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“People with advantages are loath to believe that they just happen to be people with advantages.”
C. Wright Mills- Sociologist and author.
Racism is prevalent in our society. It has been a dominant theme in our history. It has shaped our public policy since colonial times. We all know the history of slavery, Jim Crow, the KKK, educational, employment, and housing discrimination. It was not just in the deep south. Even Duluth had a lynching. Northern cities have de facto segregated schools. Much of American history is a denial of justice and equality for minorities.
As a liberal, educated white person who has lived and worked with minorities, I consider myself pretty egalitarian. I am not a racist. But latent racism is part of my subconscious. There are times when I feel uncomfortable walking past a group of young black men, or driving in certain neighborhoods. Intellectually I reject these feelings but they are there. We all have this latent fear of others. It is part of who we are as tribal Homo sapiens. It should not be surprising that police officers reflect this inherent racism.
We cannot deny that racism affects police procedures and actions. The statistics are clear and unambiguous. Few whites suffer from “stop and frisk” polices. No whites are pulled over for simply driving in a predominantly black neighborhood. No whites are suspected of car theft simply because they are driving an expensive car. Few unarmed whites are shot in the back, shot multiple times, or shot while on the ground. We can not deny that people of color are profiled, ticketed, arrested, incarcerated, and killed more frequently than whiles. We can not deny that too many people of color are killed by police in situations that do not justify the use of lethal force.
The contrast between the cases of Civen Bundy and Deravis Caine Rogers speak volumes. Bundy, an anti-government rancher who refused to pay his federal grazing fees, led an armed resistance to federal enforcement actions. He was not arrested and was not gunned down. Months later, after his son staged an armed occupation of a national wildlife preserve, he was finally arrested. He is white. Rogers, an unarmed black man, was killed in Atlanta last month while driving away from a parking lot of a reported robbery. The police officer had no idea who he was shooting at or if Rogers was a suspect. He didn’t even know if a crime had been committed. But Rogers was black and now he is dead. Unlike most police shootings, this officer was fired and is facing criminal charges.
Too many police are simple trigger happy. Too many police think they are the law. Arresting people for talking back or taking videos is not appropriate. Shooting people for resisting arrest or running away is excessive. In fact shooting people for actually stealing is not justified. High speed chases only endanger the public. The police are supposed to be the trained professionals with many options to control the situation. Excessive use of force, especially deadly force, is simply not justified unless citizens or police officers are in immediate, life threatening danger.
Yes, the police have important, difficult, dangerous jobs. But this does not justify use of excessive force. The slogans “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” should be recognized for what they are... lame efforts to change the subject and direct attention away from the unjust treatment of blacks by police. According to the Nation magazine, 574 people have been killed by police so far this year. The five officers in Dallas are the most killed at one time since 9/11. The police need to do less CYA and more “protect and serve.”
The many examples of excessive force are not only egregious because of the racism involved, but also excessive use of lethal force endangers us all. The lack of justification and accountability threatens the integrity of the judicial system. The extreme militarization of police should be a red flag to all of us. It illustrates that we are moving toward a police state.
Rallies were held in Duluth and Superior on Friday, July 15th, to remember recent killings, included the five police officers killed in Dallas. They were organized by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. I attended the rally in Superior. I was impressed by the reasonableness of their “demands.”
The basic objective of the organizers, and the larger national movement, is to stop the use of excessive force. They want the violence against people of color to stop. They want to stop the unwarranted racial profiling. They want police officers who do use excessive force, especially deadly force, to be held accountable. They want procedures and citizen oversight put in place to insure change actually happens. The Campaign Zero web has the whole list of demands. I believe these demands are entirely reasonable.
It appears Duluth Police Chief Mike Tuskan understands the issues and is taking action. Reports on both his speech at the Duluth rally and his followup meeting with the community the next week were very positive. Superior appears to be a different story. The leadership there still have their heads in the sand. They will need citizen pressure to do what is right.
One of the speaker’s at the Superior rally called for the white community to use its “white privilege” to help bring about change. I never thought of myself as having white or any other type of privilege. I did not inherit wealth. I had no family connections to smooth the way to good jobs. I didn’t move seamlessly into a family business. But neither did I have to fear being racially profiled, discriminated against, or shot at a traffic stop.
So I will be using my “white privilege” to help. I will be contacting my representatives to demand action on these issues. I hope you will do the same in your community.