I’ve been unable to avoid reading about what’s been happening in Ferguson, Missouri. It’s hard to imagine how it feels to have your son shot down callously by law-enforcement, to have nothing happen to the shooter, and to have the follow-up disregard and disrepesct the victims and the concerned citizens affected by the murder.
What’s more dismaying is the fact that whites across America are not in an uproar about how their fellow citizens are being treated, simply because of their skin color. The sentiment seems to be “c’mon we have a black president, this couldn’t have been racism”. The degree to which people are selectively processing events in order to maintain this kind of attitude is impressive.
For me it’s absolutely clear that Police are predominantly racist. I suspect black policement are equally or more racist on average than their white colleagues, although I have to admit that’s only a supposition. I did have one experience which fixed this opinion in my head though.
Years ago, while studying at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, I caused a traffic accident with my bicycle. I pulled into North Avenue to see if I could safely make a left-hand turn (traffic blocking my view to the right). A truck was coming fast so I pulled back. The driver panicked (after whipping past me), and slammed on the brakes, causing the aged sedan behind — driven by mid thirties black man with partner and two children as passengers — to collide into the truck.
Now, It was entirely clear that either I, or the white truck driver was to blame, but of course the police (one black, one white) ran the drivers licenses of all involved. The black family man must have an outstanding warrant, because the police cuffed him and took him away in the patrol car. Okay, so far so good, sucks for the guy but presumably he did something to get himself in that situation.
The man was at all times polite and helpful. Despite this, the black police officer felt the need to humiliate the guy in front of his children by hoisting him up by the trousers (classic bully wedgie) and shoving him into the police car — laughing while doing it.
I suspect the white cop wouldn’t have behaved that way. I’m think, having had my own encounters with the police (and being white) that a white guy in that situation would have been treated a little better. I am sure that if the guy had been white and wealthy, he would certainly have been treated differently.
So maybe it’s not racism. Maybe it’s classism combined with a callous, bullying, us-vs-them mentality. Maybe the racism is merely a coincidence — the high correlation between poverty and race caused by our racist history. I can’t really say. Either way, the behavior is shameful, and we need to do something about how American police behave.