The Blog

If Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown Were White, Would the Tea Party Declare Tyranny?

If Travyon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown were white, Harvard research shows that they might have fared better without the "fears of criminality" and "the criminal face" associated with being black.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.


First and foremost, I believe most law enforcement officers in this country are good people who care about their families and the citizens they protect. Most want to make a positive impact in the community and enter the police force to guard people from the inevitable threats that exist in all societies. It takes courage to wake up every day knowing that you might not come home to your family and good cops are essential to any healthy society.

That being said, within law enforcement (as with all professions) there are certain people who bend the rules and perhaps even hide behind the bureaucratic and systemic evils that enable breaches of conduct. Research from Northwestern University states that, "More than 10,000 complaints of police abuse were filed with Chicago police between 2002 and 2004, but only 19 resulted in meaningful disciplinary action, a new study asserts." Also, before Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, police in Missouri were already grappling with the issue of racial profiling according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch on May 19, 2014:

Former Police Chief Tim Fitch recommended that UCLA's researchers visit county police after anonymous letters to the chief last year accused Lt. Patrick "Rick" Hayes of ordering his officers to target blacks at the South County shopping areas. Hayes was fired last May after nine officers said they heard him issuing profiling orders laced with racial slurs. Hayes' appeal to the police board is still pending...

Undoubtedly, the fact that most complaints against police abuse go unpunished contributes directly to the prevalence of such abuse. However, when both the American public and police departments are aware of the problem, why have the deaths of unarmed black citizens like Eric Garner and Michael Brown become a horrifyingly commonplace news story?

Before any analysis of the legal or political system that fosters a man like Rep. Mo Brooks to claim President Obama has waged "a war on whites," a closer look at racial bias must be examined from a human perspective. Research by Harvard University's Jennifer L. Hochschild in The Skin Color Paradox investigates the inherent bias against dark skinned individuals within the U.S. and how this bias manifests itself within the judicial system and society:

Dark-skinned Blacks in the United States have lower socioeconomic status, more punitive relationships with the criminal justice system, diminished prestige, and less likelihood of holding elective office compared with their lighter counterparts.

... Consider criminal justice: among 66,927 male felons incarcerated for their first offense in Georgia from 1995 through 2002, the dark-skinned received longer prison sentences. Whites' sentences averaged 2,689 days, and Blacks' were longer by 378 days. Within the Black group, those with the lightest skin received prison sentences averaging three and a half months longer than did Whites; medium-skinned Blacks received the average for Blacks and a year more than Whites; and the dark-skinned got hit with 3,250 days -a year and a half longer than Whites.

... Dark skin evokes fears of criminality or sharper memories of a purportedly criminal face. Even Black first graders are better able to remember stories in which light-skinned individuals are portrayed positively (or dark-skinned people portrayed negatively) than the reverse.

If Travyon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown were white, Harvard research shows that they might have fared better without the "fears of criminality" and "the criminal face" associated with being black. The startling fact that black first graders recalled stories of light skinned individuals in a more positive light emphasizes the profound issue of racial bias in our country. Also, when Harvard research finds that blacks serve 378 days longer in Georgia's prison system and the variation in skin color actually affected prison sentences, the issue of race is still a real dilemma in American society.

Even with America's first black president in the Oval Office, there exists systemic racial bias in the U.S. and this fact is exemplified by the economic, social, and legal disparities found between white and black citizens. According to The Wall Street Journal, "Prison sentences of black men were nearly 20% longer than those of white men for similar crimes in recent years, an analysis by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found." In terms of capital punishment, David C. Baldus found that people accused of killing white victims were four times as likely to be sentenced to death as those accused of killing black victims. This statistic correlates to a Duke University study finding that, "In cases with no blacks in the jury pool, blacks were convicted 81 percent of the time, and whites were convicted 66 percent of the time... The findings imply that the application of criminal justice is 'highly uneven.'" Also, the Brookings Institution found that "There is nearly a 70 percent chance that an African American man without a high school diploma will be imprisoned by his mid-thirties."

If the Tea Party ever feared a "war on whites," they should realize that blacks are losing this imaginary war. As for what happens to those who kill blacks in the name of self defense, the jury is tilted in one direction. Research in a PBS Frontline report indicates that, "the killings of black people by whites were more likely to be considered justified than the killings of white people by blacks... In non-Stand Your Ground states, whites are 250 percent more likely to be found justified in killing a black person than a white person who kills another white person; in Stand Your Ground states, that number jumps to 354 percent."

Regarding job opportunities, research compiled by Princeton's Devah Pager and summarized in Harvard Magazine states that "a black man without a criminal record had about the same chance of being called after applying for a job as a white man with a criminal record." When a citizen with a criminal record has the same chance of employment as another citizen without a criminal record, race can't be disregarded as an obsolete part of our history, regardless of claims by Tea Party conservatives. In terms of economic standing, data from the Pew Research Center correlates directly to Princeton's Devah Peager's findings and shows that African-Americans in the U.S. suffer from severe inequality in wealth:

The black unemployment rate also has consistently been about double that of whites since the 1950s...

Since the 1960s the difference in black and white incomes grew from about $19,000 in 1967 to roughly $27,000 in 2011...

The median household income2 for whites was $67,175 in 2011, as reported in the Census Bureau's March 2012 Current Population Survey. For blacks, it was $39,760; for Asians, $68,521; and Hispanics $40,007...

Black Americans are nearly three times as likely as white Americans to live in poverty, according to the 2012 March Current Population Survey...

In 2011, the typical white household had a net worth of $91,405, compared with $6,446 for black households, $7,843 for Hispanic households and $91,203 for Asian households...

Of all the disparities, the Pew findings that net worth of $91,405 for white households compared to $6,446 for black households speak volumes, especially since the wealth gap actually grew from 1960 to 2011. Yes, this data matters when analyzing the recent cases of unarmed blacks being killed by police officers, especially when combined with the psychological and judicial biases faced by African-Americans. Furthermore, when people like Paul Ryan make reference to a culture of not working within inner cities, they conveniently fail to mention that blacks have faced double the unemployment rate of whites since 1950.

The sad reality is that if the unarmed black victims in the news today were white and faced the economic, judicial, and social disparities experienced by African-Americans, we'd be hearing calls similar to Sharon Angle's "Second amendment remedies." While conservatives have deemed a health care act they disagree with as tyranny and bemoaned a "war on whites," if the tables were turned and white Americans had double the unemployment rate of black Americans, or were more likely to be incarcerated for the same crime, the Tea Party would undoubtedly have a new definition of the word "tyranny." In reality, it is the tyranny of vast economic, judicial, and social discrepancies still affecting large portions of the African-American community that have fostered a world where unarmed black citizens can be killed with the great likelihood that their deaths will be justified in court.

Popular in the Community