I sat in traffic on the way back from Xavier, stomach twisting with bile, as I listened to Sean Hannity rail on Charles Barron (NY City Councilman) calling Barron a racist. Barron stated with passion that New York City must not be surprised if there is an explosion in the black community if justice is not served after the recent shooting of 23 year old Sean Bell (the night before his wedding). NYTimes article.
Barron attempted to explain to the bone-headed Hannity (while Hannity used his "shout-over-the-caller" technique) that what happened was evidence of institutional racism. Hannity clearly has not been to college in 25 years as he did not seem to know what institutional racism is. Simply because Hannity could cite a black and Latino police officer among those who shot the 50 (that's right 50) rounds into Bell and his two friends, he cannot assume color-blind justice at work.
As Barron patiently pointed out (with quite a bit of self-control, I might add - I, otoh, was in danger of swerving off the road in a rage), the racism is not in the individuals but is systemic within the NYPD itself. Police departments in large cities typically see black males as automatically dangerous. They are predisposed to assume so. Add to it that in the history of police shooting young adult black men, they are never convicted of criminal over-reaction. Even high profile cases end in the police getting off.
I remember my professor of black theology, who grew up in New York, saying that in 100 years of records, and after all the shootings of NYPD against black youths, no convictions against the police have ever been won. Not one (according to him - I tried to do research but am failing to come up with it). As Dr. Clark would say to the police, Every time you shot you were justified in pulling the trigger? You didn't mistake a cell phone for a gun, ever? You didn't slip up and let fear make your decision rather than protocol even once in 100 years?
How many young blacks have to die for mistakes, for the assumption that they are dangerous?
The Cincinnati riots of 2001 were caused by the fatal shooting of 19 year old Timothy Thomas (he was shot in the back). We had another shooting of a 14 year old in October.
I lived in Los Angeles during the travesty of the Rodney King trial and the riots that followed.
For Hannity to think that there isn't a generalized fear of blacks among whites (whether police officers or civilians) that translates into misuse of force is to choose to be deliberately ignorant of the facts.
Between February 1995 and April 2001, fifteen black males under the age of 40 were killed by police, while no other males from other races were killed by police (during apprehension, chase, confrontation or while in custody in cruisers). Police reports reflect that nationwide in the United States, whites resist arrest at a rate far less than blacks, however, during the time span cited, regardless of the crime or whether or not white suspects resisted, no whites died in police custody.
The disproportionate death rate, although often cited as the most dramatic, was not the only aspect of the charges. A local independent magazine, City Beat, published research that an "analysis of 141,000 traffic citations written by Cincinnati Police in a 22-month period found black drivers twice as likely as whites to be cited for driving without a license, twice as likely to be cited for not wearing a seat belt and four times as likely to be cited for driving without proof of insurance." National trend or localized anomaly, the lawsuit was based on a disproportional number of arrests, citations, and deaths. Some note that the number of deaths during confrontations with police is relatively proportional for a city the size of Cincinnati but the focus of the lawsuit was on the fact that only Blacks died during that span.
Despite all the situations which led to the deaths of the young black males, no police were ever found guilty through any civil or criminal trials; in only one case were the police officers involved reprimanded and given extra training (Death of Michael Carpenter by Officers Michael Miller, III and Brent McCurley). Wikipedia entry about Cincinnati's race relations and the riots.
The truth is, whites don't fear the police generally speaking. We expect to be treated fairly. I don't know a single white person who has ever been mistreated, shot at or killed by a police officer. Consequently, the stories in my head about police are that they can be trusted to do their jobs correctly.
What stories do inner city blacks tell each other? What do they know?
I remember when OJ was let off the hook after his trial. I lived in L.A. at the time and we all sat stunned as jury member after jury member declared that they believed the LAPD had planted evidence against him. What? Were they insane? The LAPD was this incredibly reliable police force—trustworthy and honest. So we thought.
Only a year later did it come out that the LAPD planted evidence routinely to convict suspected criminals. It hit me with force (like a shot in the back) that the jurors saw the police as untrustworthy and out to get them. The glove that didn't fit? Yep! Evidence planted. Fit with the stories they knew.
How incredible that in the same city where Rodney King's trial was moved to Simi Valley followed by no convictions which outraged the black community, the OJ trial was moved from Santa Monica to downtown LA and rendered a verdict equally incomprehesible to whites.
In light of all the black theology over the last few weeks, and the discussion of racism in Michael Irvin's comments and Michael Richards as well, it seems bitterly disillusioning to hear of Bell's death at the hands of police. Bruce Springsteen wrote a song called American Skin "41 Shots" based on that shooting in New York City from a few years ago. He sang it on tour, here, the year that Cincinnati was boycotting businesses over the Timothy Thomas shooting. Catch the refrain:
Is it a gun, is it a knife
Is it a wallet, this is your life
It ain't no secret
(It ain't no secret)
It ain't no secret
(It ain't no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in
Your American skin
That's just it. When I say listen to communities, this is what I'm talking about. We have totally different narratives at work inside us, inside our skin. Even my professor was stopped for a "routine" driver's license "check" within two weeks of moving to Cincinnati. He wasn't speeding. He drives a nice car. He was wearing a suit.
That has never happened to me or Jon. But we're white.
I almost posted about the tasering event against the Iranian student at UCLA last week but the video was so upsetting, I let it go. How ironic. Sean Bell didn't get tasered. He got killed. On the eve of his wedding. Nice going NYPD.
One more article. This one is worth reading.