Today I saw the videos of the police shootings of two black men. One in Baton Rouge and the other in Minnesota.
I am white. I have been ambivalent about Black Lives Matter. I am aware of the disproportionate police shootings of mostly young black men. However, from the media attention paid to Black Lives Matter, it seemed they ignored the far more prevalent black on black killings that go on every day. It is similar to the attention paid to assault rifle killings, when hand guns are the cause of more deaths. In each case one does not excuse the other. In the case of the police shootings, they often seem more complicated than the one minute clip I see on TV. There have been many acquittals. Some due in part to the criminal justice system, some due to the factual complexity. I am troubled by a number of these acquittals. Some seem racially motivated, others due to bad training and lack of understanding of the community. In a split second, a lack of the ability to communicate; the prevalence of fear on both sides; a sense of authority and a right to dominate; and weaponry, lead to deadly results.
I am familiar with life in a tough urban community. When I first moved into the area I now live in it was drug infested with automatic gunfire every night and constant muggings. There was black on black, and black on white killings. I never sought to own a hand gun, but I did carry a knife, as the walk from the subway to where I lived was not safe. I had guns pulled on me twice and survived a wilding attack. I know Giuliani did things that were not appreciated by the black community. He did make both communities safer than under Dinkins (although less in the black community).
There are bad cops, as there are bad people in every ethnic and racial community. Some people are more troubled by the Minnesota shooting then by the one in Baton Rouge. Both are troubling, but the Minnesota shooting is more complicated for me. I am not seeing the whole event. I am seeing a poorly trained cop. Is there racial bias involved. Like Minnesota’s Governor I suspect so. The victim correctly advised the cop that he had a license for a concealed weapon. I wonder if this made the cop more nervous. If the victim was alone I could imagine it, but a woman and a child were in the car. It is not unheard of for a cop to be shot under similar circumstances, but if he was in fear he could have asked the victim and the woman to each step out of the car and put their hands on their heads and then locate the weapon and obtain the ID he was asking for. Would any of this been deemed necessary from the cops perspective if the victim was white- likely not in my view. There is bias, fear and bad training involved here, but the fact pattern is more complicated than the Baton Rouge video. The latter shows the victim pinned to the ground by two officers, immobile on his back. One officer pulls out his gun (no audio so I don’t know why) and shoots the man point-blank. There is no fear here. You don’t need training to know that pulling out the revolver and shooting point blank is unwarranted. Unless you are a bigot, it is clear as day that this is murder. At best, the officer could say that the gun discharged accidentally, but it would not be believed.
Baton Rouge is mostly black with about 70% of its police force being reported as white. When I first moved into where I lived we used to have white police who lived in the suburbs police our area. No one walked a beat.They drove in their cars, scared of the neighborhood without knowing it. I would walk my dog, so I knew who was bad and who wasn’t. Black and white who were not bad, looked out for each other and their kids and the neighborhood, with much better policing, improved.
For families of victims the reason for the killing is unimportant. Dead is dead. For a community it does matter. There will always be bad cops, but there needs to be attitude changes in both communities. Communities and organizers that are trying to play gotcha with cops on video when circumstances don’t merit it, are no better than bad cops. Two recent examples in NYC. An Asian rookie cop kills a black man in a dark stairway in one of the projects. Absolutely no reason for the shooting other than that he was scared. Bad police management for him to be on such a patrol. He was acquitted to the family’s dismay. The latter is understandable, but it was not a racial shooting. The other day an off-duty cop gets into a road rage incident with a black man. The facts are still sketchy but the victim allegedly punches the cop in the face through the open window of his car while he is sitting in it. The cop apparently did not identify himself as a cop, pulls out his gun and shoots the victim. Clearly excessive force, but seemingly not a racial matter. The family, angry from the death say there is no excuse, even recognizing that the victim provoked the incident. This is not to say that Black Lives Matter is not concerned about non-white cops killing young black men. There is a police culture (even toward whites) that needs to be adjusted. Many fail to recognize that they are public servants, rather than the public serving them. Often they don’t follow the law that they are charged to uphold. Police need to learn to lead by example. Some do, more need to. For whites, when they don’t it often is an annoyance (although numerically, but not proportionally, police kill more white people). For blacks, particularly young black men, they pay for it with their blood.
It is past time to stop Red Being the New Black.