AFRICANGLOBE – “Never did we think we would be planning a funeral, we were waiting on his first day of school. They robbed us of that.”
–Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown
“In too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement. In too many communities, too many young men of color are left behind and seen only as objects of fear.”
– President Barack Obama
I had originally planned to use this column to denounce the July 17th death of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old, unarmed Black man following the unlawful use of a chokehold by New York City police officers who suspected Eric Garner of selling untaxed cigarettes on a Staten Island street corner. Then came the August 9 fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Michael Brown, who was unarmed and was preparing for his first year in college, was stopped and then shot by Officer Darren Wilson for the alleged crime of jaywalking, or specifically according to Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson, of “walking down the middle of the street blocking traffic.
I have never witnessed a situation more poorly handled than this one. For almost two weeks following Michael Brown’s death, his family, community and outraged citizens across the nation have sought answers and justice from the local authorities, who have been slow to respond and quick to blame the victim, leading to intense demonstrations. Our thoughts and prayers are with Michael Brown’s family. Now that the Justice Department and FBI have entered the investigation, we have confidence that justice will ultimately prevail. Attorney General Eric Holder is doing the right thing by conducting a comprehensive parallel investigation and not waiting for local authorities – a refreshing departure from the traditional approach. But this is not enough.
The tragedies in Ferguson and Staten Island are not isolated incidents. Just four days before Brown’s death, on August 5, police shot and killed 22-year-old John Crawford in a Beavercreek, Ohio Walmart, after responding to a call that a man was wielding a gun in the store. It turns out that Crawford was holding a BB rifle which he had picked up while shopping in the store. Clearly, racial suspicion and harassment of Black men, especially by law enforcement, has become an often deadly epidemic in many parts of the country.
Call To Action
That is why we are urgently calling upon the White House, the Department of Justice and congressional leaders to review and address the ongoing pattern and practice of racial violence and systemic discriminatory treatment by law enforcement in so many of our communities.
As we look to solutions to ensure that a higher value – a human value – is placed on the lives of our Black men, legal remedies are absolutely needed, but this is essentially a problem of the heart. Until White Americans and police departments begin to see and treat Black men with the dignity and deference afforded to their White counterparts, nothing will change. The death of Michael Brown has once again exposed the widespread and dangerous mistrust that exists between law enforcement and too many communities of color in America. For the sake of our nation, our communities and equal justice, we must bridge that divide.
By: Marc Morial
Mr> Morial is president of the National Urban League.