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Black/Police Violence: On and On

July 11, 2016

Two fatal police shootings last week of black men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul. A sniper attack that killed five Dallas police officers and wounded another seven by a black Army reservist who said he wanted to kill white people, especially police officers. Other attacks on police in Texas, Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee, reportedly by blacks.

Are we headed toward a war between African Americans and the police, as occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a la the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army? If so, the person who benefits most is Donald Trump.

Now some painful facts.

l. Let’s not equivocate: America is divided by race. Eloquent statements by President Barack Obama in sympathy with the police — “I speak for every single American when I say that we are horrified over these events and that we stand united with the people and the police department in Dallas” — can’t hide the fissures in our society that neither he nor any single politician seems able to mend.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s pronouncement that whites should put themselves in the shoes of black people is meaningless. How can you put yourself in the shoes of others if you haven’t had their experiences? 

2. Video has changed policing. In North Charleston, South Carolina, white officer Michael Slager was caught on cell phone video fatally shooting Walter Scott, a fleeing and unarmed black man. In New York City, surveillance video showed off-duty cop Wayne Isaacs fatally shooting Delrawn Small, an enraged motorist who appeared at his car window. Both videos appear to contradict the officers’ initial accounts of what they said had occurred.

3. Difficult as it may be for police union officials to accept, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “talk” to his bi-racial son about how to act when stopped by the police resonates. Yes, white parents give similar warnings but the police do treat young black males differently. How many whites are stopped for minor traffic infractions like Walter Scott’s broken tail light? Or Philando Castile’s in Minnesota? Or Sandra Bland in Texas, who was stopped for not signaling as she changed lanes? All three ended up dead.

Would the Cleveland cop who fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was holding a fake air rifle, have fired his weapon as quickly as he did had Rice been white? The officer had previously been terminated by a suburban department as being unfit to serve.

On the other hand, Scott and Alton Sterling [who police shot and killed in Baton Rouge] fled or resisted arrest respectively before they died. If they were white, would they have done the same?

4. Distorted media accounts. Add to this, media outlets that ramp up police/black confrontations according to their political whim. Many news accounts of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, have omitted the fact that before the white officer shot him, Brown had attacked him and tried to grab his gun.

5. No help from Washington. Two years after Eric Garner’s “chokehold” death in Staten Island by white cop Daniel Pantaleo, the case remains unresolved. A state grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo. Despite a full written record, the Justice Department has refused to indict or dismiss its civil rights case against Pantaleo. Word is that the Justice Department wants to prosecute but that federal prosecutors in Brooklyn’s Eastern District, which has jurisdiction of the case, are resisting. Team Obama seems to be running out the clock while justice suffers.

6. Finally there’s our gun culture, supposedly protected by the Second Amendment and written more than 200 years ago before there was any such thing as an assault weapon. In fact, the Dallas cops were shot not far from where President John F. Kennedy was killed by a sniper’s bullet more than 50 years ago.

Meanwhile, blacks in poor urban neighborhoods continue to shoot each other with depressingly high regularity. Victims and witnesses often refuse to cooperate with authorities. In Brooklyn on Sunday, police shot a black man who they said was waving a .9-mm handgun. And on and on.

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Copyright © 2016 Leonard Levitt