As images of looted stores and burning squad cars dominate the nightly news and go viral, some in the Black community reject the notion that there is any benefit to reacting violently and to the reckless destruction of our communities. But African-Americans must constantly ask ourselves the deeper questions: Are we more offended by images of rioting than we are of Black death by police hands? We often point fingers at those unwilling to demonstrate peacefully, but the true dilemma doesn’t start with the uprisings. It starts long before that.
African-Americans have historically had antagonistic encounters with the justice system. Here are some difficult facts: According to Justice Department statistics, Black people are 31 percent more likely to be pulled over by cops while driving than Whites and three times as likely to be subjected to a body search and vehicle check when stopped. On average, Black men in federal prisons face sentences that are 20 percent longer than those handed down to White men convicted of similar crimes. One in every 18 Black women is likely to spend time in prison at some point in her life. Although the average protester may not be able to recite these statistics, the innate sense of this persistent inequality fuels the anger that drives people to the streets—and occasionally, toward acts of destruction.
While the events of last August in Ferguson, Mo., following the death of unarmed teen Michael Brown may have come as a shock to some, the rioting in Baltimore in April after the killing of Freddie Gray should have come as no surprise. Six officers would eventually be charged in connection with Gray’s death, which led to the unrest, but more often than not, justice is elusive when Black men, women and children are killed by law enforcement officers.
Read more in the July 2015 issue of EBONY Magazine.