By Charles Dunst
Over the past year, if you have read a newspaper or any type of social media, you are likely aware of the details of the Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice cases. These names have captivated the consciousnesses of most Americans, regardless of political opinion, age or race.
Before delving any further, I want to clarify that I have an extreme respect for police departments across our nation, but like any institution, they have internal issues. I believe that United States police forces have an immense issue in their policing of minority neighborhoods and specifically their relationship with young black people.
First, there is no doubt that some type of physical altercation occurred between Michael Brown and police officer Darren Wilson.
Many will argue that Darren Wilson did exactly what a police officer is trained to do in order to stay alive.
I believe that Darren Wilson thought he was in danger, and that he killed Michael Brown in what he believed to be self-defense. I also do not doubt that Michael Brown’s death has a direct correlation to his skin color.
Wilson stated that Brown “looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots.” Wilson was able to reduce Brown to a “demon,” who got stronger as he ran into gunshots. This is not a logical way to describe an unarmed 18-year-old.
Wilson stripped all humanity from Michael Brown, making it easier for Wilson to believe he was in grave danger. This removal of humanity resulted in Michael Brown’s death.
Had Michael Brown been white, he would be alive. Possibly detained, but alive. Brown was a large man, standing 6-foot, 5-inches tall and weighing 289 pounds.
Had Brown been white, Wilson’s actions would have been more controlled, and would not have resulted in the firing of 12 shots. There is no doubt Wilson fired the shots, and his institutionalized, internalized racism swayed him to pull the trigger.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “indict” as: “to accuse (a person) for (of) a crime.” An indictment is a conclusion that there is a slight possibility of guilt. In this case, there was enough evidence and testimony to allow a jury to rule Wilson culpable.
Indictments are not rare, but are often expected. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010. Out of these 162,000 cases, grand juries refused to indict 11 of them. That is a 99.993 percent indictment rate.
“If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn’t get one, something has gone horribly wrong,” stated Andrew D. Leipold, a professor at the University of Illinois. “It just doesn’t happen.”
We will now look at the case of Trayvon Martin, which, unlike the three other cases, did not involve a police officer.
Martin was murdered by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman phoned the Sanford Police, who directly told him not to follow Trayvon Martin — an order Zimmerman ignored.
Unlike Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin was not large. He was 17 years old and weighed 158 pounds.
George Zimmerman is a 5-foot, 7-inch, 185-pound grown man. However, Zimmerman believed that he was in danger, and that he acted in legitimate self-defense.
Over the phone, Zimmerman described Trayvon Martin as a “real suspicious guy,” who “looks like he is up to no good or he is on drugs or something.” Clearly demonstrating his opinion of Martin, he continued, stating, “These assholes, they always get away.” Zimmerman was referring to the criminals who had been vandalizing his neighborhood.
Zimmerman assumed that Martin was one of these criminals, simply because he was young and black. Zimmerman said Martin looked like he was “on drugs or something.”
Young black men are too often presumed to be delinquents and villains, a pattern which Zimmerman continued.
Had Trayvon Martin been white, he would be alive, as he never would have been followed, and we would never know the names Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.
The racism that stereotypes black men as delinquents once again prevailed over the consciousness of the armed individual, resulting in another unwarranted death.
Unlike the previous cases, neither Eric Garner nor Tamir Rice fought back, eliminating self-defense as a legitimate defense.
On video, Garner told police he wasn’t selling loose cigarettes, but officer Daniel Pantaleo responded by attempting to take Garner’s arms behind his back, prompting Garner to swat his hands away.
While not the ideal way to respond to police, Pantaleo oversteped by stretching his arm around Garner and pulling him down to the ground. Though unnecessary, the action should have ended the conflict, as Garner was clearly restrained. However, Pantaleo began to push Garner’s head into the sidewalk while four officers restrained him.
While lying on the ground, Garner yelled, “I can’t breathe,” 11 times. At that point, lying on the ground, Garner lost consciousness, and he was left there for the seven minutes it took the ambulance to come. Garner was pronounced dead on arrival.
Regardless of race, reading through this description, you should feel uncomfortable with the unconscionable and ultimately fatal way the police bullied and tormented an unarmed man.
Officer Pantaleo deemed it appropriate to utilize a chokehold (a “headlock,” as law enforcement personnel contend) to subdue an unarmed, non-aggressive man. Pantaleo’s racism prompted him to use the force required for a dangerous, aggressive suspect on Garner, who fit none of these classifications.
Garner was harassed, handcuffed and eventually choked without presenting a single sign of aggression. This is not how police are trained and is certainly not how they are supposed to act.
Tamir Rice was shot alone in a park while holding an Airsoft replica gun. Police received two calls, one describing a “young black male” brandishing a gun, as well as juvenile pointing “a pistol.” The second caller clarified twice that the gun was “probably fake.”
Cleveland police officers immediately arrived at the scene, and within two seconds, officer Timothy Loehmann had fired two shots. Although the caller described the gun as “probably fake,” Loehmann was comfortable shooting on sight.
Loehmann chose to ignore the call deeming the gun fake as a direct result of Rice’s race. If Rice had been a 12-year-old white boy playing with his fake gun in the park, he certainly would not have been shot dead. Cops would have come to the scene, but they would have operated with a different level of caution. However, because Rice was black, Loehmann was more comfortable shooting first and asking questions later.
Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice were all killed by individuals. The power-wielding killers presumed that these unarmed black men were menacing and vicious. Not one conviction has come from their actions. Our court and social systems have automatically taken as fact the word of the powerful, gun-wielding men.
The institutionalized racism of this country has clearly seeped into our legal system and our daily lives.
Black actors, actresses, athletes, rappers and singers are glamorized and admired daily by individuals of all races.
However, in the streets of everyday life, black men and women are assumed guilty until proven innocent, clearly violating their rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
I believe that our world refuses to accept this unfair treatment, and by leading protests and forcing change, we can send this illogical, unfair precedent into retirement, guaranteeing equality for all races in the United States and throughout the world.