This Isn’t Going Away
It will be years before people forget, if ever, the live stream of Diamond Reynolds calmly reciting her account of the shooting death of her boyfriend, Philando Castile. He slumped to her side, apparently breathing his last breath. Nor will we forget the video of Alton Sterling being wrestled to the ground in Louisiana by two police officers with guns drawn while he struggled beneath them. This is just before they shot and killed him.
One reason we won’t forget is that they have been enshrined on the Internet. They’ve been seen by millions on Facebook, shared countless times, linked to scores of news stories. But another reason is that as Americans continue to wrestle with race and policing, these videos present what many see as the disturbing truth. Black men receive disparate treatment during police encounters.
Implicit Bias At Work
The Washington Post reported that 505 people were killed by the police in 2016 as of the week of July 4th. Of those, 24 percent were black. Considering that blacks comprise only 13 percent of the nation’s population, their deaths are disturbingly disproportionate.
Robin Wright of the Kirwan Institute at Ohio State University, who specializes in implicit bias, told the New York Times that the problem is the way society stereotypes black people.
“If you see a black person with a weapon, you don’t assume that it’s legal,” Wright said.
The Sniper’s Deflection
People also will not easily forget – nor should they – the killing of five police officers after a peaceful protest in Dallas, Texas. The protestors exercised their constitutional rights to express concern about the police killings of Castile, Sterling and other black men. But the sniper – identified as 25-year-old Micah Xavier Johnson of Mesquite, Texas – apparently was engaged in a murderous, racist, anti-police rampage. Before he was killed by police after negotiations failed, Johnson reportedly said that he wanted to kill white people. He wanted to shoot white police officers in particular.
Seven other officers were injured during the shooting spree. Investigators believe he was the lone shooter, but aren’t convinced he actually was working alone.
So where does all of this killing leave us? No better off than we were before, unless we decide that the actions of several police officers – whose motives, in fairness to them, have yet to be established in a court of law – or one sniper and his shadowy cohorts will not define the American experience for us.
Black lives matter. Blue lives matter, too. They matter equally to their families and colleagues, and are guaranteed the same protections under our nation’s constitution.
Time To Ask The Hard Questions
And because they matter, we should ask the hard questions that can lead our nation to accountability for how our citizens are treated – those who wear the badge and those who don’t.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton did just that after the killing of Castile.
“Would this have happened if the driver were white, if the passengers were white?” Dayton asked during a press conference. “I don’t think it would have.”
President Obama also raised questions at his first press conference from Warsaw, Poland, which was held long before the Dallas sniper attacks occurred.
“What if this happened to someone in your family?” the president asked. “How would you feel?”