Police brutality against African Americans is a very serious issue in the United States still to this day in 2018. It is a problem that makes citizens question their availability of protection coming from the members of the police system. The people affected often wonder why police brutality is so common in the Black community and what can be done to stop it.
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They also wonder why Black people are unfairly sentenced to prison and if this only applies to minority groups, or do White Americans also deal with this unfair treatment. Since the time of slavery, when Africans were brought to the United States forcibly, they have been victims of the discriminatory and racist practices by those who enforce and create the law. According to the Cassandra Chaney and Ray V. Robertson (2013) article, racism is a belief system designed to rationalize and justify ethnic and racial inequality.
Racism can be defined as the subordination of any group of people or individual due to their skin color or other distinctive physical characteristics. It is reflected in decisions, procedures, habits, both institutional and individual acts, overlooks, and even policies which overlook and neglect the subordination of the group or person. Due to this, over time people learn to associate the dominant groups with superiority, positivity and respect, while looking at the inferior group as the total opposite. They often associate the inferior group with criminality. Racism is something that becomes a permanent reality for the members of the oppressed group due to the fact that they are constantly being blamed for the ills in society by the dominant group. This is something that consistently ends up with unequal treatment for certain groups of people (Chaney, 2015).
There was an article written about police brutality and racism in America by Cassandra Chaney and Ray V. Robertson (2013). It explains how The Watts Riots of 1965, a large series of riots in Los Angeles after two African American men were pulled over on the highway by a white police officer, is just one of the examples of racial discrimination by the law enforcement. Some other examples include the widespread assaults against Blacks in Harlem in the 1920s, the beating of Rodney King, and the death of a young black teenager named Trayvon Martin. Those are just a few examples of how African Americans have been treated by the police department. “There is an extensive body of literature which suggests that Black males are viewed as the “prototypical criminal” (Chaney & Robertson, 2013). This idea is strengthened by the general public, the media, and according to the unfair sentencing outcomes (Chaney & Robertson, 2013). For example, Blair et al. (2004), in the influence of Afrocentric features in criminal sentencing, have revealed that Black males with less Afrocentric features, such as lighter skin, and straighter hair, may receive shorter sentences than Black males with more Afrocentric features, such as full lips, dark skin and broad noses (Blair et al. 2004).
Rodney Glen King has been the face of police brutality in America since 1991, the time he experienced a brutal beating by the Los Angeles Police Department. After that experience, he became the catalyst for change and hope against a law enforcement system that has been known for being harsh to Black males in the past. According to a report on the extrajudicial killings of Black people by, self-appointed law enforcers by the Malcolm X grassroots organization, security guards or police officers, has showed some interesting and revealing findings. From January 1, 2012 to June 30, 2012, about every 36 hours, one Black person was killed by law enforcement or someone acting in such a capacity. This means there was a total of 120 people who lost their lives in that span of time. 69% of those people were between the ages of 13 and 31. While 5% of those people killed were women, most casualties were Black men, just like Rodney King. What’s more concerning is that 46% of those casualties were unarmed, just like King. The percentage of those people who were allegedly armed by the police was 36%. The people allegedly armed were said to have weapons such as cane, a bb gun or a toy gun (Chaney & Robertson, 2013).
The death of Trayvon Martin started a series of many different responses across the United States. The various responses included mass protests, an explosion on social media and the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. Americans were struck by this event and thought that this symbolized the American legal system as being built on structural inequality and injustice. “Martin was seen as yet another casualty in the war on black life and a reminder of the extent to which black lives were deemed disposable, killable, and structurally less worthy within the context of the United States” (Mendez, 2016). This was only one of many cases that represented the inequality and injustice in America. It showed how violence is introduced into communities of color. It also reminded people that there has to be a radical transformation in the United States legal system (Mendez, 2016).
“There is a lot of anecdotal evidence showing African-Americans (both men and women) are more likely to be subjected to excessive use of force by police than are people of other races” (Ajilore & Shirey, 2017). An incident of excessive use of force by the police occurred in Chicago on October 2014. A 17-year-old black male by the name Laquand McDonald, was shot 16 times by a caucasian police officer. Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel, authorized a review of the police department by the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force. This review revealed that this was not the only incident involving a police officer shooting an African-American. It also showed that the Chicago Police Department has systemic racism problems. This task analysis also proved to people that black people are more likely to have been tasered, more likely to have been stopped due to traffic and had their car searched, as well are more likely to have been shot than people of other races (Ajilore & Shirey, 2017). Gelman et al. (2007) looked at pedestrian stop data by the New York City Police Department and found that Hispanics and African-Americans are subjected to more searches than people of other races. Close and Mason (2007), used a sample of Florida vehicle searches and found that African-American drivers, mostly males, have the highest probability of being searched when in comparison to drivers of other races, male or female. When doing research on whether the police officers in the United States are racist and use excessive force there are some factors to be considered. One of the factors is the goal of the police officers. Many people are confused whether police officers use excessive force in order to find contraband or if it is used in order to minimize crime. A study in 2006 showed that while arrest rate maximization is consistent with having equal search success rates, it is very inconsistent with the minimization of crimes. Some people assume that since crime rates among races differ, that the search rates should reflect the amount and levels of crimes. There is also a misconception about the level of crimes by specific races. People believe that this will affect that police officer’s behavior even if they personally do not hold discriminatory beliefs (Ajilore & Shirey, 2017).
Biased policing, racial violence and the racially biased war on drugs all contribute to the fact that African Americans are 5.1 times more likely to be incarcerated compared to the incarceration of Caucasians. In the United states, black people make up about 13.2% of the population. However, they constitute 40% of the population in prisons. Caucasians have the lowest poverty rate in America, making up about 9%, while African Americans have the highest rate of poverty, making up 24.1%. This is a huge factor when it comes to the manifestation of anti-black violence. From 2009 to 2013, almost half of whites who were in poverty, were able to move above it, while only one third of the blacks were able to do the same (Douglas, 2017). All of these factors contribute to “school to prison pipeline”. This has a huge impact on the lives on young black men as it means that it is easier for black youth to get involved with drugs and crimes than it is to get a quality education. The United States Department of Education, had recently showed data that proves that black males are three times more likely to be suspended from school compared to whites. Black females, are six times more likely to be suspended than white females. In the juvenile system, black females are the fastest growing population. The chances of black children living in poverty become much higher when they are being trapped in the juvenile justice system (Douglas, 2017).
Criminal Theories on Race and Crime (2010), by Shaun Gabiddon, had discussed the concept of “Negrophobia”. Negrophobia can be inferred to as an irrational of Blacks, which incorporates a fear of being victimized by a Black person. The outcome of this can result in Whites harming or even shooting an African American based on racial and criminal stereotypes. Police brutality is defined as “the use of excessive physical force or verbal assault and psychological intimidation” (Chaney & Robertson, 2013). One recent study suggests that the New York Police Department has become better when it comes to behavior due to greater gender and race diversity. However, Blacks are still more likely to experience police brutality in the United States (Chaney & Robertson, 2013).
“Stop the violence” was a very common phrase heard throughout the United States. It is typically heard during black protests. When Americans see violent acts on the news, they want it to be stopped and find it unusual and shocking. “But what these viewers don’t see is that violence in America is not unusual, and that the news does not cover what is truly shocking- that us, the extent of the violence perpetrated against black bodies everyday” (Douglas, 2017). Americans do not realize that gun violence and all the protests on the news are largely visible reactions to a mostly hidden and much larger reality. American culture defines and identifies gun violence as something that needs to be minimized and eliminated. However, they tend to ignore the violence that threatens, disproportionately, the lives of black children, men and women. It is either ignored, or not recognized as violence. These ideas go way back in time. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the narrative of anti-blackness became very conspicuous when Europeans invaded the African continent. A historian named Winthrop Jordan said that this was when the English people, one of the fairest-skinned nations, came in contact with Africans, one of the darkest people on earth. Many people debate whether describing Africans as “black” was done maliciously and purposely. One thing that is clear is the fact that skin color did matter to Europeans in their encounters with people of different colors. The Oxford English Dictionary had established the color white to represent goodness, innocence and purity, while black color represented danger, evil and vileness (Douglas, 2017). This established the beginning of anti-blackness which also provided justification for violent acts such as enslavement against the “black” bodies of men and women. Europeans did not only pay attention to the Africans’ skin color. They also noticed the fullness of their lips, the texture of their hair and also the broadness of their noses. They shared a common belief that Africans were more beastly than human. They also convinced themselves that African people were uncivilized people. This represented an ideology system that perceived African people as violent (Douglas, 2017).
The Black Lives Matter movement, founded on July 13th, 2013 by Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors, addressed the array of inequality structures in black communities which produce violence. Examples of structural inequalities are persistent poverty, the legal system and also lack of access to health care. These inequalities ensure group members or some communities to be systemically denied access to their rights as citizens. These conditions also downgrade these communities and groups members to a lesser humanity (Mendez, 2016). In response to this, President Barack Obama launched an initiative called the My Brother’s Keeper. The purpose of this initiative was to address the challenges that young boys and men of color face in this society. This initiative provided black males with employment opportunities and mentorship in order to create policies that would minimize the imbalance for youth of color as well as creating a path toward the middle class. This was a call to all businesses, nonprofits and individuals to come together and bring any available resources and help create change in the lives of young men of color in this country. After only one year, this initiative raised over $300 million in order to advance the objective and vision of My Brother’s Keeper. Many other people with high statuses, such as superintendents, mayors and county executives pledged to develop aligned strategies. They accepted the challenge of developing comprehensive cradle-to-college-and-career strategies to direct the improvement of the lives of young men of color (Mendez, 2016). Even though this movement excluded black women, it still had a significant change in the lives of young black men, which is better than no change at all.
African Americans have faced racism since the early 1600s. 400 years later and they still cannot catch a break from it, even though racist practices may have changed and are now subtler, they still remain to this day and have the same consequences. Still to this day, many African Americans face racism even from the people who are supposed to protect them. Since the 15th century, the color black was seen as evil and somehow it made its way through the 21st century. The solution to this problem is definitely not an easy one and would take a very long time. However, there are plenty of different movements and initiatives being made and taken everyday. These movements and initiatives are created in order to bring people together and beat these unfair circumstances together, as a team, and with love. Hopefully the world will realize that no matter what skin color people are, they are still human, just like everyone else, and will come together in peace to end the color competitions.
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