by Jazzlyne Jackson
I believe that police treatment of the black community is unjust and that blacks deserve more equality.
I know this may sound like another Black Lives Matter rant, but hear me out.
Over many years my dad was always treated unjustly by our nations police officers, and I fear for the day that a cop decides to use him as target practice.
An example of this occurred three years ago. My dad was a passenger in a car accident. The cops treated all the white men kindly and respectfully, but when it came to my dad, they treated him like he was a criminal. They were rude and unnecessarily rough with him.
One cop asked my dad for his license; my dad knew that if he just reached into his pocket the cop might shoot him, so he explained that he was going to reach into his left pocket for his wallet. When he started to actually reach for the wallet, the cop still reached for his gun and yelled at my dad. When the cop eventually got the license, he ran my dad’s license multiple times in search of a warrant on him.
After that occurrence and many more before and after that, I realized that blacks are still far from the equality that they deserve.
These occurrences of cop shootings do not happen for no reason; there are many factors that go into these shootings including: media portrayal, white supremacy, preconceived perceptions, and giving positions of power to those that already have a hatred towards the black community.
The media tends to portray blacks in a bad light. They are always the gang bangers in movies, the men and women with tons of kids who are not involved in the child’s life, the drug lords, the criminals and so much more. Those are just the few portrayals in movies and shows; however, real-life situations of blacks in the news even can be twisted to make them always seem like the horrible, dreaded race that the white community wants them to be. According to Cassandra Chaney, author of “Armed and Dangerous? An Examination of Fatal Shootings of Unarmed Black People by Police”, “The origins of negative media images of African American men in media can be traced to the 1830s and the introduction of Blackface minstrelsy, which was founded by Thomas Rice, Dan Emmett, Stephen Foster, and E.P. Christy” (Chaney 51). Portraying the Black community as a monster isn’t a new idea; it’s hundreds of years old and should come to an end, now. White people would paint themselves black and portray what they believed black people were like. They mocked, scorned, and humiliated the race, which later on created a deeper fear and hate for the race as a whole due to this misconception that whites were told to believe. Chaney also claims that “the strongest promoter of modern day racially-negative media portrayals occurred in D.W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation (1915)” (Chaney 51). This film not only pushes for white supremacy but it shows black men as barbarians who would force themselves on white women and “destroy the White man’s way of life” (Chaney 52). This film created a confrimation for whites that blacks were evil, violent creatures that needed to be put in place, if not destroyed. It was so powerful in its message that the Ku Klux Klan used it as a way of recruitment and make themselves seem like the “savior of White southern civilization” (Chaney 52). They would show this film to rally people around them and to join them in protecting the whites from these dreadful brutes.
To make this even more relevant to today’s society, I will share with you modern-day blackface. Two white girls took a picture with their faces painted brown and throwing up gang signs. They posted it on Twitter with the caption “We finally know what it feels like to be a nigga”. They are openly mocking the black community through this picture, with the idea that by painting your face and using gang signs that you know all about being black because that’s all black people do. The portrayal of blacks using blackface and the other current day methods and ideas has contributed to a condition called Negrophobia, “an irrational fear of African Americans” (Chaney 52). This fear has caused whites to become less sensitive to all forms of black suffering and do not have a high support for “social safety nets” (Chaney 52). The white community has become tired of hearing the black community fight for their equal rights and treatment; they have begun to care less and less about the safety of the black community because they fear that blacks are dangerous and are to blame for most of the bad things that happen within their community. How does this all tie into cops shooting blacks? The connection between the idea of blacks and criminals are so strongly rooted in the minds of society that there have been incidents when whites claim that a black person was at the place of a crime when in reality there was no black person in sight (Chaney 52). Chaney claims that “such negative portrayals of African Americans in media have resulted in wanton stereotyping, extreme fear of African Americans, and African Americans with darker complexions and more Afrocentric phenotypic features being perceived as more worthy of the death penalty in research experiments” (Chaney 52). What is being claimed here is that darker blacks that look more African are more likely to be shot to death because they look more wild and guilty of trouble. This thought process alone can lead to a cop, with the same thoughts and feeling expressed here, to openly fire on a black person. Although media portrayal of blacks plays a huge role in why they get shot by cops, it is not the only reason; white supremacy is another factor in these police shootings.
White supremacy does play a role in the ruthless killing of blacks on the street. The first question is: What is white supremacy? It can be explained as “a historically positioned and institutionally embedded system of exploitation of people of color across the diaspora rooted in the premise that individuals who are racially classified as ‘White’ are inherently superior to individuals who are non- white” according to Cassandra Chaney (Chaney 50). In simpler terms, white supremacy is when everyone who is considered white believes that they are better than those who are not white. They are fully aware of this belief and stick with it whole heartedly. They tend to put the needs and rights of whites above those of other races. Chaney also states that “white supremacy positions whites as recipients of unearned privileges, normalizes their values and oppress non-whites through various ways” (Chaney 51). This is also known as white privilege, where whites get treatment and rights that no other race can get, and they look down on the other races because they gain these unspoken rights while non-whites must suffer harsher treatment. Many white supremacists have fought the advancement of black equality over the years. One way white supremacists have tried to combat the civil rights movement is by turning the courts against the movement. In the article “Litigating Against The Civil Rights Movement” by Christopher W. Schmidt, Schmidt claims that “Defenders of segregation used the courts as an offensive weapon when they initiated litigation in order to undermine civil rights activity” (Schmidt 1177). This would occur in the South mostly; the police would arrest protestors for violating the law and the prosecutors would win every time. These protestors would be arrested for disturbing the peace, marching without a permit, trespassing, and breaking so many other laws (Schmidt 1177). Basically white southerners would make sure these civil rights activists would be arrested for any reason they could think of. They got away with it because they knew the court would be on their side. These white supremacists would even go to court in defense of the Jim Crow laws. They would claim that segregation was the best route for everybody; however, they lost, especially when it came to desegregation of schools. They then tried to at least slow down the desegregation process, but eventually desegregation occurred (Schmidt 1180). That made many southern whites angry. The story of the Little Rock Nine shows how upsetting the act of desegregation was. On the first day of the process of desegregation the nine chosen black students couldn’t even get into the school because the national guard was there to stop them. When they finally did get in the school, they had the military guarding them because angry whites would crowd outside the school in protest and would yell at the black kids, and the students would get beat up in school. White supremacy ideals did not stop the advancement of black equality, but it certainly slowed it down. Although I know that not all cops are whites or even have this mindset, the white supremacy thought process still exists in some today. If you have a police officer on the force with that ideal, then they will find any reason they can to degrade, harm, or even kill a black person. All it takes is the possibility of one opportunity to occur that allows them to harm and even take a black life. Although white supremacy is a factor in police shooting of blacks in America, preconceived perceptions also play a role.
The perceptions of blacks really do affect how cops treat them, and these perceptions are started from a very young age. According to Cassandra Chaney, little black boys are seen as older than what they are and are not considered to be seen as Innocent like little white boys. She even makes the statement that “findings demonstrated that generally perceiving African Americans as ‘apes’ is an accurate predictor of racial disparities in police violence toward children. The aforementioned is reason for concern because African American children are 18 times more likely to be sentenced as adults than White children” (Chaney 49). What she is saying here is that the fact that whites feel that blacks are apes plays a huge part in how cops view blacks, especially black children. Because they feel that these black kids are animals they get extremely harsh treatment, and the consequences for their actions are much harder. This not only dehumanizes the race but also makes their chances for a good future a lot lower. In my observation, blacks are treated as if they are even less than animals because if you look at how well whites treat their pet or any other animal, the treatment of blacks doesn’t even measure up to that. Some officers look toward this community with the preconceived perception as an expendable race of “apes” and have no problem in making an example out of them or even eliminating them. Not only is the perception of blacks a huge part of why they get shot by police, but so is the history of how the police force came to be in general. Through history, the positions of power were given to those who already had a hatred towards blacks already. Chaney claims that:
Historically, a large segment of the European American population has demonstrated an extraordinary amount of racial animus toward African Americans. Since White policemen are selected from the larger White society, it stands to reason that policemen, who are a small subset of the population, share the same racial animosity towards African Americans as members in the larger population (Chaney 48).
What she is saying is that historically white officers had a hatred towards blacks because in their European roots they did not like blacks. This thought process was passed down generation through generation causing the police force, which at the time was all white, to have a burning hate for blacks. Looking at the time of slavery in America you can see that our current day police came from slave patrols that were supposed to maintain the system of slavery, set racial order, rebellions, and catching runaway slaves. Chaney states that “The plantation overseer policeman or “patroller” was allowed to operate with impunity and dispensed horrific forms of injustice that included, but not was limited to, castrations, whippings, maimings, and lynchings” (Chaney 51). These patrollers were in charge of keeping the peace and protecting the people, the white people that is. They did all of this to make sure the blacks didn’t turn against their white superiors. The roll of the police force today is much like the one in history. They are here to protect and serve the people; however, some cops still think like the historical slave patrollers. This is just another factor in why blacks are shot by cops.
I know that not all cops shoot black people for no reason. There are many good cops within the police force. The article “The Many Misgivings of “Black Lives Matter”” by Heather MacDonald states that “police have an indefeasible obligation to treat everyone with courtesy and respect, and to act within the confines of the law” (MacDonald 10); however, this is not always the case. The fact that blacks do get shot for no reason by the police still shows a lack of equality and justice. I also know that not all black deaths are due to police shootings. MacDonald makes a claim that black on black crime also leads to many black deaths out in the street. According to her, “Every year, approximately 6,000 blacks are murdered…Who is killing them?—not the police, and not white civilians, but other blacks” (MacDonald 10). Although this is a devastating fact, it does not justify overlooking the fact that some police officers take innocent black lives. According to Huffington Post journalist Julia Craven, author of “Here’s How Many Black People Have Been Killed By Police This Year [Update]”, says that “U.S. police have killed at least 194 black people in 2016, according to a project by The Guardian that tracks police killings in America” (Craven). Although this number may not be as high as the “Black Lives Matter” group makes it out to be and not all of them may be innocent, this is still 194 valuable lives that were taken by police. One of the know Innocent black males that was killed by police was Terence Crutcher. He was fixing his stalled vehicle on the side of the road. The police told him to raise his hands, which he did without a fight. He began to walk back to his vehicle with his hands still raised and then the police open fired on him. Video evidence proved that he was compliant with the police and did nothing wrong (Craven). All of this shows that blacks are far from gaining the equality that they truly desire, not just from society as a whole but also from police specifically.
In the end we can see that many factors truly do play a part in black shootings by the police force. Media portrayal embeds an image of fear in the minds of society when it comes to the black community. White supremacy allows whites to feel superior to blacks and that the black community has no real rights. Preconceived perceptions of blacks allow the white community to see them as nothing but “apes” that are expendable. Lastly the fact that most potions of power were given to whites that had a hatred toward blacks throughout history. We are living in the 21st century where we claim freedom and equality for all, but is that really true?
Chaney, Cassandra. “Armed and Dangerous? An Examination of Fatal Shootings of Unarmed Black People by Police.” Journal of Pan African Studies, vol. 8, no. 4, Sept. 2015, pp. 48–52.
Craven, Julia. “Here’s How Many Black People Have Been Killed By Police This Year [Updated].”
Huffington Post, 7 July 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/black-people-killed-by-police-america_us_577da633e4b0c590f7e7fb17.
MacDonald, Heather. “The Misgivings of ‘Black Lives Matter.’” USA Today, pp. 10–12. Galileo, Police shooting blacks.
Schmidt, Christopher W. “Litigating Against The Civil Rights Movement.” vol. 86, pp. 1177–1178.