Commentary by Jack Bragen
The American Civil War (1861 to 1865) was the bloodiest in U.S. history, and its most crucial issue was the abolition of slavery. Since then, it has been a long, difficult, and sometimes bloody struggle for nonwhite people to receive equal treatment in America. And our country is not there yet.
While the election of Barack Obama to the presidency was initially greeted as a hopeful sign of progress by many, old resentment has flared among white racist people in southern states and elsewhere. Petitions have been circulated in several states advocating for them to secede from the United States — the same historic action that triggered the Civil War.
White police officers across the nation have repeatedly killed innocent African-American men. All too often, they have been getting away with this and are rarely punished by racially biased court systems.
On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner died of a chokehold inflicted by NYPD officers.
Michael Brown was murdered by the police in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014, over an alleged theft of cigarillos.
Two days later, on August 11, Ezell Ford, an African American man with a history of mental illness, was brutally killed by Los Angeles police — shot in the back three times after he was physically subdued.
Jason Harrison, whose mother had phoned police to have him taken to the hospital when he was in mental crisis and needed help, was shot to death on June 14, 2014, by Dallas police because he was holding a small screwdriver. The police claimed it was a deadly weapon.
These deaths of four young African American men received a lot of publicity. Yet there have been hundreds more police-inflicted deaths like these that apparently have gone unnoticed because the mass media have not given them coverage.
When these horrible incidents are recorded on people’s video equipment, it is a powerful way to refute police officers and others in positions of power who lie about their actions to avoid prosecution. When the beating of Rodney King was recorded with video equipment, it was the beginning of the use of this powerful tool.
We have been told that parents of young African American men must give them a talk when they are growing up — not about “the birds and the bees,” but about how to behave when approached by police officers. Black men apparently are automatically presumed guilty by all too many white police officers.
It is ironic that these police murders, and the nationwide protests of these horrific incidents, have occurred while we have a black president. Because the president of the United States does not have unlimited powers, President Obama appears to be helpless to stop the brutality.
It is as though many police officers in our nation have a personal vendetta against black people. The incidents that have been reported are not unique; it is just that people have captured the video on their camera phones. When people see the brutality on television or on the Internet, it becomes a powerful mobilizing force.
President Obama’s election became possible in part due to the help of demographic changes in the United States. The reliance of giant corporations on imported labor in order to avoid paying fair wages to employees has backfired on the very same members of the ultra-wealthy elite, and has allowed a higher number of Latino immigrants into the United States, many of whom have ultimately become U.S. citizens, and have voted.
Furthermore, after Al Gore lost to George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election, the issue of disenfranchisement among African American voters gained more attention. When Bush was put in office, initially via the Supreme Court ruling, millions of conscientious voters were outraged. There were extremely long lines at polling places where African American voters were predominant. There also may have been miscounting in Florida, where Jeb Bush was governor.
By the time Obama ran in the 2008 election, the issue of voter disenfranchisement may have been at least partially resolved because of the public attention it received.
Obama’s election may be one reason among many why a minority of bigoted white people, among them police, have once again directed their violence and dishonesty at African American citizens.
As a Caucasian mentally ill man, I have felt a billy club smacking my head, I have felt handcuffs on my wrists, and I have been incarcerated under the incorrect presumption that my behavior was due to being “on drugs.”
I haven’t always been treated well by police, but I haven’t so far been shot to death. The fact that I haven’t been summarily shot to death could partly be due to not being African American. Yet, it is very clear to me that the U.S. needs some kind of constitutional amendment that will make cops more accountable and less brutal.
It appears that the African-American community will not rest until there is justice, in which police will no longer be immune to legal retribution when they slaughter innocent people. The white racists are outnumbered and are not happy about this.
The horrible massacre of nine people in an historic civil rights church, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015, is yet another outburst of racist violence directed against African Americans. Dylann Roof, a young white man, has admitted committing these murders as an act of white racism.
It is crucial for all people of conscience to demand an end to the scourge of racism, racially motivated murders, and police brutality.
The United States could either go in the direction of a police state, or the pendulum could swing the other way, and we could see a new era of everyone truly receiving equal protection under the law.