Policing melanin: Racial discrimination in law enforcement



Brian White,

This time last year I was glued to the TV, awaiting the grand jury decision on whether or not they would indict police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. As the prosecutor got up to the podium and fumbled over his words, he announced that the grand jury had decided not to press charges against Wilson.

I sat there silent, gutted and I wept. I have never felt so uncertain of my place in American society as a person of color as I did in that moment. Do our lives even matter? That was my only question. It feels like the lives of Black people hold little to no value, which saddens and horrifies me.

It angers me to see a Black family torn apart because of police brutality. We, as a society, have yet to see a police officer like Wilson pay for their reckless actions against Black people. Three hundred eighty-five people were shot and killed nationwide by police during the first five months of this year, that’s more than two a day, according to the Washington Post.

I grew up in Los Angeles, off of 39th and Crenshaw. I’m familiar with police abusing their power and the stress it causes on the community. Long after the 1992 Rodney King riots ended, you could still drive around and see burnt buildings struggling to stand. They were — and still are — a reminder of what happens when a group of people are hunted and objectified.[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]I have never felt so uncertain of my place in American society as a person of color as I did in that moment.[/mks_pullquote]

I recently moved from SoCal to the Bay Area to attend Cal State East Bay. Two weeks ago, two police incidents rekindled the despair that filled me when I was sitting on the couch watching Ferguson riot.

On Nov. 15, two Alameda County sheriffs were put on paid leave after a video surfaced a few days prior, of them tackling a man and striking him more than 30 times with their batons. The Black man had stolen a car, then hit a patrol car and injured a deputy, and led police on a 40-mile chase that ended in San Francisco. He is seen in the video trying to cover up and protect himself from the being hit and can be heard yelling for help in the footage. The suspect suffered several broken bones all over his body, according to news reports and public statements made by his lawyer.

That same day, in Oakland, a 39-year-old man was killed after law enforcement broke up a “side show” that started on Interstate 880 and ended at 90th and Bancroft in East Oakland. The suspect allegedly had a gun and pointed it at officers and they in turn shot the suspect. It was later revealed that he was holding an airsoft replica gun.

The video is eerily similar to the 1991 video of Rodney King being beaten.

This is not the first time a person of color was killed for having a replica gun. One of the more notorious police killings is that of John Crawford III inside an Ohio Walmart. Crawford was carrying a replica gun he picked up from the toy aisle while shopping.

Ohio has an open carry law and the surveillance video shows Crawford never threatening or pointing the toy at anyone within the store. Yet because he is Black, the same rules that would protect any gun owner were thrown out as the police show up and shoot him without any warning.

This time last year police shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice while he played with a replica gun across the street from his house. With the help of surveillance cameras, it was later seen that officers drove up to Rice and shot him through the window of their cruiser before they got out and refused to provide medical help, while Rice bled to death.

Even a child playing outside isn’t safe from police brutality.

Time after time we’ve seen cops treat people of color worse than a rabid animal. With no verbal exchanges, it is a shoot-first mentality because they know there will likely be no repercussions.

These aren’t random incidents of violence. This is a system running on draconian laws that encourage racial profiling. This is a trend of how people of color are being harassed and killed for simply existing.

As a Black male, how can I not feel the police are waging a war on me and people that look like me? I shouldn’t have to grow up with the fear of seeing police headlights in my rear-view mirror, thinking this may be the death of me and then wonder if I’ve told my mother I loved her recently. I don’t have the privilege to think about how beautiful my unborn kids will be. I don’t get to imagine their lives; instead I fear that phone call saying they were a victim of police brutality.[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]As a Black male, how can I not feel the police are waging a war on me and people that look like me?[/mks_pullquote]

I can’t stand up to the police if I’m being racially profiled because I can be easily killed and even with video proof of my murder, the Brotherhood that is the police force will see no jail time.

The police’s abuse of power against Black people has turned into modern day lynchings. Their job is to interact with the public on a daily basis and of course that is going to be stressful, but to treat a race of people drastically different is cruel and unfair. We claim to be progressive, yet police views of minorities have been unchanged since the Prohibition era.

As Americans, we have to stand up and call out the wrong in this world. Yes all lives matter, but remind others that Black lives matter too. For the sake of the families broken by police violence, brown and black youth and our unborn children, let’s hold the police and the justice system accountable to a higher standard.