By Barney Blakeney
”They’re scared as hell!” That’s what a local civil rights leader said to me recently during a conversation about police/community relations. We were talking about how cops conduct business in Black communities and the comment was made as a remark on the side. I agree with the civil rights leader. When Minneapolis cops responding to a report of a possible sexual assault shoot a white woman in pajamas, you gotta believe those cops were scared as hell!
The July 15 police shooting death of a 40-year-old white woman who had called 911 to report a suspected assault behind her home has gotten attention from around the world. I think the fact that the blond-headed Australia native who was working in this country as a yoga instructor and about to get married (how much more all-American can you get) motivates a lot of that attention. Never mind that U.S. police officers shot and killed almost 1,000 people last year.
The story of Justine Damond’s killing will be spun 1,001 different ways before this is all over. And it’s going to be interesting to see how the American justice system deals with the incident of a Black (Somali native) police officer shooting a white woman. However the story is narrated, I think it’s a tragedy. But so was the July 2016 Minneapolis police shooting death of Philando Castile. I think the cop involved in that shooting also was scared as hell. You could hear the fear in Jeronimo Yanez’ voice as the shooting was captured on video.
I can understand why cops are so scared – there’s a common fear Black people provoke in white America. The September 2016 police shooting of Terrence Crutcher amplified how many whites feel about Blacks. An officer in the police helicopter described Crutcher as “A big bad dude” from a perch hundreds of feet in the air. Throw in a little racism and prejudice on the side and Chicago teens like LaQuan McDonald face certain death as the cover-up of his 2014 murder indicate. But a nation shaken by the July 5 assassination of a New York City police officer as she sat in a vehicle, I imagine, has a lot of cops on edge. The same thing happened not long ago. In July 2016, Micah Xavier Johnson ambushed a group of police officers in Dallas, Texas, killing five officers and injuring nine others. Across the nation cops are killing Black people. Some are fighting back. In my mind, none of that’s right, but it’s where we are. It’s amazing how two people can look at the same thing and see it differently. How does Betty Shelby, Jeronimo Yanez and Michael Slager walk away free after killing people on camera? The consequences of it are that everybody is scared.
I know as a Black man I’m scared of being stopped by the police – ain’t no tellin’ what’s gonna happen! One time back, some Black people felt as long as they were law abiding and looked like they are good citizens, a police stop only would be an inconvenience. But in today’s social climate, a typical traffic stop could escalate into something bad real quick. In 2015 Sandra Bland was arrested during a traffic stop after allegedly assaulting a police officer. Hours before she was scheduled to be released on bail, Bland was found dead. The Waller County, TX. Sheriff’s Office deemed the death suicide, a “tragic accident” “from what appears to be self-inflicted asphyxiation.”
There’s enough fear to go around. We live in a violent country. I read some stuff on the internet. Here’s what I found: “Police officers in the US shoot and kill nearly 1,000 people a year, according to the Washington Post’s database — far more than other developed countries like the UK, Australia, Japan, and Germany, where police officers might go an entire year without killing more than a dozen people or even anyone at all.
“For example, an analysis by The Guardian found that ‘US police kill more in days than other countries do in years.’ Between 1992 and 2011, Australian police shot and killed 94 people. In 2015, US police shot and killed 97 people just in March. These differences are not explained by population, since the US is about 14 times as populous as Australia but, based on the Guardian’s count, has hundreds of times the fatal police shootings. One explanation for this disparity is that violent crime is much more common in the US, putting police in more situations in which the use of force is necessary. As data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows, the US homicide rate throughout the 2000s was nearly four times the rate of Canada, more than four times that of the UK, nearly six times that of Australia, and more than 10 times that of Germany.”
In recent weeks I’ve received North Charleston police reports of guns seized during traffic stops and raids. Local television news has shown pictures of some of the guns seized. We all have been getting the pictures and reports from NCPD spokesman Spencer Pryor. The information is off the chain! I’m from the streets and the guns these young cats are packing are mindboggling! We used to carry .22s and .38s. But these young cats have automatics with 30 rounds in the clip and assault weapons. I now understand why people like Elder James Johnson ask where the guns come from. We’re talking about some heavy duty weaponry. But the question still is rhetorical. A new gun manufacturer just came to South Carolina, what last year, I believe. Where do you think the guns are coming from? Our industry produces them and they’re being sold at the flea market!
Okay, I get it. Guns, like illegal drugs, are dumped in Black communities. I just saw something on PBS about the opium wars in China which were all about exploiting the Chinese people. Millions were hooked on the opium just as millions of Blacks in America today are hooked on illegal drugs and violence. I always thought the Chinese opium wars could be a good learning tool for Black Americans. The Chinese took back their people. It cost them, but they’re selling us fried rice today and may own half the U.S. in the next two decades.
I think what we’re beginning to see as violence that once was contained in Black communities striking out at those perceived as abusers and oppressors, is part of an emerging resistance. And for the cop on the street simply following orders trying to do a job, the idea that bullets will be coming their way as well is scary. At the end of the day, everybody wants to go home. The ‘shoot ‘em because we’re scared’ mentality that Black folks have lived with for generations will result in more Justine Damond situations.