As a Black man in America I experience many things differently than other races. Everyday I experience challenges to my identity.
One that has recently been weighing heavily on my mind, as it has been on many others, is the events concerning Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The loss of Mike Brown makes it undeniably clear that my life as a black male in America is considered less valuable than those of all other races. One could argue that this idea is more than irrational, but the event in Ferguson is far beyond an isolated incident. So how else should I interpret the fact that the same story continuously repeats itself?
Eric Garner was choked to death by a New York police office for allegedly selling cigarettes. Marlene Pinnock was brutally beat almost to the point of death on the side of a highway because an officer said she was she was endangering herself for walking on an interstate. Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Florida because a vigilante citizen, not even a police officer, felt that he was a potential threat to the community. Dante Parker was essentially tased to death in California because he was apparently near a bicycle in an area where a thief was reported to flee by bike. Even Rodney King, years ago who was in fact driving under the influence and tried to outrun the police, was met by five police officers who beat him within inches of his life. And now Mike Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri shot six times.
The recurring themes in these incidents are seemingly consistent: (1) The evidence is often convoluted. (2) The police officer tends to be a White male. (3) The police officer is almost never penalized to the extent of their crime. (4) There is usually a public outcry of how the events are race related. (5) The victim is usually met with an intense brutality that no person should have to experience. For instance, shooting an unarmed man six times.
All that I have previously mentioned has taught me to be overly cautious for my life because not only does it seem that my life is valued less than others, but it also seems like there are people, particularly police officers, who are willing to take it from me. Moreover, there will be very few people who will seek justice for my life. And those who will, will not receive the reception that a human life deserves.
Please don’t read this post and think that all of my concern comes from watching the news. I have had my share of first-hand experiences of being viewed as a target by law enforcement. For example, one day during my senior year in high school, in Prince George’s County, Maryland, I took a drive to see a friend with three other guys. Suddenly, we were pulled over by three police officers who approached our car with stun guns drawn, screaming to us to keep our hands visible. Apparently, we had made a left turn without using a turn signal. Before I could realize what was happening, the four of us were outside of the car getting frisked. As I stood there shaking with terror, one of the officers aggressively asked me, “Why are you shaking so much?” It was most likely because this was the first time I was being illegally searched by police officers for no apparent reason. As a young black man, who had heard “horror” stories of being profiled by the police, I was afraid that this was the moment where my future would be taken from me, that in this moment I would end up in jail or dead because the color of my skin isn’t favorable in the American society. No person, let alone a teenager, should experience a fear such as this.
All so quickly, the four of us were sitting on the concrete with no shoes, our hands visible, and our ankles crossed.We were eventually told that we matched the description of assailants charged with a robbery. But even after a witness admitted we were not the assailants and the officers realized their mistake, our pictures were still taken and our vehicle illegally searched. For an hour and a half, we had to remain seated on the ground. And in the end, we weren’t allowed to leave, but had to call our parents to come get us–even though we had done nothing wrong. On top of everything else, I was frightened by the rage that my mother would surely have when she came to pick me up. But I was met with a surprise. We exchanged very few words, but among them the most vivid was, “You need to be careful.” My entire life my mother told me to go to school, mind my own business, choose friends that won’t lead me into trouble, to do right by others, and to lead a generally moral life. But never had I thought that she would tell me to be cautious involving encounters with police officers. Police officers supposedly protect and serve, yet for me they also reflect potential to put my well being in jeopardy. Never had the asymmetry of racial dynamics in this country been so clear to me.
Since then I have multiple encounters with law. In fact, I have had enough encounters that being racially profiled no longer frightens me. I often expect that I will be looked down upon by police officers. One may call this paranoia, but I more than assure anyone that have been profiled more than enough times to say that it is no coincidence. As a Black man in America, I have been conditioned to be viewed as a threat and as the enemy. To me, that is tragic.