July 8, 2016 by Chris Kite
It is a very sad state of affairs when you have to clarify which police officer shooting of a black man you’re talking about. There were two shootings in the news recently. One in Louisiana and one in Minnesota. Both are tragic. Both serve as a wake up call.
I’m not declaring myself an expert on this subject, but I think there are some pretty obvious issues. Number one, the use of deadly force by police is skewed heavily toward shooting of blacks over whites. Police killed 1,186 people in 2015. Of those, almost every one of them was male. There were about 500 white people and a little over 300 people killed by police officers in 2015.
So some of you may be thinking, “Now wait a minute. Statistics show that more whites were killed by police than blacks.” That is true. But blacks represent only 17% of our population while whites represent only 63%. That means that there are almost four times as many whites as blacks, but only about 40% more whites killed by police.
It is a fact that young black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than young white men. That represents a huge problem! Are all police shootings of blacks unjustified? Absolutely not. But we’ve all seen video of video that makes it pretty clear a good percentage of them represent a disproportionate amount of force by used against blacks.
Number two, the prevalence of guns in American society cannot be helping this. Both of the victims were allegedly armed. The one in Minnesota had a concealed carry permit and the allegation is that he told the officer that he had a permit and a gun and was going to reach for his license. That is when he was shot.
I’m not a police officer and never have been. But I’ve got to think that the preponderance of guns in the hands of citizens makes for some very nervous police officers. I know how I would feel if every interaction with the public was a potential deadly situation because you never know who has a gun. Throw in the push in recent years for open and concealed carry, and you’ve got a real recipe for disaster. Too many guns in the hands of too many people is basically causing an escalation of tensions and violence.
Number three, racism is alive and well in America. I don’t know whether any of the police officers involved in these two shootings is racist. But it is important to note that there are different flavors of racism. There are the Donald Trump (and supporters) type racists that are open and “politically incorrect” about their racism. They knowingly judge others based on race, heritage, or religion. But there is also the softer less subtle (and hard to combat) racism that is involved in our everyday lives. The assumption that a black kid with sagged pants needs to be watched carefully because he might steal. The movement to the other side of the street when you encounter a black person on the street. The unplanned and unwanted judgements that whites make on a daily basis without thinking or even knowing that they are being racist.
It happens and is all too frequent. It happens because our society is still too segregated. It happens because entertainment has stereotyped people in movies, television, and other media for years.
So what do we do about it? I don’t have many answers. But I have a few.
Let’s make guns less prevalent on the streets. Let’s do away with the ridiculous notion that you need to walk around with a gun to protect yourself. Statistics show that it is very unlikely to ever be used as protection. It is much more likely to be used against you or cause an escalation of violence.
Let’s talk about racism. Let’s admit that as whites, we don’t really know what Black Lives Matter means. Sure, we can say ignorant things like “All Lives Matter.” But that completely misses the point. Black Lives Matter is a thing because black lives seem to be so much more likely to be taken. And so much less likely to be dealt with appropriately by law enforcement and government. Let’s talk about the things that make us uncomfortable and figure out how to end those unplanned biases you may have. Recognize that you don’t need to feel uncomfortable because a black person is walking toward you. You don’t need to cross the street or be afraid. Try smiling. Or saying hello.
Let’s recognize that thinking too many young black men are killed by police doesn’t mean you hate police officers. It means you recognize a problem and want to find a solution. The solution obviously isn’t get rid of police. We can start by recognizing the out and out racists and getting rid of them. I suspect their numbers are few. We can start by training away the subconscious biases that so many people have. They don’t want to be racists. In fact, they’re probably horrified by racism. And yet, they’ve been programmed through their life experiences to have a bias that most probable aren’t even aware of.
Let’s start by having fair and open investigations when these situations occur. Let’s identify problems and deal with them.
Let’s all try to be of the human race.
I wrote this last night before the horrible attack on Dallas police. It is yet another brutal and tragic event in our nation’s ugly history of gun violence. Let it be said that feeling compassion and disgust for the taking of black lives by law enforcement is perfectly compatible with feeling compassion for police officers and disgust for the danger they face every single day. I am doubly sad today.