On Nov. 24, 2014, a grand jury decided against indicting police officer Darren Wilson for the murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The indictment would have charged Wilson of committing a crime by shooting Brown. By deeming his actions perfectly legal, it only opens an old wound among the black community, and for good reason.
According to ProPublica, a leading investigative and data journalism outlet, “1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.” Young black males are at far greater risk of being shot by police than their white counterparts.
Some might say that these are justifiable cases because African Americans commit more crimes. However, according to FBI reports, African Americans who are actually arrested and tried only account for 28.1 percent of crimes in America, while white offenders account for 69.3 percent. Blacks only account for the majority in the categories of robbery and gambling, both of which do not warrant a death sentence. According to the most recent accounts of justifiable homicide, or homicide for which there can be no blame, USA Today reports that “nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person during a seven-year period ending in 2012.”
Ferguson is not the only case in which an officer has outright murdered a black man. The same day that Ferguson grand jury was set to make the decision to not indict Wilson, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was gunned down in Cleveland, Ohio for brandishing a fake gun. Twenty seconds into surveillance camera footage, a police squadron zooms into the frame. Within two seconds, Rice is on the floor. In the video, you can see Rice reaching for the “gun” in his waistband, while walking toward the police vehicle, but because he is not here with us right now, we can never know his true intentions, whether it was to take a tough guy stance with the police or show that the gun was a fake.
In 2013, Florida A&M football player Jonathan Ferrell was shot and killed by a police officer in North Carolina. Ferrell had crashed his car and had managed to climb out his car window and was searching for help. Upon finding the nearest home, Ferrell banged on the front door asking for assistance, but the resident hit the panic button on her alarm and police assumed it was a home invasion. Upon arriving at the scene, police officers tracked Ferrell down and police officer Randall Kerrick drew his gun and shot Ferrell ten times, killing him.
The circumstances of 77 percent of shootings of black suspects are classified as undetermined, meaning that we will never know if the police officer actually feared for their lives. In most cases that are determined, suspects are shot while fleeing or resisting arrest. Police officers are only allowed to fire their weapons if they feel in any way threatened. By allowing cases to pass in which there was no major threat to the officer’s lives or that of others, it states that police officers can constantly live in fear of African American men viewing them as a “threat” by just their mere presence.
Another story is that of Eric Garner. Garner had recently broken up a fight and caught the attention of local law enforcement. Officers attempted to arrest Garner for selling untaxed cigarettes. Officer Daniel Pantaleo wrestled Garner to the floor and put him into a chokehold. After several seconds, yelling, “I can’t breathe,” Garner was dead. Demacio was placed on desk duty.
In America, there is a serious problem with how law enforcement handles cases with black suspects. It is well-known that African Americans have a negative history with law enforcement. A little over two decades ago, Rodney King was beaten at the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Osborne Street in Los Angeles. The officers involved were acquitted of their charge of excessive use of force. Cases like that of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Ezell Ford not only perpetuate the excessive use of force that claims the lives of many African American men, but also says that it is okay to murder an African American suspect.
When you look at the numbers and hear the stories you really have to ask yourself: What does this say about our law enforcement? There is an inherent animosity toward black men by police officers that needs to be fixed. This is why the Michael Brown case is significant. It shows how the use of racial profiling and stereotypes automatically label black men as an immediate threat no matter the crime or lack thereof. Although the motto is innocent until proven guilty, most African American men find themselves in situations where they are guilty until proven innocent.