As a supporter of the National Day of Prayer and Protest on May 8, the Saturday before Mother’s Day, groups like Black Live Matter, Movement for Black Live, The Squad, Mothers Against Gun Violence, the NAACP, Urban League, the National Action Network and many others are calling on Americans to pray for victims of gun violence and protest the refusal of Congress to enact meaningful gun control legislation to end the epidemic of mass shooting and the wanton policing killing of unarmed Black people. We are coming together to not only raise our voices and march, but gather in churches, parks and homes to mourn and commemorate the huge toll of over 12,400 women, men and children who were killed as a result of gun violence in the United States thus far in 2021 alone.
An admonition from the last chapter of Ecclesiastes says, “Remember now thy creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor thy years draw nigh, when thou shalt say; I have no pleasure in them.” These words have little meaning or resonance for those “diehards,” who are totally committed to the past. They find no pleasure in or concern for the present. They see history through the rearview mirror, while speeding ahead to build roadblocks to stop the changes those who will live in today’s tomorrow, which they want to mimic their grandfather’s day. They would kill off an entire generation to return to a time that avoided recognizing the lies and harsh reality of those times, which they know only through history books. Remembering is the only way a society can improve itself and accommodate the hopes of those who must live with the decisions leaders today are making to keep young people from implementing changes that will build a sustainable society and world.
I offer April 20, 2021, the day the guilty verdict against Derek Chauvin was rendered, which served as a classic example of the possibility of change. I felt such relief with that verdict because it offered hope that the long nightmare of police murders of Black people would come to an end. Watching news reports, it seemed the world was taking a much needed sigh of relief! However, in less than an hour my feeling of relief turned to dread, as news flashes sounded the alarm, announcing that a police officer killed a 16-year-old Black child Ma’Khia Bryant. Then came many attempts to “blame the Black victim” to justify the total lack of empathy and restraint by what was supposed to be a well-trained officer. Before pulling the trigger four times, there was no forethought of intervention short of deadly force. The fact that her weapon was a knife, which could have caused only superficial wounds if any, means there was at least one other response a trained officer could have initiated. Perceiving Black people as hostile, aggressive or any other behaviors, police respond to judge actions as a death sentence for people of color. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said in a tweet, “Ma’Khia Bryant should be alive right now.”
I frame this situation as “blame the Black victim” because when white people engage in similar behavior, police exercise undue caution and have a totally different reaction or attitude and no lives are lost. Social media is replete or awash in videos of encounters showing unruly white men and women with white police. They show violent lawbreakers assaulting police, taking their clubs and beating them, some driving away from the scene, resulting in high speed chases, but during these encounters no shots are fired and they do not end in the death of assailants. Such videos show verbal altercations, where police admit and verbally acknowledge the rights of white people to refuse to comply with instructions and no arrests are made. A few show assailants taking police vehicles and escaping without a single shot being fired. Moreover, not in one of these encounters do police fire shots, let alone kill a single white person. I may have missed it, but I cannot recall one white person being killed by police in 2021. Contrarily, even white men involved in mass shootings that did not kill themselves were taken alive. Even more aberrant, following the nine shooting deaths of people at the Emanuel Baptist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, police took the murderer out to lunch.
Although this social media information is available for comparison, not one police department, politician or media pundit, to my knowledge, offers the previously mentioned videos to highlight disparities between white and Black death by police. Instead they offer ridiculous “blame the Black victim” explanations, while ignoring Black versus white death disparities, which is a reflection of racist police behavior. Implying the Biden administration will begin looking at such discrepancies, on Wednesday, April 21, AG Merrick Garland announced that the U.S. Justice Department launched a “pattern or practice” investigation into the Minneapolis police department. He said, “Today, the Justice Department has opened a civil investigation to determine whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a ‘pattern or practice’ of unconstitutional, unlawful policing.” AD Garland continued, “It will examine the use of force by police officers, including force used during protests, and whether the department engages in discriminatory practices. It will also look into the department’s handling of misconduct allegations and its treatment of people with behavioral health issues and will assess the department’s current systems of accountability.”
The Minneapolis Police Department is also being investigated by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which is looking into the police department’s policies and practices over the past decade to see if it engaged in systemic discriminatory practices. The concerns and conditions AG Garland outlined certainly fit the Columbus, Ohio police department. It has logged several police killings of Black men this year alone. Casey Goodson Jr. is at the top of the list. Columbus, Ohio’s latest data, which covers 2013-’19, mapping police violence shows Columbus police killed 40 people; 27 were Black. Six years after the tragic police killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, DOJ declined to file charges against the Cleveland police officers that murdered him.
There are many surveys that list the number of Black men, women and children killed by police across America and the numbers are staggering. One such account shows police in the U.S. killed 164 Black people in the first eight months of 2020. The following are just a few of their names: (Part I: January-April): Tyree Davis, Chicago, Illinois; Tina Marie Davis, Spring Valley, New York; Jamarri Daiwon Tarver, Las Vegas, Nevada; Brandon Dionte Roberts, Cocoa, Florida; Kwame Jones, Jacksonville, Florida; Miciah Lee, Sparks, Nevada; Earl Facey, New York, New York; and Abdirahman Salad, Columbus, Ohio. What stands out about this list is some states names appear only once or twice, while states like North Carolina, Florida, New York, Georgia, Texas and Ohio appear at least six or more times for 2020.
Anthony Brown Jr. was unarmed when he was fatally shot in Pasquotank County, North Carolina by sheriff’s deputies; John Pena Montez, 57, who was armed with a knife and threatening his estranged wife in a domestic disturbance, was shot and killed by San Antonio police. They were among six victims of police killing following the Derek Chauvin verdict. It seemed the murder of Trayvon Martin, and the acquittal of George Zimmerman (2012), followed by the fact that the officer that murdered Michael Brown in Ferguson was not even charged, let alone indicted in Missouri (2014), seems to have unleashed the murderous policing culture Black people are enduring in America. Murdering Black men accelerated exponentially and seems to occur almost daily somewhere in America. The thing is, most police murders of Black men are for non-felonious crimes involving traffic stops, unconstitutional vehicle or personal searches, improper and unlawful demands for information, or snap judgements about knives, which there are no laws prohibiting their possession, or the ridiculous claim “I thought he had a gun.” Why doesn’t that happen to white men, who are known to carry guns and ride around with several displayed in their trucks? Speaking to that point six Black men have died in 2021 because police thought a cell phone was a gun. Isaiah Brown, 32, is the latest victim shot by a deputy that gave him a ride home, while on the phone with 911. For all intents and purposes, police have become judges and juries on the spot when Black people are involved and they issue death penalties without reprieves.
All these factors are things AG Garland needs to address. It is a fact that police do not respect the Constitutional Rights of Black and Brown people. They have never believed the Constitution applies to Black people because of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1857. Today they continue to operate like slave catchers and act with impunity, while pole departments and police unions condone such behavior as part of policing Black people. AG Garland’s probe in Minnesota must be extended nationwide to look first at states like North Carolina, Florida, New York, Georgia, Texas and Ohio, which have had an inordinate number of Black people killed by police since 2012. Moreover, it should be made clear “snap judgments” by police involving non-felonious acts that result in the death of Black citizens will be investigated, as civil rights violations, with severe penalties.