- Zimmerman’s Fatal Decision and the Unavoidable Reality of Race
- The Question of Zimmerman’s So-Called “Wimpiness”
- Did Zimmerman Benefit from a Delayed Arrest? (videos)
- Police Custody: Why Safe for Whites and So Deadly for Black and Hispanic-Latinos? (video)
- “FEARFARE”: George Zimmerman and White America’s Fear Welfare Pass (videos)
Later this week, I plan to see the recently released movie “Fruitvale Station“. In his first full-length feature film, writer/director Ryan Coogler tells the tragic story of Oscar Grant. Grant (23) drew the attention of the nation posthumously, having been fatally shot on January 1, 2009 by Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle in Fruitvale Station in Oakland, CA.
A chance encounter heightened my interest in the movie and provided additional context through which to derive meaning from it. While shopping at Dick’s Sporting Goods on the evening of Saturday, July 37, 2013, I observed police hovering around approximately a dozen young males. The youth were in-custody, from all appearances caught in the middle of shoplifting. The sight – Stonebriar Mall At The Bridges in upscale North Dallas. The young males were all Caucasian.
As the police marched the youth to awaiting squad cars, I noticed what was not present on the scene. Handcuffs. Specifically, handcuffs on these young white males. And even more specifically, the hands of police officers holding their arms. I passed the area of the police roundup twice in the span of 35 minutes. Assembled near the main escalator, a constant flow of shoppers would pass by the youth who were obviously embarrassed. And yet, the whispers that so readily surround “suspicious” black youth were on the lips of none. Looks of disdain so readily targeted at black youth were sparred, with shoppers often looking away so as to save the youth from shame and marginalize what had happened. Indeed, the group of thieves drew no more attention by the largely Caucasian crowd than the manikins placed throughout the store.
It was as if people chose to ignore the realities that Caucasian youth have no less reasons to attract our suspicious eyes as do black and Hispanic-Latino youth. It is an inconvenient truth, but from the looks of these group of thugs a truth nonetheless. After all, my first observation of the group concluded that they must have been some athletic team, maybe in-town for tournament, taking a few moments out for a shopping outing. An equally interesting sidebar is the likelihood that a group of 12 black youth could go 15-feet in a store without the watchful eye of managers.
In the moments that I watched the youth exit in single-file my mind’s eye reflected back on occasions where black youth have been removed from stores in handcuffs and in the tight clutches of police officers. The shame of handcuffs readily visited upon people of color in South Dallas were reserved in the case of white youth in a wealthy North Dallas. The sight of suspicious youth of lesser means was sparred in the public custody of youth of greater means.
Suspicion is the weight that crushed the lives of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant , and numerous other young black men in recent years, including:
- Sean Elijah Bell (23) – killed by police 2006 in a hail of 50 shots outside Club Kalua in Jamaica Queens during a bachelor party celebration;
- Jordan Davis (17) killed by Michael Dunn in November 12, an incident that began with a disagreement over loud music between parties in two cars at a Jacksonville, FL gas station;
- Timothy Thomas (19) of Cincinnati, OH — the event that ignited the city’s 2001 unrest;
- Guinea immigrant Amadou Bailo Diallo (23), struck 19 times in a hail of 41 bullets fired by NYPD officers acquitted in the shooting based on their belief that Diallo had a gun.
The case of Chavis Carter (21) is strange for several reasons. Chavis, an African American, was a passenger in a pickup truck along with two white males when stopped by officers in the Jonesboro, AR Police Department along a dark highway on July 29, 2012. During the routine stop, Chavis was instructed to exit the vehicle, upon which officers him down and ran checks that revealed an outstanding warrant in Mississippi. Chavis was handcuffed and placed in the patrol car. Police subsequently patted-down and questioned the two other young men, eventually deciding to let them go. Sometime later, Chavis was found dead in the back set of the patrol car, having sustained a gunshot to his head.
Police reported that Chavis was found slumped over in patrol car, covered in blood, with a .380-caliber Cobra semi-automatic pistol near shell near his lifeless body. The Arkansas medical examiner concluded that at Chavis had consumed amphetamines, benzodiazepines and marijuana, and that the gunshot was an act of suicide. But a number of questions remained, even after release of the police’s dash-cam video. The parents of Chavis maintained that he was left-handed, which would call into question the crime lab’s findings that the fatal shot came by way of the young pressing the gun against his right temporal scalp. Further, Chavis was said to have contacted his girlfriend with instruction to reach him at the jail.
Countless others fatally wounded in encounters where suspicions withheld from white youth are viscerally levied onto youth of color.
In our rush to find solutions to the disparate treatment in criminal justice, let us not ignore subtle and simple matters such as the policy custody situation that itself intensifies encounters for some while calming them for others. The most basic idea of police custody often is a formality for white youth and a death sentence for African Americans and Hispanic-Latinos.
Have you experienced or observed a similar situation or difference in treatment?
Should law enforcement adopt standards that apply — irrespective of race/ethnicity?
What’s your take…
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