Here we go again.
Another unarmed black man dead at the hands of a white police officer. And another grand jury that refused to see any problem with that.
You probably have heard by now about the case in New York of Eric Garner, who died after being placed in an illegal chokehold by the police officer. It was illegal because the NYPD had banned the use of chokeholds by its officers for this very reason. And yet, there it was on tape: an officer using the tactic to subdue the father of four children, even as Garner could be heard on the videotape breathlessly saying over and over, “I can’t breathe.”
Unlike the Michael Brown shooting, this death was caught on tape for all the world to see. The existence of the video, which eliminated any worries of conflicting reports of what happened, is why so many of us presumed that, at least in Garner’s case, there would be justice.
Video or no video, the grand jury was able to convince themselves that the police officer should not be held responsible for his part in Garner's death.
This is now to a point where I just don’t see how any fair-minded person can look at these cases, one after another, and not see a pattern, a pattern that gives a dangerously wide latitude to police officers on who they decide is dangerous or threatening and how they decide to deal with this so-called "threat." Inherent in this problem is the obvious bias toward defining black men in general, but certainly larger black men as dangerous and threatening.
You may have also heard about another case, this one in Michigan, where a black man walking down a street on a freezing cold day was stopped by a police officer for walking down that street with his hands in pockets. The officer said he was dispatched because the man “was making people nervous” by doing so. As the man pointed out, the fact that he had no gloves with him and it was freezing out had everything to do with his hands in his pockets. But to those people who called this in to the police, and to the police who felt that was worthy of stopping someone, a black man just walking down a neighborhood street with his hands in his pockets was somehow "threatening."
Luckily, the man did not get shot or put in a chokehold in this case, but anyone with a conscience should be able to see how maddening this is for black men. What in the world did that guy do wrong in Michigan except trying to stay warm while being black?
The Eric Garner case in New York is just the latest example of how little value our society places on black men’s lives. People can try to justify it, but the fear and distrust of the police in minority neighborhoods is founded in the very real racial bias that exists in this country. How much is a group supposed to take before the mainstream population admits to this mistreatment? It is only after we admit this bias that we can begin to find ways to resolve it and heal as a nation.