Posted by: minnow | July 11, 2016

Black and Blue

I recently read a passionate and heart felt post from Jay Stalien that a FB friend reposted. While lengthy it shared his unique experience as an African-American and a police officer.  I believe we can all learn a lot from what he has to say so please check out his message for yourself. In this post, I do not intend to deny or belittle Stalien’s experience in any way.  Yet having said that, I found a few of his statements troubling and would like to discuss them further.

Stalin wrote, “Black Lives do not matter to most black people. Only the lives that make the national news matter to them.” He went on to quote statistics about Black on Black crime, comparing them to the statistics of officer related shootings.  Truly, Black on Black homicides number in the thousands every year.  BUT, our country contains millions of African-Americans. The vast majority of whom are solid citizens who care deeply about the their families, our communities, and this nation. We must take care that we don’t use the dramatically large numbers of one situation (Black on Black crime) to distract us from the reality of the other (Blue on Black crime).  We must also guard against the ease with which we vilify entire groups by failing to make necessary distinctions between the parts and the whole.

Another troubling phrase used by Stalien in his post was “…cops who were assassinated in Dallas [were] protecting the very people that hated them the most. ” This statement implies that the peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters who marched in Dallas hated the police. It further implied they condoned the actions of a lone gunman who brutally murdered five officers and injured seven others, including two civilians.  This implication could not be further from the truth.  Protesting injustice is NOT the same as hating a group of people. As concerned citizens we do not need to choose between supporting good police officers and insisting people of color receive justice.  To think otherwise is divisive and short-sighted.

The last statement I wish to address, “I realized the African American community refuses to look within to solve its major issues, and instead makes excuses and looks outside for solutions.” may apply to some in the African-American community however, blanket statements such as this are not helpful. They discount the hundreds of thousands of people who work tirelessly to find solutions to the problems facing African-Americans. Pointing out that one of the problems people of color face in America is systemic racism is not the same as making excuses. Instead, it draws attention to the fact that a disproportionate number of people of color are stopped by police daily, a disproportionate number of people of color are arrested for, convicted of, and serve longer sentences for the same crimes committed by Whites, and a disproportionate number of people of color suffer from unemployment, a lack of educational opportunities, and serious to severe poverty. We can point to the exceptions to the rule–those few who have overcome serious obstacles–and pretend they prove that a person who is willing to work will automatically succeed, or we can begin to understand the real tolls inequality, racism, and unacknowledged privilege take. Our actions, more than our words, show whether or not we believe these types of prejudice are unacceptable.

Stalin wants us to look at the serious problem of Black on Black crime.  And well we should. According to crime statistics collected by the FBI, in 2013 Black Americans took the lives of 2245 other Black Americans.  And, over 90 percent of the homicides in the Black community were committed by other Blacks. These are horrifying statistics.  (For comparison purposes over 80 percent of the homicides in the White community were committed by other Whites).

As serious as these numbers are, criticizing protesters from the Black Lives Matter group because they focus on a different type of violence is unfair, especially since the issue which causes them concern is every bit as serious and may impact how well we are able to address Black on Black crime.  In January of 2015 The Washington Post began tracking fatal shootings by the police. In their  article, “Aren’t more white people than black people killed by police? Yes, but no.”, the Post revealed some startling findings. In just over a year and a half, 1502 people have been shot and killed by on-duty officers.  732 were white and 381 were black. If we simply compare raw numbers more than twice as many Whites were killed as Blacks.  The problem is while whites make up approximately 62 percent of the population, Blacks only make up 13 percent.  At the same time, Whites account for under 50 percent of the police related fatalities and Blacks account for 24 percent, making Blacks 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than Whites.  To clarify this picture just a little bit more, according to the same article, “Of all of the unarmed people shot and killed by police in 2015, 40 percent of them were black men, even though black men make up just 6 percent of the nation’s population.”  Who can blame a Black person in America for distrusting the police when they are more than twice as likely as Whites to be killed by a police officer, even when unarmed?  And how likely would you be to call for help from the very group you distrust?

Yes, absolutely the vast majority of police officers do their jobs with integrity.  They deserve our respect and our support.  Likewise, and this fact is also too easily forgotten–the vast majority of Black people simply want to go about their business in peace.  They want to go home at night and feel safe.  They want to send their children out into the world and not worry.  They want to work with, not fear, the police. With authority comes great responsibility.  Every person who promises to protect and to serve takes on both.  Let us both hold them accountable and hold them in high esteem.

 

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