None of us wants to believe the stats. It can feel too painful and demoralizing to admit the truth. But when our sons and brothers know from first-hand experience how bad it is out there, and we do not believe them or stand with them, then we become part of the problem.
No wonder there is still a widening racial divide in the United States. People who are on intimate terms with African Americans understand the sad reality, while the majority has no clue just how hostile things can feel for black boys and men.
The appalling treatment and blatant disrespect shown to black males, particularly to the young, may not be visible to you personally. But talk to a typical African American boy or young man, and he can tell you just how often abuse, harassment, plain rudeness, fear, and hostility are directed his way.
They are not making this up. Then think about how the fear-based hostility they experience on any given day adds up over time. It gives rise to systemic racial profiling. It gives rise to an atmosphere in which the lives of black youth depend on the interpretations of adults who fear them, adults who are charged to perceive danger and then use surveillance, detention, arrest, and even lethal force to prevent danger from harming the public.
This pervasive mistrust of black boys and youth contributes to a social climate that seeks to keep black youth down, under control, and then seeks to separate them from the general population as if black boys and youth are the primary problem. No wonder the prisons are filled with our sons and brothers. I’m not saying all black males are innocent and never commit criminal acts. I’m pointing out how the criminalization of all black men in the minds of the majority authorities leads to racial inequities and disparities.
Given this climate, why should our sons trust the police? Why should they respect security guards and other officials who seem so intent on monitoring and controlling them? Given the FBI statistics on “justifiable homicide” between 2005 and 2012 that show that, on average, an African American is shot by police twice a week, why should the parents of black boys trust law enforcement to protect our sons?
On top of that, given the dismal rate of investigations, arrests, and prosecutions of officers for killing black citizens, why should the black community trust the courts, grand juries, or the police to bring justice?
And people wonder what all the fuss is about in Ferguson, Missouri. Local police left Mike Brown, who one of their officers ordered to “get the fuck on the sidewalk” right before shooting him 6 times and killing him in broad daylight, lying uncovered on the street bleeding to death FOR 5 HOURS. No ambulance was called. Video footage shows that they barely checked to see if the youth was still alive.
This kind of treatment speaks volumes about how insensitively many police departments act towards black families and communities. Think of the impact on neighbors and children who must witness these kinds of aftermath scenes, and who have their own problematic interactions with the police. The sad truth is that many officers entrusted to serve and to protect DO NOT SEE US AS HUMAN BEINGS. They see black males of all ages, from boys to men, as problems to be monitored and contained. To be feared and controlled. To be shot in cold blood when officers feel threatened. And look how often officers tell us they felt threatened as the reason they used lethal force. Oh well, what’s one more dead black male except one less problem to worry about?
And herein lies the problem. Blacks are not seen as equals, as fellow human beings worthy of respect, but as subhuman, potentially dangerous animals.
I am not condemning individual police as racists. I am telling you that this is the social conditioning that all Americans are raised with. We are raised to understand that black life does not count as much as white life.
This is our reality. And for my friends, colleagues, and family members who cannot believe it is this bad, you need to get a clue. Your privileged reality is so vastly different from mine and my sons, and that of my black friends and students and neighbors. Get a clue and stand with us. Or at least have the good sense to think carefully before trying to argue with me about my paranoid “perceptions.” Better yet, become informed and then step up and help us call for justice. And while you’re at it, tell your buddies and your leaders and media personalities to stop trying to blame the victims of oppression.
Until more of our allies wake up and do this, we will not have peace in the streets, let alone begin to heal the racial divide that is pulling our nation apart.