White on Black Crime and Structural Racism

I have watched the official dash cam video of the Sandra Bland incident and can only say that it makes me physically ill to reflect upon the circumstances that so tragically conspired to spiral out of control and end up with the loss of a black woman who was in the process of beginning what could have been a productive life contributing to society.

Another month, another video, another instance of white on black crime and yet the pernicious violence inflicted by law enforcement continues to highlight the systematic and institutionalized nature of racism in this country. To watch the video that captures the unfolding of events from what can only be objectively identified as a minor to nonexistent technical traffic infraction escalate into a full-fledged confrontation that would eventually lead to the incarceration and death of this woman is an indictment of the abject lack of any sense of justice, judgment, or discretion on the part of the arresting officer and the law enforcement agency he represents.

How can it be that we are now seemingly exposed to incident after incident where law enforcement is so ill-equipped to handle even the most innocuous situations without resorting to force, violence, and strong arm tactics that there is a growing fear among the overwhelming majority of law abiding citizens that there but for the Grace of God go I? Of course if you are white you are probably less inclined to be afraid given the stark and blatant observation that in many of the high profile cases recently it is white officers confronting black suspects. The race card is not being played here; it is patently obvious that race plays a major role in the tragic disposition of these cases. It is not perception but reality and whatever the reasons behind it unless we deal forcefully with the root causes of racism we run the risk of irretrievably dividing the nation into "two Americas" as cautioned by the Kerner Commission nearly a half century ago.

Over the past year and a half I have written about and issued calls for the president to convene a national commission much like the Kerner Commission in the 1960s to systematically explore the root causes of what is plainly and simply institutionalized racism. I once again issue a plea to President Obama to do so. The sadness and outrage that accompanies the incidents from Ferguson, MO to North Charleston, SC to Cleveland, OH to New York City and numerous other locales that span the nation is a dangerously combustible mix that is ripping apart an already fragile relationship between authority figures, whether they are elected officials, government representatives, or law enforcement officers, and citizens of color in communities all across America.

Removing emblems of racism such as the Confederate flag from public spaces certainly represents a positive step forward in addressing the deep schisms in our society but truthfully it still is little more than a flagrantly symbolic action addressing the symptoms not the causes of the problem. The cancer of institutional racism is a deadly disease affecting the body politic and unless excised from the body it will continue to fester and infect otherwise healthy cells in what may appear to the untrained eye to be a healthy patient.

While it is certainly a fact that the overwhelming majority of law enforcement personnel are adequately trained and exercise restraint, discretion and sound judgment in disarming and deescalating situations there are far too many instances where, as in this case, those with the ultimate power, namely a badge and a gun, not only fail to control the situation but actually inflame it. The presence of technological devices to document and record incidents should limit abuses but in many instances they serve to merely document and record inexcusable behavior. This of course raises even more serious questions as to the overzealous abuse of power that has become culturally acceptable within the ranks of law enforcement over a long period of time.

The president is ideally situated and it appears temperamentally inclined to add to what will soon become his legacy. My plea is that he take this opportunity to begin an exhaustive examination of racism by appointing an impeccably credentialed panel of experts to a national commission designed to rid the country of this scourge once and for all.

Advancing a society where justice and opportunity are not limited by the color of one's skin is a legacy that will help bind our nation together to face other issues that demand our attention. Mr. President this is a crucial component to the hope and change the nation elected you to implement and I understand your plate is full but how many more deaths will it take and how much more cynicism, anger and frustration can the system handle without fraying and ultimately tearing apart?