres. By 1867, 15% of elected officials were black. As a reaction to this new advancement in black America, white supremacy and superiority grew in tandem with the accomplishments of black Americans. It was during this time that law enforcement became much more focused on the arrest and incarceration of black Americans, and states began to impose devices that prohibited fair access for all races to the right to vote. Local governments began jailing black Americans for slight offenses – it is recorded that tens of thousands of African Americans were arrested during this period. Instead of jailing them; these prisoners were forced to work off their debts and ultimately became slaves of the state. The concept legal slavery under the guise of prison began. It was also under these punishments that black Americans were subjected to horrid conditions that, in many cases resulted in death- a death under the care of the government.
Fast forward back to today’s society- we see hashtags of young black men and women who met an untimely demise at the hands of the agents of our government- those who swore to protect and serve- not stereotype and shoot. Some statistics of police stereotyping minorities can be easily displayed. For example, in one county in Florida, over 1,000 documented highway stops shows that, although only five percent of drivers in this county are minorities, over 80% of the drivers that were stopped and searched were non-white. In Oakland, it is recorded that black men are twice as likely to be stopped and three times more likely to be searched by police officers than any other group.
With this history lesson in mind, it is not a far stretch to see how today’s police officers are doing what they were designed to do in the first place: keep black Americans in check. They were the forces used by the white majority to ease their own fears of rebellion or revolution by repressing black America in every way they could possibly fathom. They did this through the use of a police force trained to focus on non-whites as a threat over whites, the advent of Jim Crow laws which defunded black communities and stripped access to a variety of resources, including medical care, education, and fresh food, and through the outright political alienation of black citizens as an entire group to guarantee black officials were no longer in positions of elected power and that black interests were smashed into the ground.
Along with this reflex to condemn a black individual for a crime they may or may not have committed, police officers are held captive by fear more so than any other occupation. These officers who make themselves judge and jury of another person’s life have an issue that cannot be seen: their hearts are in the wrong place. These police shootings and killings of black Americans are not limited to a certain crime, a certain area, a certain socio-economic status. It is reduced to the simple fact that these people see dark skin and automatically assume bad intent. In the case of twelve-year old Tamir Rice; he was seen by two police officers brandishing a weapon on a playground. This “weapon” that posed the officers such a large threat, was nothing more than a toy gun. If the boy had been fair skinned, I’m positive the officers would have thought it was cute and wondered what he was conjuring in his imagination. Alas, little Tamir was not given that benefit of the doubt. He was not given the chance to be a child who was playing pretend with a toy gun on a playground. Perhaps daydreaming of protecting his family from a bad guy…or of becoming a police officer himself one day, with his gun in one hand and a badge in another. We will never know what scene Tamir was acting out in his day on the playground, as one of the officers shot him dead in cold blood. No threatening behavior present. No warning given. It is this problem of the heart that this nation must recognize and repair. It is the acknowledgment of the systemic racial injustices that take place every day- in legal matters, at the workplace, on the streets. We must demand a higher expectation of those who are supposedly there to protect and serve US, the citizens of their jurisdiction. We must demand a more stringent hiring process and a more rigid requirement for mental stability.
I do not believe most police officers are evil…but one bad apple spoils the bunch. Why not prevent them from rotting in the first place by preventing the bad apple from even BEING THERE? Cowards like this who cannot contain situations without brandishing a gun have no place on a force that is supposed to be there for PROTECTION not INTIMIDATION and UNJUST MURDER.