By Barney Blakeney
I probably shouldn’t have been upset last week at the acquittal of Minnesota policeman Jeronimo Yanez who was charged with manslaughter for the fatal shooting of Philando Castile. Why would I expect that the video recording of a police officer shooting a Black man who posed no apparent threat would produce a guilty verdict in America? The expectation of a judicious verdict should have been even more remote in the light of the December mistrial of North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, charged in the death of Walter Scott. Slager was video recorded shooting Scott in the back as Scott ran away.
For some reason, I found Yanez’s acquittal sickening. But it shouldn’t be. It’s really quite common for white police officers to kill Black men without consequence. It happens so often, it’s forgettable.
I can’t even remember the name of the Black guy a white Charleston policeman shot back in the 1980s. I guess it was behind the old Amour meat place that used to be on East Bay Street near Columbus Street. The late Sylvester Rivers, my old school mate, was a cop at the time and was at the scene. I was a reporter and covered the story. Sylvester insisted the cop murdered the guy, but no charges were filed against the officer. It got swept under the rug; Sylvester left the department and until he died insisted that Black guy was killed unjustly.
I’ve got a bunch of stories like that. As a reporter, I cover them. But the sad thing is they’re so common, I’ll bet everyone reading this can think of at least two stories about unjust police shootings. The incidents touch our lives in so many ways.
Right now I’m thinking of the little girl Edward Snowden left behind after being killed by North Charleston police in 2000. That little girl should be a young woman now. Her father was killed while returning a video tape to a store. He was attacked by a group of white men outside, retrieved a gun from his car to protect himself then ran into the store to hide until police arrived. The two white cops who responded shot Snowden, the only Black person involved. North Charleston settled the incident with some $50,000-$70,000 I heard.
Maybe the Castile killing is so upsetting because it shows how easy it is for a Black man to be killed by police. A Black man doesn’t have to be doing anything wrong to get killed. What about the guy in Columbia a couple of years ago who was shot by a state trooper while reaching for his identification? And despite video cam, dash cam, body cam and helicopter cam, the Tulsa policewoman who shot Terrence Crutcher walked.
One night a couple of years ago, a friend and I were leaving a theater production in Summerville when we were stopped by a highway patrolman – young guy, so young I wondered if he was old enough to serve. My friend’s car recently had been serviced. The headlights which automatically come on when the car is started failed to do so. So we’re riding to the interstate when the highway man lights us up. The sister didn’t know what to do so I told her to stop in a lighted parking lot nearby. Then she starts going through the glovebox looking for the car papers. I asked if she wanted to get me shot! “Put your hands on the wheel,” I yelled at her and put mine of the dashboard. Things went well, but that’s how easy it is for a Black man to end up dead.
Not only have we got to watch out for the police, we also must watch out for other Black men! There have been 18 homicides in North Charleston this year. All but two of the victims are Black. The suspects in their murders also are Black. I recently was called everything but the child of God after writing a story saying Black folks must do more about the plague of homicide in our community. That was okay. What’s not okay is we still aren’t doing all we can to stem the tide of murder occurring among us.
Watching television the other night I saw a news item about two little girls – 7 and 13 years old – shot on a school playground in Chicago. Ain’t it a blip when parents in Black communities must be afraid to allow their children to go to playgrounds? I can hear my daddy’s voice saying, “Boy, don’t you carry your little black behind down to that playground no more!” The sad part is we’ve all become unresponsive to it. Playgrounds in Black neighborhoods have become hangouts for young cats doing all sorts of illegal stuff – gambling, selling drugs, shooting dice and each other. And the whole time kids are playing on swings and basketball courts!
Cops on one side young kids on the other side, innocent folks are caught in the middle of gunfire coming from both ends in our communities. Somebody said we can’t depend on the cops to protect us because they’re the ones killing us, but we’re also killing ourselves. So what do we do? Lock ourselves behind doors in our homes? That won’t work because home invasions are at an all-time high. Last month robbers forced their way into my cousin’s house in Virginia, killed her wheelchair-bound husband and shot her. And no, it had nothing to do with drugs or other illegal activities. Cops speculate they were targeted simply because they were easy pickings.
Obviously we can’t continue doing what we’ve been doing. That’s not working either. Fortunately there are some folks working with young ones, teaching them a better way. But what do we do about the older ones? My classmate Hamp once said when a misguided kid gets past 12 or 13 years old, all you can do at that point is damage control. Is that where we are with our cops and kids?
I refuse to believe there’s nothing to be done to prevent murder either from the hands of police or misguided young Blacks. It’s complicated and difficult, but the task is not insurmountable. The progress may be slow, but the goal is attainable.
I think we just have to stop playing with ourselves, pointing fingers at each other and allowing our egos to overrule our common sense. I think we have the resources within our communities to address the issues that confront us. If we come together to develop strategies and ways to implement them instead of meeting to discuss stuff we already know, we can beat these evils destroying us.
If we fail to do anything, the onslaught coming at us in all its many manifestations will consume us. Of that we can be sure.