Watching and listening to the way more than half of the country is discussing the killing of Michael Brown and its aftermath, I keep thinking that there is something incredibly ruthless and unforgiving about Americans’ sense of justice.
Central to the problem is that the vast majority of White Americans, including myself, really have no idea of what it means to be black in America. Therefore, they have a very different reality when it comes to the police and justice system. White Americans have this very naive sense that you get what you deserve, and that if you are in jail (or shot by the police), it is because you must have done something wrong.
Unfortunately, most White people don’t know any Black people. They don’t know that being Black in America means getting followed by security guards in the shopping mall and constantly asked to open your bag in stores. It means getting stopped all the time by police (particularly in poor neighborhoods), and definitely being stopped by the police if you are in a White neighborhood. You are constantly a suspect, whether you are rich, poor or middle class. Any Black person you speak to, without exception rich or poor or with or without a father (as the cliché goes), can tell you stories about being treated as a suspect. Even the President of the United States, having won the elections in 2008 with more votes than any other president in the history of the nation, is constantly being accused of being a foreign entity, an intruder, and illegitimate.
Yet all of the studies show that when the police do stops, Blacks are not more likely to be carrying guns or drugs than Whites. Yet, Blacks are stopped much more and incarcerated more frequently and for longer periods for the same offenses. Then, of course, there are all of the cases of unarmed black men being shot be the police (even when following orders) with complete impunity. None of those cases would pass the standard “self defense” defense. But in America, a Black male — especially a large one — is always considered a threat. It is amazing to think that a professional police officer, one being charged with protecting the community — could so recklessly shoot at Brown a dozen times (there were bullets found lodged in the door and walls of a nearby building, talk about a total disregard for public safety) and not have had other options. The notion that Brown deserved to die because he was big or had smoked pot or because 18 isn’t really that young is not just ruthless and unforgiving but also shows an incredible lack of skill in policing. Forget about race for a second. Why are police killing so many people? Why are you nine times more likely to be killed in the U.S. by the police than by a terrorist? Why are Americans so eager to shoot in self-defense or to carry fire-arms for protection in general?
Do Americans even realize that no where else in the world do the police, security guards and the general public so happily discharge their fire arms at the slightest hint of danger, if at all? Officer Wilson unloaded his gun more times than the entire number of bullets discharged from police fire arms in all of England last year.
But back to my point, life in America is very dangerous for Blacks, especially men. I was just reading an article about a black teenager who was walking down Arthur Avenue in the Bronx when the police came and accused him of having stolen a backpack. When the kid said that he wasn’t carrying any stolen property, the white accuser suddenly changed his story and said it was stolen 2 weeks early. The poor kid spent 3 years in Rikers Island waiting for a trial that never happened for a crime that was not only not committed by the kid but was not committed at all. He spent most of his time in jail in solitary confinement.
So when a young Black male gets shot by the police and everyone in the community wants a trial and the prosecution says “no” and the police says that he deserved to die because he was no angel, you have to think that America, even without race, is a ruthless, unforgiving place. A place where only Angels are allowed to live.