Thursday, December 4, 2014
Josh Blog 3
Earlier today, a grand jury failed to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, a 47-year-old man suspected of selling untaxed cigarettes this July. A video of the arrest has gone viral: in it, Pantaleo can be seen placing Garner in a chokehold and refusing to loosen his grip, even as Garner screams, “I can’t breathe!” Eventually, Garner’s body goes limp.
This incident comes mere days after a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, declined to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager. A few Saturdays ago, police gunned down Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old holding a BB gun on a playground in Ohio.
These incidents are incredibly troubling for a number of reasons. In communities across this country, there have been myriad instances of police killings of unarmed black men (and, in the case of Tamir Rice, children).
When I interned with the Durham NAACP a few summers ago, my job was to document the incidents of police misconduct that were reported to me by the people – mostly Durham residents – who called in to our office. I heard countless stories similar to the ones above – men and women racially profiled, pulled over without reason, handcuffed without explanation, harassed and abused and viciously beaten by police.
One man was pulled over while driving his elderly mother to the grocery store. When he questioned the officer, he was dragged from his car, brutally beaten, and choked until he became unconscious. In their report, police claimed the man had assaulted and spat on them, failing to note that the “spit” in question was actually foam. They had choked the man so violently that he’d begun foaming at the mouth.
How do we talk about race? This is a question Roxane Gay, a prominent writer and professor, grappled with in a recent column in The Guardian: “How do we see one another as human, as having lives that matter, as people deserving of inalienable rights?”
Conversations about race are never easy, but they are so, so crucial. Many white Americans have said they are sick of hearing about the Michael Brown incident. A 2011 Harvard study found that whites, on average, believe that anti-white racism is a bigger problem than anti-black racism. Yes, these are the actual results of an actual study that actually happened.Nicholas Kristof published a four-part series, “When Whites Just Don’t Get It,” in the New York Times over the last few months. In it, he calls on white Americans to “wipe away any self-satisfaction about racial progress.” The truth is that the lived reality for white Americans is very, very different from that of black Americans. Until we acknowledge that, until white Americans recognize their privilege, until we are able to have an open and honest conversation about the state of race relations in our nation, no real progress will be made.