I don’t know if Michael Brown presented a life-threatening situation to police officer Darren Wilson, and I don’t know if Wilson’s shooting of Brown was racially motivated. I don’t know if the grand jury in St. Louis got it right by not indicting Wilson, and I don’t know if St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch purposefully failed to get an indictment.
Here’s what I do know with reasonable certainty: Michael Brown’s death gives us cause to think about the fact that many in the black community are suspicious of police. This is a reality—one that makes little sense to people not of color—the nation needs to come to grips with.
I remember listening a year or so ago to CNN newscaster, Don Lemon, talk about getting “the talk,” and he wasn’t referring to the birds and the bees. “The talk” was when his father discussed with him how he needed to be cautious about the police, because the police would view him differently than whites. I got the sense that “the talk” is common in the black community.
I’ve listened to comedian D.L. Hughley say that when his kids were ready he would teach them that they should be wary of police. His message was anything other than the police should be looked at as protectors.
I’ve listened to one of my kid’s grade school teachers, a black woman, tell me about how her son would be stopped and questioned by police. A client of mine in the carpet cleaning business would instruct his black employees not to drive the company trucks in certain suburbs—let the white member of the cleaning crew do the driving—so they wouldn’t be stopped by the police.
Here is what the Gallup polls reveal. Data from 2011 through 2014 shows that 59 percent of white adults have a great deal/quite a lot of confidence in the police, compared to only 37 percent of black adults. Twenty-five percent of blacks have very little or no confidence in the police. About one in four black men, age 18 to 54, said they had been treated unfairly in dealings with police in the past 30 days.
According to Gallup, the Trayvon Martin shooting in 2012 showed significant white-black differences in perception concerning the police, similar to what was found after the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995. We see the same with Michael Brown’s death.
It’s hard for people who are not of color to understand how any of this can be, but that doesn’t mean the reality doesn’t exist. It’s a foreign concept for many of us to understand, and it’s easy to be reactionary. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani provides an example. When asked on November 23, 2014, on NBC’s “Meet the Press” about increasing diversity and trust in police departments, Giuliani tried to shift blame: “White police officers wouldn’t be there if you weren’t killing each other,” and “we are not discussing the fact that 93 percent of blacks are killed by other blacks,” a statistic that appears to be significant but really isn’t when taken in context.
If you’re not black, why be concerned? Because we should we be moving forward with race relations. Because the black community’s distrust of police presents a source of division that leads to unrest. Because the tension we saw in Ferguson, Mo.—let’s be clear, there’s no justification for the violence and looting we watched on T.V.—shows us what happens when a segment of society feels powerless. Because black parents shouldn’t feel the need to have “the talk” with their kids.
Jack D’Aurora writes for considerthisbyjd.com
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