While I have been tacitly aware of the racial profiling that African-Americans experience in the United States, for a long time, I did not understand the extent of the disproportionate mistreatment they face. To a large extent, through the coincidence of my skin color, I will never fully understand their experiences with the police in America.
The truth is our generation faces a critically important question: Why are young, unarmed black men seven times more likely to be killed by the police than white men are?
In the first three months of 2016, police killed 268 people and counting. This is on track to match last year’snumber of 990 people killed by police, 93 of whom were unarmed. Even though black men make up only six percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for 40 percent of the unarmed men shot to death by police last year.
These are difficult numbers to face. I have heard, and surely will continue to hear, that racism is over because slavery in the U.S. ended 150 years ago. But the people who say this are either ignoring or are ignorant to the deep, long-lasting effects of our history of Jim Crow laws, systemic segregation, white supremacist terrorism and sharecropping that somehow left many African-Americans worse off after slavery.
While the Civil Rights Movement greatly increased the rights of African-Americans, the shadows of the deep-rooted racism and prejudice that followed the failures of The Reconstruction era are still relevant today.
Going back to police killings, it is evident that there is a problem. But the underlying problems and their degrees of effect are relatively uncertain.
What is definitely true is that African-Americans have a large number of encounters with police officers, and every encounter with the police contains a risk that the officer could be poorly trained, act with malice or simply make a mistake due to a high pressure scenarios.
Furthermore, a person could act in an unpredictable way because they believe they are in danger. So the threat and use of guns, on both sides, only heightens these risks.
These more frequent encounters reveal a deeper problem with society and laws. While African-Americans are only slightly more likely to use drugs than white people, they are more than twice as likely to be arrested on drug-related charges. Police routinely stop vehicles and allow themselves probable cause to search these vehicles. The problem is that black drivers are pulled over three times more often than white drivers.
Again, these additional encounters only increase the possibility of another needless death.
The government needs to hold the police more accountable for their use of lethal force. Ten percent of these killings are against unarmed individuals. This number is terrifying and disgusting. The solution will surely be complicated, but the problem is too large to give the police impunity from this violence.
In response to the police killings in the U.S., the Black Lives Matter movement began after the acquittal of George Zimmerman following the death of Trayvon Martin, but it didn’t fully emerge into the public light until the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City.
When people respond to Black Lives Matter by saying All Lives Matter, it causes tension. Obviously every individual’s life matters, but this country does not yet value all lives equally. It makes sense then that we focus the brand on the lives that have been undervalued for so long.
We know there exists a relatively small number of consciously racist and prejudiced people in this country, and some of them may be the police officers involved in these killings. The temptation to point fingers at these people is powerful, but we will never get to the root of the problem that way because we let ourselves off too easily. We should look at ourselves to learn how we — even subconsciously — discriminate, especially in the small ways.
Brandon Griffin, ’16, is an associate lifestyle editor for The Brown and White. He can be reached at [email protected]