When I first heard about the latest fatal police shooting involving a white police officer, my initial response was to immediately contact the legal firm representing the witness to the killing, Feidin Santana, in order offer some sort of donation towards his legal expenses. Upon reflection, however, it occurred to me that a more substantial response would be to apply my anger and resources towards advocacy, opening up this forum to discussion by those most affected, the youth, in particular the black you, of the US south.
In these pages, the reader will soon begin to hear the voices of many of America’s disadvantaged youth, but what follows are just a few reflections of my own:
Both this, and the Michael Brown shooting, reminded me a little of an article that I read once about Indonesian pygmies that were hunted down as game by early European colonists, simply because they were regarded as being sub-human. To me there appears to be a parallel here in the United States. The incidence of white police officers shooting and killing blacks, in particular young blacks, carries with it the same sort of overtones of racial arrogance and prejudice. It astonishes me that in a society as advanced as this that such obvious crimes against humanity still exist, and are allowed to exist. The video evidence in this case is quite unequivocal. The officer was obviously in no danger. In all likelihood he could quite easily have outrun an overweight fifty-year old man, and his efforts to tamper with the crime scene by planting a fallen tazer on the ground beside the body shows clearly an easy fall-back on covering up the facts. Had not there been a passerby with a video camera, the chances are good that Officer Michael Slager would not have been arrested for murder.
In the United States today, if an individual was filmed shooting a fleeing dog with eight rounds from a semi-automatic pistol, in all likelihood the nation would have been in a more fitful uproar than it is at the moment over the killing of an innocent and unarmed black man. What took place was cold blooded murder, and it needs to be recognized for that fact.
In discussion with others over this issue, the question was put to me whether this was a race or a humanitarian issue? In many respects the answer to this question is that is is both. As an immigrant to the United States, and a man of color myself, I might be forgiven for over-emphasizing the question of race, and indeed, as I have passed many milestones since my arrival, and since I have become less subject to race stigmatization now than in my early years, I am more inclined to see it as a humanitarian than strictly a race issue.
However, there are inescapable race elements to this tragedy, but the question needs to be asked, why is the dynamic of this recent spate of killings so clearly racial in perspective. When reported in the news, the rhetoric is invariably: ‘Another black man shot by a white police officer?’
Why are the streets of predominately black neighborhoods of the southern United States policed so disproportionately by white police officers? Or is it simply that white police officers are more trigger happy than black police officers, or perhaps it is, as many observer are apt to claim, that the simple dynamic of racism underscores the entire tragedy? Is it just a fact that white cops shoot black men when given half the chance?
Here I am wandering into social issues that I am not qualified to comment on, but there is nonetheless a proliferation of opinion in the news as to why there are so few black policemen in the service, and whether the recruitment of more black police officers would decrease the incidence of police brutality? These questions are open to interpretation, and I would invite readers to start a comment thread below, and lets hear you opinion on the matter.
In conclusion, however, a point worth making, simply from the point of view of a devil’s advocate, is that, having come from India, and having traveled widely, I am not insensitive to the reality of live without rule of law and unbiased law enforcement. It is not pretty to have no police force or agency of civil order. Anarchy is something that the uneducated might call for, but will regret the moment that they get it. It is an inescapable fact that the standard and quality of law and law enforcement in the United States is equal to, or superior, in many instances, to anywhere else in the world. That, however, does not preclude the police in the United States from being censured by the public, and being forced to modify and improve its performance in certain areas where there is quite obviously a deep rot. In the matter of racism in the police force, in particular when it spills over into murder, this can never be, and should never be tolerated in a civilized society.
However, if an unbearable degree of pressure and vilification is brought to bear on the police force as a whole, and should law enforcement cease to be an attractive career option for individuals of quality, then it is inevitable that the quality of personnel attracted to this profession will diminish.
It is therefore a fine balance between professionalism and tolerance that must be struck, and this is without doubt one of the most acute social challenges of our age. The phenomenon of black men falling victim to white police officers in unjustified shootings is simply occurring to frequently in this country for it to be random. There is a pattern emerging that has probably always been there, but which technology is helping year by year to expose. One is forced to wonder that if video camera where as available fifty years, or a hundred years ago to the extent that they are today, how much of the slaughter of young black males on the streets of US cities could be attributed unequivocally to racism within the various police departments?