My fiancé and I are planning a wedding. Invariably between half-listening about reception hall capacities and caterer rates, I have begun to anticipate the next question from our friends and family: “When are you guys going to have a baby?”
After the all-too-familiar story of an unarmed Black teenager, Michael Brown, was shot to death by police in Ferguson, Missouri, I cannot say that I am that eager to bring a Black child into this world, specifically America. Even with Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in Missouri and Attorney General Eric Holder “monitoring” the situation, the horse is out of the proverbial barn for the Brown family.
This news broke a few days after another Black youth was gunned down by police, this time in Ohio. In that case, John Crawford picked up a toy gun in a local Wal-Mart and was later believed to have been brandishing a real weapon, which caused a fellow customer to notify the authorities who arrived to the scene and fatally wound Crawford.
While the obvious and immediate thought of raising a Black child in America is terrifying, a more worthwhile conversation must be had in regards to why it is that police continually prove that they are unable to “protect and serve” the Black community without profiling, abusing, and murdering members of it.
The matter is simple or complex, depending on how one decides to look at it. The simple answer is that the Black population of this country is not the right complexion for this type of incident to matter enough to substantiate overhaul of police, legal, and court protocols.
A complex discussion of this matter can be conducted from a statistical and academic viewpoint. Research conducted by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) highlighted inequities in excessive force. They compiled data from police departments all over the country and from news publications and then analyzed the amount of Blacks and Latinos that had been extrajudicially killed by police, security guards or vigilantes in the year 2012. In a city like Chicago where the Black population comprises a third of the city’s population, 91% of the cases had Black victims. Cities such as New York City and Houston had approximately 87% and 48% Black victims in these types of cases, respectively. At the time the report was released, there was a extrajudicial killing of a Black person every 36 hours. One year later, the number increased to every 28 hours.
A 2010 annual report by the Cato Institute, a public policy research organization, stated that out of 6,613 sworn officers involved in criminal misconduct cases that year, approximately 24% of them were involved in excessive force complaints. This percentage was more than double of any other type of complaint. Approximately 8.1% of these cases involved a fatality due to excessive force by police officers. The report does not explicitly state how many of those cases involved Black victims; however the report does contain a map which illustrates the frequency of excessive force incidents by location. Based on the map, the highest excessive force totals are found in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Chicago; cities with very obvious and prominent minority populations.
According to scholars Brad W. Smith and Malcolm D. Holmes, there is a direct and positive relationship between the amount of minority citizens in a city and the sustained level of excessive force complaints against police departments. They also shed light into a theory in sociology known as the ‘Minority Threat Theory” which explains police behavior when dealing with minorities. The scholars explain:
Popular stereotypes associate race/ethnicity with serious criminality and urban violence and the presence of large minority populations, whether real or perceived, heightens fear of crime among White citizens. Police authorities may likewise believe that culturally dissimilar minority groups threaten social order and relatively large minority populations may be seen as presenting a substantial problem for social control. Given their shared concern about the alleged threat of minority crime, the dominant White citizenry and local police authorities may marshal their political power to promote the use of various coercive crime control strategies against subordinate minority citizens in cities with relatively large minority populations.
“But won’t these officers have their day in court?”
The statistics say they will, but that little justice will be served to the victims of excessive force. The common protocol for citizens is to submit a complaint to his or her local police department, however as it was discovered in central New Jersey, those complaints rarely lead to any consequence. The New Jersey Press obtained statistics regarding excessive force complaints to the Central New Jersey Police Department through the Open Public Records Act and discovered that just 1% of all complaints submitted from 2008 – 2012 were sustained by internal affairs. New Jersey is not alone in its tendency to protect its’ own (police that is). The Minneapolis Police Department created an “Office of Police Conduct Review” to review complaints made by citizens; however within its’ first year, the office reviewed 439 cases of police misconduct, and decided to recommend punishment for none of the officers cited in those cases. Two of the 439 cases involved off-duty officers involved in using racial slurs and fighting with Black citizens of nearby Wisconsin.
This is not an attempt to vilify or discredit all police officers or police departments; however, the racial biases that exist and manifest themselves through almost every element of American life have manifested themselves over and over again through incidents of police brutality. However, this research and the recent events in Missouri and Ohio are meant to reiterate how worthless we appear to be to judicial system in this country.
Nothing is more beautiful than the idea of bring new life into the world, but nothing is more hideous and despicable as the treatment of Black people by those who are sworn to “protect and serve.” The idea that my future child could be lost for no other reason than being Black and in public shakes me to the core and there’s no way to prepare our family for that.