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Americans are completely shocked and appalled that an American sniper took the lives of police officers in Dallas, Texas. But, how could this act of retribution not eventually happen in the United States of America? 5 police officers were killed and 14 other policemen were injured in one calculated, violent attack, and the entire nation cried out in fear and disgust, but hundreds of Black Americans have been killed annually by police officers while unarmed and the country has collectively shrugged its shoulders. This country has been asking for a reprisal. Where there is oppression there will eventually be revolution, and Americans can expect more violence before a calm resolution is reached. More officers will be killed in protest, and with the heightened angst and anxiety of police officers who literally have license to kill, more innocent Black men will assuredly die in the immediate future. However, the violence that has gripped our nation had to come to pass in order to change the public consciousness.
While the killing of police officers should never be condoned or celebrated, in this particular case, it was completely necessary. The cold-blooded murder of civil servants put a public eye on an idea that has been discounted and ignored for years. Black lives matter. This public assassination of innocent public servants by a troubled Black U.S. Army veteran should shine a light on both the plight of Black American men in the United States and the mental health issues of veterans.
And, before you turn to some unqualified and unsubstantiated statistics about Black on Black crime and how no one talks about Black people killing one another, just know that who a crime is committed against depends on who the criminal lives near. Crime is a function of poverty, and proximity is the determining factor in victimization. Affluent neighborhoods have considerably less crime regardless of the ethnicities of the people who live there, because affluent families have no need to steal, rob, or kill. The poorer a neighborhood is, the more dissolute the people are, the more crime that area will have. People commit crimes out of desperation. And, Black people commit more crimes against Black people because Black people live near other Black people. Similarly, from 1980 to 2008, 84% of White people committed crimes against other White people. People generally assault the people who live closest to them. And, whereas most statistics have been marginalized through a specific study to prove a specific point, these are unbiased statistics from the Bureau of Justice in the United States Department of Justice that prove that crime is much more egalitarian than the public purview of it. Black men do kill each other at a much higher rate than other races, but White men kill more people annually than any other ethnic group just because of their sheer numbers. White people are much more likely to kill children or the elderly than Black people, more likely to be in a gang, more likely to have multiple homicides, and more likely to sexually assault people. Stereotypes about violent and unstable Black people spread through social media and are ingrained in the public consciousness, but the numbers bear that White people should actually be more feared by the general public than Black people.
White people, specifically White men, are more likely to assault and kill innocent civilians than Black men. Though Black men kill at a much higher rate than White men, they do not kill nearly as many white people as White people do, yet Black men are killed by police officers at an alarming rate when compared to other races. They face harsher penalties for committing the same crimes that their White counterparts commit, and Black minors are much more likely to be tried as adults. Minorities have endured a tenuous, difficult relationship with law enforcement. Police departments are assigned to poorer neighborhoods – which are full of minorities because they earn less money for doing the same job as their White counterparts – and trained to routinely stop these people and look for wrongdoing. Harassment is taught and encouraged. Even when officers are caught on camera violating the civil rights of Black civilians, they rarely face criminal penalties. Some officers fail to even be indicted. This leads to an even bigger disconnect between White and Black Americans because stereotypes are reinforced by proceedings that exonerate rogue cops. Black people see a system that is supposed to protect them that not only fails them, but sometimes kills them. White people see a fair system that puts the criminals where they belong, and praise the police forces for their diligence in protecting innocents.
Unfortunately, most White Americans either believe that the shooting deaths of Black people at the hands of the police are completely justified because of some deficiency of character that all the Black victims display, or they are unaffected by the murder of Black people because they have no investment in any Black victim’s cause. Americans collectively do not care about Black men dying. In 2015, 258 Black men were killed by police, 102 of them were unarmed. Black people only make up 13% of the population, but they make up 37% of unarmed deaths by police. This year’s death totals have already reached 136, but the Black Lives Matter protests still fall on deaf ears. White people are more likely to kill police officers than Black people. They accounted for 400+ deaths over the span of the Department of Justice survey, the highest total by a huge margin.
When a Black man is killed by any police department the story becomes about his criminal record, his belligerence with the officer, his failure to fully comply with a policeman’s directions, or his threatening behavior towards the officer. Black people are the only victims of crime whose pasts are dissected after they are victimized. White men who commit heinous crimes are painted as troubled or abused from the very moment that they are accused. Pictures of them smiling at their high school graduation or photos with their family and friends are the first images of White gunmen shown through news coverage and on social media. These types of images direct the narrative that follow these men. White criminals are seen as complex people who were given a bad hand in life or good people who took a wrong turn under duress, and they are treated that way by policemen. White men can wave guns, yell threats, shoot innocents, and walk away from police confrontations alive. When a crime against a Black man occurs, his criminal history quickly becomes public knowledge. Media outlets find the most menacing picture of the accused – including mugshots - and plaster those pictures across the internet. If no history of mental illness or criminal behavior exists for Black men who commit crimes, then they are simply demonized by people who push racial agendas. Micah Johnson, the police sniper killer, served in the Army reserves before he committed this foul act. He may have been a bad seed who was always on the verge of a violent act or a patriot who needed to be treated for post traumatic stress disorder. But, rather than detaining him, questioning him, and helping him if he was proven to be mentally unstable, he was blown up with a bomb carrying robot. No civilian in the U.S. had ever been killed by police with a detonating device until a few days ago. James Holmes, a White man, shot and killed 12 people in an Aurora movie theater and injured 70 others. He was taken into custody unharmed. Tamir Rice, a twelve year old Black child carrying a toy gun in an open-carry state, was shot and killed by police within 3 seconds of them arriving on the scene. There is a great disparity between the way that Black and White people are treated by the people who are supposed to protect them. And, before the prevalence of cell phone videos and the popularity of social media, White America’s ignorance of the plight of Black American men was understandable. But, their indifference to the death of Black men at the hands of law enforcement now borders on intrinsic denial, blatant disregard, or callous and malicious encouragement.
The Micah Johnson killings are probably the first of several aggressive and fatal encounters for police officers in the recent future. Those attacks may reinforce the faulty assumptions about Black people and violence in the minds of the majority, however they may also force people to look into the reasons behind the attacks. Drastic reactions are the result of harsh persecution. Citizens murdering civil servants is wrong, but law enforcement habitually murdering the taxpayers who pay their salaries may be worse. And, until there is a distinct, amiable solution to these problems, the lives of both police officers and Black men are gravely at risk.
For a look at some of the unedited videos of cases of police shooting Black men click the links below. Warning: All the clips are extremely graphic and should not be viewed by children.
Dallas police Harrison shooting
Cleveland police Tamir Rice shooting with the audio of the 911 call
Minnesota police Philando Castile shooting recording after Castile was shot
Baton Rouge police Alton Sterling shooting
Commentary on the Alton Brown shooting by a reasonable citizen