Safe America, Brutal America

This week: another case of police officers abusing their power against African-Americans. Soon after: protests by activist minded citizens, and the counter-protests by those who feel many have taken this charge against police officers too far. Yet there is too much damning evidence now to say African-Americans have no cause for concern. There are too many reasons--based both in common narratives and quantitative data--to deny that black individuals in this country have been mistreated at the hands of both neighbors and the authorities at large.

With cases such as Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, alleged police brutality finally became an eminent issue in American society. Ask anyone in the African-American community and they'll tell you this is nothing new. Yet it was only a couple months ago this became nearly indisputable to white Americans.

April 7th, and another video of a police officer killing an unarmed citizen was released. This time the video documents the unprovoked murder of a fifty-year-old man, Walter L. Scott in South Carolina. He was running away during the time of the shooting, making justifications for his death impossible. This is unlike the death of Michael Brown (which started a great deal of awareness about police brutality), where many argued that the evidence was inconclusive.

However many distinctions we can make about these occurrences, they all share one common element: each victim was African-American. What distinguishes Walter L. Scott's death is the consequences. The police officers in the cases of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice have at this point, all escaped without a trial. The grand jury--the governing body that determines whether the suit go to trial--decided not to move forward with charging the officers in the previous incidents. In an unusual move, the officer in the Scott case, Michael T. Sager, will be charged with murder.

Police brutality against African-Americans is not a novel issue in this country. Even twenty-four odd years ago (which may be the first time this issue was taken to mainstream news sources) when police officers brutalized Rodney King in Los Angeles, there appeared to be little surprise among the black community in America that this was a persistent part of their reality. Yet what was novel was the fact that there were charges filed. Though the officers in the Rodney King case were deemed not guilty in a criminal court, the civil court did find the officers guilty, and awarded King almost four million dollars. However, for many years after, the issue of police brutality against African-Americans disappeared.

In 2014, this issue became significant again to everyone, including white Americans. Michael Brown, an African-American in Ferguson, Missouri, was gunned down by a police officer, Darren Wilson. He was dead at only nineteen-years-old. Why was this occurrence different? There was, like with the case of Rodney King, a video. Yet Rodney King lived to tell his story. Michael Brown did not. Still, Darren Wilson wasn't charged. Many wondered if the issue of police brutality against African-Americans would disappear again.

The answer was no. And there was, and still is, an unseen factor in white Americans involvement, a factor perhaps few have thought would influence the mindset of the majority. The prominence of police brutality against black Americans comes at a time when crime rates in major cities are at an all-time low. Most statistics appear to show that even the number of times police fire their weapons is less frequent, and less deadly. "America is safe!" Everyone says. Yet African-Americans continue to die at the hands of police officers at a rate unseen in every other community. In rhetoric, I even hear some blame African-Americans for this.

If we all are supposed to feel safer--if crime rates are lower and people of all colors are supposed to be equal, how can the force that's supposed to protect Americans be damaging such a large segment of our population? It may be, paradoxically, that safety for most Americans has awakened us to the reality that others live in fear of what white people feel is there to keep them safe.