Lately, I’ve been touched by the sight of protest placards with the obvious yet poignant reminder: Black Life Matters. Yet the police response to the recent home invasion reported by NBA star Ray Allen raises more questions about the value of African American families in the eyes of the justice system. The incident gives us yet another view into the double standard applied when African Americans are involved in a crime, whether as suspects, or in this case, as victims.
Ray & Shannon Allen with two of their children
According to USA Today and other sources, seven intruders entered the home of Ray Allen late one night while he was away. However, Allen’s wife and four young children were at home. When Shannon Allen awoke to the sound of loud male voices close by (she had been asleep with the kids), she was startled to find herself in the presence of at least five young men. Fearing for the safety of her family, Ms. Allen yelled at the intruders, who fled (some of them laughing). She then dialed 9-1-1 for help.
Police told Ms. Allen that they could not detain the youths because under current laws, an officer has to witness the trespass in order for charges to be brought.
According to the basketball star’s press release, the police also said that the incident was nothing more than a harmless prank. The intruders were not arrested because “there was no intent to commit a crime,” and because the curious teens just wanted to have a look around his mansion.
It took a week for the Allen’s attorney to finally get the police to file charges (still only a misdemeanor, by the way). The story was reported on the CBS News website like this:
Police said Alana Elizabeth Garcia, 18, Jorge Jesus Guerrero, 18, Christian John Lobo, 18, Jonathan Louis Ramirez, 19, Kevin Ramos, 18, Ernesto Romero, 18, and Angel Alejandro, 18, reportedly went into Allen’s Coral Gables home around 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 14, entering through an unlocked door.
Although I’m tempted, I’m not even going to speculate right now. But the cumulative impact of bizarre events reported over the last few weeks is reopening latent concerns. Once more, and I know I’m not alone, I find myself asking, where can African Americans feel safe? Where can we let our children lay their heads without worrying whether uninvited strangers will interrupt their slumber? When will the police protect black lives as vigorously as they protect other Americans?
The racial climate these days reminds me of the Dred Scott decision that I learned about in high school history. Remember that infamous case from 1857 in Missouri? It’s the one where the Supreme Court held that blacks have no rights that whites need to respect. I recall being taught that the flawed Supreme Court decision had been overturned by the 13th and 14th amendments. But recent official acts of disrespect for black lives and concerns is making me feel like Dred Scott is bouncing back in full force.
Quickly checking the facts of that case, I noticed the way that the Chief Justice rationalized the Court’s decision was even more outrageous than how I remembered it. Wikipedia has the Chief Justice stating his reasons for not allowing blacks to have citizenship rights as follows:
It would give to persons of the negro race …the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, …to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased …the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.
As if granting equal rights would be a bad thing.
So let me summarize the “take away” messages I fear the American public receives from recent events in the media: When a frightened African American mother calls the police for protection, regardless of how wealthy she is, no matter how exclusive her neighborhood of residence, she should not expect much. Because after all, blacks have no rights that whites are bound to respect. Black kids are not as valuable as non-black kids, and black families are worth less than others.
And then there’s the wink and nod to every perpetrator thinking of victimizing an African American: “We showed you with the Zimmerman verdict, and reinforced it with countless black lives lost at the at the hands of the police. Just last week, St. Louis cops showed you again how to claim self-defense to ‘justify’ the killing of a mentally disturbed youth. And now with the home invasion of the Allen family residence, the message is the same: You needn’t fear any serious legal consequences. Because most people understand that black lives don’t matter.”