When Will it Stop? The Deadly Price of Racial Profiling in 2014
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This week, the police shooting of Michael Brown, an African American teenager, in Ferguson, MO has once again sparked a critical national conversation around race, prejudice and fairness in the American criminal justice system. On Aug. 9, the 18-year-old was walking home with a friend when he was shot and killed by a police officer. He was reportedly holding up his hands to show he was unarmed, saying, “Don’t shoot!”
The FBI has launched a civil rights investigation into the fatal shooting. The National Bar Association, which represents African American lawyers and judges, has also called for an investigation into the death of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old Staten Island, NY man who died after being placed in a chokehold by a police officer. The rising tensions in Ferguson were not quelled with the announcement of the civil rights investigation; in fact, hours after the FBI opened an inquiry into the shooting, Ferguson police fired tear gas into a crowd of protesters against police brutality.
We must come together as a nation to have a transparent and mature conversation on the very real impact of race, stereotypes and prejudice in all of its ugly forms — from unconscious bias to the prison industrial complex. Sadly, the conversation has failed to gain traction despite the tragic deaths and subsequent national outcry surrounding the similar cases of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner. We have allowed the proverbial elephant in the room to remain dormant even when a Harvard professor is arrested outside his home and a 68-year-old military veteran is killed in his home by police officers without any cause but the color of their skin. Our national conscience deserves better than to continue to allow these transgressions to go on without discussion.
In 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder recognized a lack of leadership when it comes to addressing issues of race when he said that “though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”
While there is no federal database that tracks numbers of people of any race killed by police in the United States, some individuals and groups have compiled their own databases using information from media and law enforcement reports. According to the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a black man, woman or child was killed every 28 hours in 2012 by police, security guards or vigilantes.
Holder’s words ring true today and leave us at a crossroads: do we continue to simply react when people of color are killed, abused or profiled by those who are tasked with protecting and serving or do we confront the issue of racial profiling by law enforcement head on by being proactive and changing policies to prevent more abuse and death?
It’s been more than 60 years since America grappled with segregation and the Civil Rights movement. In 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American was killed by two white men for allegedly flirting with a white woman. The vicious incidents we have witnessed in Ferguson in the last week are eerie reincarnations of this same type of racial prejudice.
While this week would have been Brown’s first week in college, Congress is on recess and still determining whether or not to debate bill S.1038, the End Racial Profiling Act, that would make it illegal for any law enforcement agent to engage in racial profiling.
We will never get past these avoidable tragedies and truly uncover the deep-seated issues of race and racism in American society if Congress, and the nation at large, continue to duck the issue. Let us prove that we are not a nation of cowards and let us begin the uncomfortable dialogue and actions required to deal with the racial and social inequities that persist today.
Wondering how to get involved in the conversation on race relations? Start by joining MPAC’s #ISpeakOutBecause campaign:
1. Tweet or post “#ISpeakOutBecause” and add your reason for speaking out against injustice and for human rights.
3. Post it on your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with the hashtag #ISpeakOutBecause.
4. Tag your friends in your post and encourage them to join the campaign.
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