What happens When guns and racism collide?
There is a lot to learn from the history and conditions that have led to the Black Lives Matter movement and the proposed reforms triggered by the waves of sentiments.
A TIRED Yale University student is napping in a common area. A man is standing by an apartment door waiting for a friend to come down. A young girl is selling bottled water in front of her home to raise money to go to Disneyland.
A student is picking up trash outside his college dormitory. A lawyer is chilling in a dog park with his pets. A patient on an IV drip is taking a stroll outside the hospital. Three young people are checking out of their Airbnb accommodation.
What do all of them have in common? They are black Americans (except for the Yale student, who is Nigerian) and had the cops called on them by white Americans.
And for what? For simply doing things that would be deemed perfectly normal, mundane, and harmless for other people.
In the case of the lawyer, the white woman called the cops because he wouldn’t leave the park after his dog humped her dog!
Despite a civil war to end slavery in the 19th century and a civil rights movement in the 20th century, African-Americans still face racism and discrimination on many levels in the 21st century, even after a black American president served two terms.
George Floyd’s death caused by white police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25 blew the lid off the abuse and violence they received from law enforcement agencies.
Indeed, studies have shown that blacks are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police officers than whites.
Even so, the rest of Americans, whites, and not-so-white, by and large, didn’t quite fully empathize with their black countrymen. Neither did the rest of the world. At best, it was sympathy from a safe distance.
But Floyd’s death changed that. More than three weeks after his murder, protests with the rallying call Black Lives Matter (BLM), fuelled by yet another death of an unarmed black man, Rashard Brooks, who was shot by a white Atlanta police officer on June 12, are still raging in and outside the United States.
What made Floyd’s death different from the others was that the entire incident was captured on video. We all saw how inhumane and nonchalant Chauvin was as he choked the life out of Floyd with his knee. It was if he was pressing on a block of wood, not a fellow human being. It was shocking beyond belief. This was the undeniable ugly truth that black lives are debased and racism is very much institutional in America. And not just in the police force but ingrained in white Americans who automatically see blacks as inherently threatening.
To be fair, the majority of white Americans are decent, right-thinking people, which is why they have turned up in huge numbers at the BLM protests.
But just as they want to stop glorifying racist historical figures like Confederate generals and leaders, they must also quash the white privilege mindset in the minority among them.
As Albert Einstein stated, racism is a disease of white people.
It is also up to them to stop Donald Trump from securing a second term as the most racist, immoral president in their country’s history.
Right now, however, the focus is on reforming the police force and Democrats in the US Congress have drafted the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 to rein in police misconduct, excessive force, and racial bias in policing.
There have also been moves by several cities to ban the police use of chokeholds, which was what killed Floyd, and even teargas.
Other proposed reforms included stopping the police from having to respond to non-criminal activities such as neighbor disputes, reports on homeless people, and school discipline interventions. That should put paid to white folks setting the police on blacks and increasingly Hispanics, with nonsensical, trifling issues.
But there’s one glaring question that I feel hasn’t been raised: Why are American cops so trigger-happy? Former Baltimore police officer Larry Smith offers a very plausible answer: They are trained to be afraid. He says in an article in Medium.com that part of police training involves the officers watching “video after video of cops getting into shootouts during traffic stops.”
He adds, “There was very little emphasis on any sort of de-escalation; it was all ‘point and shoot.’ You have to wonder how that training affects a cop when they pull over a car. With a head full of shootout videos, an officer might be going into the stop already convinced they could be shot.”
This is unlike how the police in the United Kingdom operate. Only 5% of British cops carry guns because of its founding principle of policing by consent, which is the notion that the force’s existence and powers are allowed with the consent and approval of the public.
NBCnews.com reported that in England and Wales, with a combined population of about 70 million, police fatally shot six people in 2016, the most since 2004.
In the same year, the Metropolitan Police carried out some 3,300 deployments involving firearms but not
a single shot was fired at a suspect. Compare that to the US, where warrior-like cops killed 1,092 people in 2016.
The reason is simple – it’s easier for police to remain unarmed if civilians do the same. Crime experts have pointed out that in developed countries like the UK and Australia, where certain types of firearms are banned and there is tight licensing of the rest, police seldom shoot and kill people.
According to GunPolicy.org, out of every 100 people in Britain, fewer than four of them own a firearm while in the US, it is more than one gun per person.
US cops also shoot with impunity because they are protected by law, an issue I raised in my Oct 5, 2016 column, “Beware the making of warrior cops”.
I cited lawyer-turned-novelist John Grisham, who was deeply concerned that many states had laws that gave immunity to cops from criminal prosecution even when they made a mistake, destroyed property, and killed innocent people.
That’s why to him, US police “are out of control” and why Americans “have lost so much of our protection, our rights as citizens.”
Grisham’s fear has been proven correct over and over again. So now there is an Ending Qualified Immunity Act proposed in the US House of Representatives to remove this judicial doctrine of qualified immunity that insulates police “legally, politically, and culturally from consequences for violating the rights of the people whom they have sworn to serve.”
It will take a sea change for the US to recover, both from Covid-19 as well as the white man’s disease.
The nation needs to remove this immunity and shed its black bias
as well as discard the ridiculous obsession with private gun ownership that has equally gone out of control.
What is happening in the US is actually a huge lesson for other countries.
A well-trained, professional, color-blind police force is a vital component of every society’s well-being. They represent the law but safeguards must be in place to ensure they never become a law unto themselves.