The case of Bloomfield, NJ resident, Marcus Jeter (30), shines a light into one dimension of The American Problem. It illustrates why African Americans often express a lack of confidence in police – not to mention courts and prosecutors – that operate as a public trust.
It happened one night while in Washington, DC for the Million Man March. On a winding road. It was dark. A friend and I were driving to a late-night restaurant. Suddenly, police lights were shining to my rear. I pulled over. And in my rear-view mirror, a white police officer was approaching my car from the left. And another from the right. Their flashlights were out. And both had guns pointed directly on me.
I had no idea as to why they stopped the car that I was driving. They were now upon me, yelling, “Get out of the car!” I had placed both hands on the steering wheel, but removed them slowly. “I’m coming out.” They opened the door, so careful not to give them reasons to shoot me.
The lead officer claimed that I was swerving all over the place and that I was drunk. With one officer’s gun still pointed at me, the other ordered me to walk a line with arms extended. I did and with ease. He then pulled out a breathalyzer and administered the test. I asked, “Did you get what you needed.“
The officer did not respond, but angrily threw the breathalyzer in the direction of nearby bushes. “Get out of here.“
I returned to my car and left the scene where the officers were still talking. Word had gone out during the event that the police might be cracking down on African Americans, particularly with out-of-town license plates. I had not been drinking and indeed was not swerving like some neophyte driver. We were warned to take it easy so as to avoid imprisonment or worst, a fatal exchange. Those words resonated from the moment I was aware that police were signaling me to stop. I left to discuss it another day, but all too often, these minor incidents escalate into black men being bagged and carried to the morgue. Unfortunately, all too many Americans take police encounters for-granted and marginalize stories such as mine as they are shielded from the realities of them. Why is it that black men must be warned? Why must there be such a thick cloud of concern that the very act of passing a police car elicits an autonomic glance in the rear-view mirror when others are oblivious to it? Why the worry that at any moment, a minor encounter could leave family members morning an untimely death? My brother, Darryl, tells a story of an encounter while attending The Ohio State University? He was out jogging one night, wearing music headphones. Last minute evidence clears Marcus Jeter (30) – Bloomfield, NJ [warning]Graphic Language[/warning]
Those words resonated from the moment I was aware that police were signaling me to stop. I left to discuss it another day, but all too often, these minor incidents escalate into black men being bagged and carried to the morgue. Unfortunately, all too many Americans take police encounters for-granted and marginalize stories such as mine as they are shielded from the realities of them.
Why is it that black men must be warned? Why must there be such a thick cloud of concern that the very act of passing a police car elicits an autonomic glance in the rear-view mirror when others are oblivious to it? Why the worry that at any moment, a minor encounter could leave family members morning an untimely death?
My brother, Darryl, tells a story of an encounter while attending The Ohio State University? He was out jogging one night, wearing music headphones.
Last minute evidence clears Marcus Jeter (30) – Bloomfield, NJ
Unbeknownst to Darryl, a police officer had run to him from the rear. The next thing Darryl knew was a police revolver was pressed against the back of his head. Turns out, a robbery had occurred in the area. I could only think upon learning of this, “Is it standard MO for a robber to go jogging after pulling-off a heist? And where would he have placed the stolen goods? In his running shorts?
And there are more personal stories. Such as one that happened in the Summer of 1979 while riding in a car of a friend, exiting River Downs horseracing park. Claude accidentally veered into the wrong lane of a two-lane turn. An honest mistake led the patrol officer yelling, “You better watch it or get shot!” In broad daylight on an ordinary day. And with no trepidation, those words defined our encounter. To think that our lives are that insignificant to a police officer that accidentally turning in the wrong lane would mean bullets smashing through our heads.
These are the realities of African American males, who learn of the hidden hostilities early in-life. Or if shielded from these realities, can make assumptions about fairness that could leave them dead. Of course, for a population group much of America is trained to fear, it necessarily must be this way.
Recent events in Ferguson, MO that followed the fatal shooting of Michael Brown have re-ignited a number of conversations related to what I’ve called “The American Problem”. The problem that President Lincoln foretold that would plague America due to the legacy of slavery. High on the list of conversations is the relationship between police departments and African Americans, not just in Ferguson, but in cities across the country. Sadly, this aspect of The American Problem has lacked traction. Marginalized as either black paranoia. Rejected so as to avoid the burden of bringing solutions.
Claims of injustice are readily met when unfair policing involves a white citizen. While these incidents do occur, excessive force and other abuses disproportionately involve black [male] citizen. And by a wide margin. Consequently, a number of social sciences, academicians, and civil rights organizations argue that policing today’is simply the offspring of the black codes era. A de-facto black codes construct, whereby criminal justice system from the courts to the beat cop, are designed to entangle African Americans in a commercialized prison system. Recent books by Michelle Alexander and Daniel Blackmon strongly present this position through historical review and analytics.
And yet, the power of societal denial still rests with whites, who in some instance, cling to a mythology of “fairness” to rationalize myriad disparities that exist in our nation.
Denial preserves the myth. However, that preservation also produces — even in African Americans who have some moniker of success — what author Elllis Cose called “rage”. Ferguson riots are the boiling over of that rage in the same way that rage erupted in my hometown of Cincinnati in 2001. Rage that led to 180 riots across America in the dog days of Summer in 1967.
Denial serves as a necessary partner to injustice in matters of the treatment of blacks by police in the same way that denial hid atrocities in Nazi Germany. Sexual abuse occurring in the Catholic Church. And numerous cases of multinational corporations poisoning environments in our nation, throughout Central and South America, and across Africa.
Denial looks at the egregious disparities in the criminal justice systems without cause to challenge the scales of truth and fairness. And the very mention of partiality and and abuse are readily dismissed as the discredited words of common hoodlum and a general culture of African American irresponsibility. It is this that makes a fatal encounter, as in the case of Michael Brown’s few minutes with Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, most tragic. The deceased is no longer with us to tell his or her side of the story.
Denial could have left the Prosecutors Office with another tick on the scoreboard of convictions and one more footnote on a judge’s “get tough” resume. Denial could have easily left Marcus Jeter in jail or 10 or 15 years if not for the light of a third dash-cam video.
Few would deny the difficult job some police have. But this is a chosen occupation that people enter into with an understanding of the difficulties. Police are trained to meet the challenges. Armed with deadly weapons to equip them for the tasks at-hand. Those unable to manage the occupation with a sense of integrity need not enter the field of policing or remain in it.
View the two videos. Share them. And join the conversations.
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