President Obama, speaking days after the initial shooting, suggested that we need to “remember that we’re all part of one American family. We are united in common values, and that includes belief in equality under the law, basic respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protest, a reverence for the dignity of every single man, woman and child among us, and the need for accountability when it comes to our government.” Sadly, however, this is not true of blacks in this country. African-Americans are often left on the outside looking in, hoping for equality under the law and wishing that the dignity of every one of their men, women and children was revered.
The summer of 2014 we hear story after story of black boys and men like Mike Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford III and Jonathan Ferrell being killed by police as well as police abuse of black women such as Rosan Miller, Ersula Ore, Marlene Pinnock and Denise Stewart. There is a canyon-like divide being built in this country between African-American citizens and the police forces that ostensibly are charged to protect and serve them.
President Obama further suggested that “now is the time for healing. Now is the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson.” His statement ignores the wider impact. This is not confined to a single city. If the United States is to be a real community, “united by common values,” then we need to unite by making those values common, seeking justice for these victims, and we should start with the division between black and blue.
A 2009 poll showed that only “14 percent of African-Americans said they had a great deal of confidence in local police officers to treat blacks and whites equally. More than twice as many whites (38 percent) had a great deal of confidence in the local police to provide equal treatment. More than three times as many blacks as whites said they had very little confidence in their local police to treat the races equally (34 percent vs. 9 percent).”
The divide between black communities and police officers is also reflected in the racial profiling of black citizens. A 2011 study of data from 13 states analyzed the causes and consequences of racial profiling. The research found that blacks are disproportionately stopped by law enforcement at greater rates than whites and are searched at greater rates than whites even though whites were guilty of carrying contraband more often than blacks or minorities in eight of those states.
When a third of a population is so disaffected with law enforcement, when African-American trust in the police is barely double digits, and when black citizens are being seen as criminal due to the color of their skin, there should be real concern about the possibility that disaffection will lead to rebellion or revolt. If there is little to no trust in the most visible government agency, many would argue that this justifies protest, maybe even violent protest. Indeed, this position has been taken by liberal and conservative commentators alike in the wake of the protests in Ferguson.
Leon H. Wolf, a white conservative columnist, opined that there is not “an excuse to look past endemic abuses that have cropped up in the system or to throw up our hands and declare that we must accept the bad with the good. … Are we really okay with asking people to just accept that cops can gun down a teenager and whitewash the whole incident? ... Because I’m not. I think if the cops don’t believe that there’s some line that will cause the public to rise up in arms against them, we are in deep trouble.”
Similarly, probable presidential hopeful Rand Paul wrote that “it is almost impossible for many Americans not to feel like their government is targeting them. Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.”
The racial divide has moved beyond a moral problem in this country. It is time that local, state and national governments took the threat to its black citizens seriously as a threat to the long-term viability of the nation itself. Police need to protect African-Americans and stop killing them. And we all need to stop acting like these events happen in isolation.
Tobias T. Gibson is associate professor of political science and security studies program director at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. Bertin M. Louis Jr. is an assistant professor of anthropology and Africana studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and vice chair of the Africana studies program.
Source: St. Louis Post-Disptach