Even as the world is transfixed by the Derek Chauvin trial in Minnesota (a trial to decide if Chauvin was guilty of murdering George Floyd), we continue to see other examples of police abuse of black and brown people. In the past few days, video evidence of police mistreating a black man in a military uniform has come to light. And, while Americans were still recoiling in horror at seeing police pepper spray and cuff the man at gunpoint over his supposed failure to display a temporary vehicle license, we saw a young black man shot and killed by a white policewoman over expired license tags and an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror.
Unfortunately, such events have become increasingly common.
In Texas, a young black woman named Sandra Bland died in jail over failure to signal a lane change. In Ohio, a young black man named John Crawford III was shot and killed by police in a Walmart for carrying a BB gun he intended to purchase. In California, it took police 10 seconds to shoot and kill a 13-year-old Latino who was carrying a pellet gun. Likewise, it took police just seconds to kill a 12-year-old black boy for playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland park. In Phoenix, a 14-year-old Latino was shot and killed while holding an air soft gun. In Detroit, a 13-year-old black boy named Tamir Rice was killed for playing with an air soft gun.
In Georgia, a black man named Ahmaud Arbery was hunted and killed by a former police officer and his armed friends while jogging. And, in Kentucky, a black woman named Breona Taylor was shot and killed in the middle of the night in her own home while police were executing a no-knock warrant.
To our nation’s great shame, the number of such examples are far too numerous and far too widespread to list. Yet, despite the publicity and efforts to hold police accountable, the number of events has not diminished. Indeed, they seem to be increasing. And far too many Americans look to blame the victims rather than the officers. They dig through the victims’ criminal history, their drug use, their failure to comply with officers’ unreasonable demands.
By contrast, we see white people treated much differently by police.
Just months after a peaceful crowd of Black Lives Matter protestors were confronted with excessive violence by large numbers of police and National Guard while peacefully protesting in Washington, DC, the almost entirely white crowd of violent insurrectionists who invaded the Capitol were able to overwhelm an undermanned and under-equipped police presence. Even after hours of mayhem and destruction, which resulted in 5 deaths and injuries to more than 140 police officers, the combatants were allowed to simply walk away. In fact, some police actually offered a helping hand to insurrectionists so they could descend the steps and bleachers without injury!
The white insurrectionists resorted to violence based on the lie that the election was stolen from their preferred presidential candidate despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Imagine what those same people might do if they believed they were unfairly stopped for minor traffic offenses; if they were subjected to humiliating searches and excessive fines; if they were subjected to excessive force; or if they were killed for a misdemeanor. Imagine if their communities tended to dismiss their complaints and, instead, displayed signs supporting the police. Imagine, if every time they went to court, their entire lives were put under a microscope in search of any past transgression that could be used against them. Imagine if they found it more difficult to find a job than others. Imagine if they were paid less. Imagine, if they were underrepresented in Congress, in state legislatures, on city councils, on police staffs, and it courts. Imagine if draconian laws were put in place to make it more difficult for them to vote. And imagine if that treatment continued for generations.
Then, and only then, would they have an understanding of what it would be like to be part of a minority.
The sad truth is, in the US, equality simply does not exist. Not for black and brown people. Not for Asian and Pacific Islanders. Not for immigrants. Not for Native Americans. Not for women. Not for people of different sexual persuasions. Not for people of different religions.
It is long past time for that to change. It must change if our ongoing experiment with democracy is to survive!