Imagine sitting in your home with your spouse and children. The police knock at the door. When you answer, they demand that you let them in so that they can search your home for drugs. Knowing that you are not guilty of a crime, you refuse, but the police officers force their way inside anyway—without a warrant. They then subject you to physical brutality while your family watches.
This scenario is what real life looks like in Madison County, Miss., if you’re African-American.
The Madison County Sheriff’s Department is under fire for its discriminatory policing practices toward Black residents. The lawsuit filed against the MCSD by the ACLU alleges that the sheriff’s department routinely targets African-American residents through unconstitutional stops, searches and even arrests without probable cause.
Madison County’s African-American residents tell of being stopped on sidewalks and at police checkpoints set up at the entrances and exits of housing complexes, and of being imprisoned without due process.
Khadafy and Quinetta Manning were victims of police officers who barged into their home without cause. When Khadafy (a disabled man) protested, the officers cuffed, choked and beat him.
This act is not something that happened during the civil rights struggle. The Mannings and other African-American citizens are facing this conduct now. And if a headline from today can be switched with a headline from 60 years ago, and we’re unable to tell the difference, then our society has a serious problem!
This violation of civil rights is happening in America in 2017, and it’s nothing new. It is only the latest saga in the Black experience with law enforcement. And we are no closer to a solution than we were in 1957.
The main issue lies in our society’s inability to even agree that this problem exists. There are many Americans who have never stared down the barrel of a police officer’s gun simply because of the color of their skin. They have not been pulled over or harassed by police, and so they would prefer to pretend that these incidents are not problems that affect millions of Americans.
Sticking your head in the sand in an attempt to ignore what’s happening in front of your very eyes is not going to change the reality that African-Americans face each and every day. And as I’ve said before: If you are unwilling to see racism for what it is, then you are a part of the problem.
Many have been ingrained from birth to fear “the other”—the person who doesn’t look like you, doesn’t sound like you and doesn’t act like you. A widely used trope in Hollywood is that we “fear what we do not understand.”
But the terrible thing about fear is that it’s an extremely powerful emotion, and when our fear gets the best of us, it can evoke reactions that have dire consequences.
This fear is why many do not see the brutality against African-Americans as a serious issue. From birth, you have been conditioned to fear us because you do not understand us.
It’s time for this conditioning to change.
I’m asking you to step outside of your comfort zone. Empathize with your African-American neighbors. We are not as different as you might think.
Try to see the world through our eyes. Imagine how hard it must be to succeed in an environment where the deck is completely stacked against you.
This condition is what reality looks like for Black Americans. We suffer from lack of opportunities because we are Black, and then to add insult to injury, our communities are terrorized by our nation’s law enforcers.
In Madison County, Miss., African-Americans account for 73 percent of arrests, even though they only make up 38 percent of the population.
Why is the arrest rate for African-Americans so high? It’s because if we speak out in defense of ourselves to police officers, we are arrested. If police officers break into our home and we express displeasure, we are arrested.
Ask yourself this question: How can any community thrive under these conditions? In Madison County, African-Americans report simply walking down the street in their communities and police officers stop them, search them and run their name through police databases even though there is no probable cause.
This action goes against the Constitution of the United States!
The Fourth Amendment says, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
This amendment is the constitutional right of every citizen of this country, but it seems that the Constitution is meaningless once you cross into the Black neighborhoods of Madison County, Miss.
And it’s not just Mississippi. This discrimination happens to African-Americans across the country. You may not see it, but we face these issues every day.
We leave home and when we encounter a police officer, we have an uneasy feeling because we wonder, “Is today my last day of freedom? Is today the last day of my life?”
I have a question for President Trump: How can you even attempt to push a travel ban that you think will protect Americans when you are not even willing to acknowledge the problem of racial profiling that exists in your home country?
Racism has been embedded in the structural integrity of law enforcement institutions. “Protect and serve” has been the motto of police forces for decades, but for many African-Americans, the police are simply an arm of racism that is being used to terrorize us.
I’m not discounting the good officers. There are plenty of good police officers in this country who put their lives on the line every single day to protect the communities that they serve. I know many of them personally. But we can no longer allow racism to be hidden underneath the cover of those good officers.
It’s time to shine the light on the ugly head of racism and hatred. We must stop giving it a place to hide.
The Department of Justice under the leadership of both Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch investigated police departments across the country in the aftermath of police murders of unarmed African-Americans. This action was an important move, because it sent the message that no one is above the law, and there are consequences for the harassment and murder of African-Americans. This oversight was a step in the right direction, to deter “bad apple” police officers from engaging in racist activities.
But so far, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has paved the way for stricter sentencing in criminal cases. Sessions has a different command for federal prosecutors across the country: charge suspects with the most serious offense you can prove. This announcement follows a line of several other significant departures from Obama-era domestic policies at the Justice Department, but this decision crystalized Sessions’ position in the criminal justice realm. Sessions must be willing to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors, and he must be ready to go even a step further if need be.
It’s time for us to face this issue head-on, so that we can finally rise above the hatred that threatens to tear at the very fiber of the Constitution that America was formed on.
Who are we as a country when we are still facing the same societal problems that we thought we had overcome 60 years ago? I’m afraid of what our nation will become if we continue to allow these problems to haunt us today.
Duvalier J. Malone is the CEO of Duvalier Malone Enterprises.