A grieving African-American father hovers over the body of his son who was shot by a white police officer who thought the young man had been reaching for a knife. As the father struggles to understand how this could have happened, he recounts all the measures that he had taken over the years to ensure that his “good son” would never become this kind of statistic. His son had opted to go to work right after high school instead of attending college, so the conscientious father had placed a University of Maryland sticker on the back of his car just in case he ever got pulled over. Despite this and all the other survival initiatives that many in our community instill in our young people, his son was still gunned down in the street, and as it turned out; there was no knife.
This scenario seems like it could have been pulled right from the pages of any American newspaper. In fact, it was a scene featured in the ABC hit show Scandal, which coincidentally aired just a day after the mayor of Ferguson addressed the sobering, but not surprising findings of the Department of Justice’s probe into the Ferguson Police Department. Though the facts of the fictional case were not exactly representative of the events that transpired with the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, the show and the findings of the DOJ reflect the reality that many of us face just Living While Black.
Conservative critics of the volatile reactions that followed the shooting of Mike Brown last year have now been rendered mute. Remember the plethora of derogatory nouns that were so freely communicated to describe protestors? I seem to recall “animals” and “savages” as two of the most popular. The silence is now deafening. Maybe the scores of residents that were interviewed in the shadow of marchers were actually telling the truth about the daily assault on their constitutional rights. Just maybe, African Americans and justice-seekers from all ethnicities that marched throughout the streets of America did have reason to be concerned about the jurisdictions where it was clear that Black lives really did not matter. The data has been presented; and now the silence is deafening.
Though many like myself were hurt and disappointed that the protests following Mike Brown’s death had some incidents of violence and vandalism, we knew where the anger came from. Frustration can morph into anger and then to rage with minimal instigation. When observing the nationwide protests, many of our fellow citizens who don’t share “the skin that we’re in” implored us to “wait for the facts” before reacting. What they did not, and do not understand is that the frustration we felt went beyond Mike Brown.
The daily fear of being confronted by an officer that shares the mindset of the Ferguson city government workers that freely circulated racist emails is a reality that cannot be mentally offset by focusing on the “progress” we have made as a nation that elected a black man twice as president.
The fear that we have for our sons has been quantified by the DOJ report, and now the statistical reality check that the DOJ has revealed has left the blind followers of all things law enforcement reaching for justification. We have to prepare ourselves for the inevitable attacks on the veracity of the federal investigation and the statistical accuracy of the report. Though Ferguson’s black population is 67%, many of the data points found that they were targeted by law enforcement at levels of 85% or higher. The conservative pundits will undoubtedly dissect this ad nauseam to somehow mitigate the statistical reality of a blatantly biased enforcement dynamic.
The Ferguson report should serve as a cautionary tale to all jurisdictions and municipalities. The best way for them to protect the reputation and effectiveness of their hard working and truly committed officers is to purge their departments of personnel, policies and politics that lend themselves to a pervasive culture of biased policing. Though the report did not tell us anything we did not already know or at least suspect, it did bring the facts to life, and in the case of race in this country; that is progress.
Richard McCulloch is a Marketing Executive specializing in Higher Education and Not-for-Profit Marketing. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.