AFRICANGLOBE – For many Black Americans, the election of their first Black president signalled an end to the bad, old racist days and a beginning of the good, new tolerant society. But alas, six years on, Black people’s lives — especially the lives of young Black men in America — are as little valued and are as likely to end at the barrel of a White policeman’s gun in Obama’s America as they were before him.
Michael Brown, at just 18 years old, died at the barrel of a White policeman’s gun in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, igniting world-wide anger and protestations, more so in the US itself. Michael was shot 11 times — twice in the head and nine times in the chest while he had his hands up to indicate he was unarmed.
On his way to his grandmother’s house, “Mike-Mike”, the name his family called him, was set upon by a White policeman who emptied his gun into the young man because he was allegedly jay-walking — that is, walking in the street instead of on the pavement.
Enraged, Ferguson’s residents took to the streets in protest at what they saw as a modern-day lynching by a police force paid to protect and serve them, but which more often brutalises and kills them.
For John Crawford, too, death came at the end of the barrel of a white policeman’s gun. On August 5, four days before Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, the 22-year-old Crawford was shot and killed by two White policemen in a department store in Beavercreek, Ohio, while inspecting a toy pellet gun he was interested in buying.
The policemen, who were involved in a similar shooting four years before, claimed Crawford had threatened shoppers with the toy weapon and that they shot him only after he refused to drop the pellet gun, which they claimed they believed was a real gun.
“He looked as though he was going to go violently,” one of the policemen who murdered John Crawford said in the local press. But a video recording revealed that Crawford was shot without warning and that he was talking on a cell phone to his family, who say they heard when he was gunned down by the police and when he took his last breath.
“He was a good son and a good father to his two children,” John Crawford’s father said of his dead son.
Like John Crawford and Michael Brown, Eric Garner was also killed by a white policeman. But Garner did not die at the end of the barrel of a gun. He died an even more primitive and brutal death.
The sickly, overweight, 43-year-old asthmatic, who also suffered from diabetes, died after being wrestled to the ground in a New York street by a gang of White policemen, one of whom locked his arm around Garner’s neck in a deadly choke-hold.
The choke-hold, which is banned by the NYPD, crushed Garner’s windpipe, stopped his breathing, and killed the husband and father of six.
“I can’t breathe!” Eric Garner, who was selling untaxed, loose cigarettes on a street corner, pleaded over and again to the gang of five White policemen pinning him to the ground, in a phone-recorded video which was widely circulated online for the entire world to view how he met his brutal death at the hands of those who were meant to protect him.
The “I can’t breathe!” protest that would later engulf New York City, will be remembered as one of the defining moments of police brutality against Black people under the Black presidency of Barack Obama.
It is not an exaggeration to concur with those who believe that Black men in America are an endangered species, hunted like wild animals in a blood sport, to the extent that hundreds of rap protest songs about police brutality are now in high demand.
Some favourites on many stations include: Crooked Officer by The Geto Boys and F*** Tha Police by NWA. “Police think they have the authority to kill a minority,” one of the lyrics in the NWA song says.
It is a long and strongly held view among Black Americans that each year a lot of Black people are killed by White people in deaths that are not tabulated.
Activists reckon at least 300 African-Americans are killed unlawfully by police each year, but the FBI insists the number is closer to 100 and none all these were, the FBI claims, “justified homicides”, people who presented a real and present danger.
Police shootings are rarely ever classified as “unjustified”, no matter how clear their guilt is. The Chicago Police Department admitted to only one such unlawful or unjustified killing in almost 15 years, but would not give details to the black Internet newspaper Colorlines, which had been investigating police deaths. Colorlines found, too, that cops implicated in unlawful killings had usually killed many times before.
More than half of the Chicago policemen named in wrongful death suits had, Colorlines found, multiple lawsuits against them. Despite their record, few were disciplined or punished in any way by the police department. “The suspect pointed a gun.” “The suspect lunged” are the familiar excuses offered by the police after they have been involved in a shooting. “I felt threatened.”
Ironically, a White policeman has more reason to feel threatened and at risk, the evidence shows, from another White man than a Black man. After all, the US Bureau of Statistics shows that Whites commit many more crimes than do Blacks. They commit 60 percent of the most serious crimes and are more likely to have drugs or weapons on them when stopped and searched by police.
But despite all this, Blacks are arrested more often than Whites and, according to the advocacy group The Sentencing Project, Blacks are likely, once found guilty, to serve longer sentences than Whites for the same crimes.
To get to the bottom of all this, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, an advocacy group with offices in Black communities across the US, decided to do its own report on fatal police shootings of African-Americans.
In its exhaustive, 130-page study, Operation Ghetto Storm, which looks at killings in the year 2012, the Malcolm X Movement found there was a “war against Black people” and that a Black person had been “executed” every 28 hours in 2012 by police, and by security guards and vigilantes associated with the police.
It’s a bleak picture for Black men in the United States. If they don’t manage, somehow, to die at the end of the barrel of a White policeman’s gun, Black men can look forward to being hounded by the police from the cradle to the grave.
“There is a crisis of perception where African-American males and females take their lives in their hands just walking out the door,” said Delores Jones-Brown, of the Center on Race, Crime and Justice at John Jay College in New York.
Interestingly, The Huffington Post, an Internet newspaper, found that even when Blacks are the victims of crime and Whites are the perpetrators, media coverage adopts a sympathetic tone toward the White criminal and a sceptical one toward the Black victim.
The Huffington Post pointed to the case of Eric Bellucci, a White man alleged to have butchered his parents in New York in 2010. Son in Staten Island murders was brilliant, athletic — ran one sympathetic headline. But his demons were the death of his parents.
By contrast, coverage of Trayvon Martin, a young Black man who was shot and killed in Florida in 2012 on his way home, was very, very different. The NBC TV programme pointed out, for some reason, that Trayvon Martin was suspended three times from school. This, the Huffington Post said, showed how race colours everything in America.
“I think we disproportionately stop Whites too much,” said Bloomberg provocatively in an interview, “and minorities too little.”
“Whereas Belluci, a White suspected murderer, had his best traits displayed by the headline,” wrote The Huffington Post, “Martin, a Black shooting victim, was noted for his disciplinary issues at school.”
Let this be a cautionary tale.
The rising white police brutality on innocent Black people is an issue that deserves international attention beyond news headlines.
By: Leslie Goffe