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Tragedy continues in St. Louis
Trayvon Martin, Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Tanisha Anderson, Laquan McDonald, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Rumain Bribson, Kayla Moore, Jerame Reid, Tony Robinson, Phillip White, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray.
On Dec. 20 , 2011, Jason Stockley, a white St. Louis police officer, added Anthony Lamar Smith’s name to the long list of black men, women, girls and boys killed by police officers.
Stockley had stopped Smith to question him and another man suspected of drug dealing, an encounter that led to a three-minute car chase.
“We’re going to kill this motherfucker, don’t you know it,” Stockley audibly said during the chase.
Stockley and his partner approached Smith’s car, His weapon appeared to be drawn. After a brief struggle in which Stockley leaned inside Smith’s vehicle, the officer fired several rounds at Smith, took a pause, then fired one last shot.
After returning to the police car, Stockley placed an AK-47, a gun which defies department regulations, in his back seat. Footage reveals that Stockley returned to Smith’s car before making a second trip back to his own vehicle to obtain an item from a duffel bag located in the back seat.
After Smith was shot, a bag of heroin and a handgun was found in his vehicle. Stockley’s DNA was found on that handgun. Smith’s was not.
In May 2016, Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce charged Stockley with first-degree murder after the FBI refused to prosecute him.
On Sept. 19, 2017, Judge Timothy Wilson found Stockley not guilty of all charges. In the years since the initial killing of 24-year-old black male Anthony Lamar Smith, Stockley’s only punishment has been a 30-day suspension for on-duty possession of the unauthorized AK-47.
Stockley was not fired but resigned voluntarily. He has since been hired for a management position at an oil company.
This month, St. Louis police officers used tactics against protesters of the verdict that were so aggressive the NAACP has asked the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri to investigate. The ACLU, in a lawsuit against the city, has also requested that a federal judge bar police from using pepper spray and other chemical weapons, and from making arbitrary arrests.
Despite the protesters’ constitutional right to peacefully protest, the St. Louis Police Department used a vague city ordinance that allows officers to classify parties of two or more individuals as an “unlawful assembly” to order them to disperse. This definition of “unlawful” is equally as vague and can include incidents as inconsequential as spitting on the sidewalk.
To ensure that protesters follow those orders, police are permitted to use chemical weapons or arrest individuals. In the last six weeks, 300 have been arrested. According to protester testimony, police officers have used these abusive tactics with little to no warning and have also punished protesters for filming them.
Police have been caught on camera chanting “Whose streets? Our streets,” a chant that had previously been used by the protesters. One protester captured an officer with his hand around an elderly black woman’s throat.
Why black lives matter matters
The violence from protesters is the result of peaceful protests simply not being heard. The black community is screaming, “stop killing us!” Nobody is listening. A critique of the Black Lives Matter movement — which has a negative rating of 57 percent, according to the most recent Harvard-Harris survey — is that the movement is composed solely of empty cries with no plan of action.
There has been disagreement within the movement itself concerning which plan of action is best to take when dealing with racial inequality. But plans have been made, and specific demands have been outlined in the “Vision 4 Black Lives” platform. The platform focuses on specific actions within six categories: criminal justice, reparations, investment and divestment, economic justice, community control and political power.
A Black Lives Matter-affiliated organization, Campaign Zero, also proposed a plan in August 2015. Their comprehensive platform focuses primarily on criminal justice reform.
The variety in solutions that Black Lives Matter groups propose speaks not only to the inclusivity of the movement, but also the reality that solutions have been offered to the government and its citizens. These solutions, however, aren’t being implemented. The murders of black individuals, and overall the racial inequalities in America, aren’t being addressed.
Of that 57 percent disapproval rating of the Black Lives Matter movement, a majority of those who reported a negative perception were white. While 83 percent of black people saw the movement favorably, only 35 percent of white people had a positive view of it.
If not from the ignorant belief that the movement is about empty complaints rather than action, this opposition stems from the view that racism does not exist. Their argument is that these “accidental” killings are not due to race and that police officers kill white civilians as well.
While it is technically true that more whites are killed by police officers than blacks, this argument is invalidated when adjusted for the proportional population of each race.
According to the most recent U.S. Census, whites account for about 62 percent of the population and blacks account for only about 13 percent. Of all victims killed by police as of July 2016, 49 percent were white and 29 percent were black. This puts black Americans at a 2.5 times higher risk of being shot by police than their white counterparts.
The statistics of police killings overwhelmingly support the fact that there is a bias against black men that leads to a disproportionate number of black murders in comparison to white murders.
We’re sure it’s a race issue
The objection to these statistics about police killings is that black people commit more crimes than white people, which then would account for the higher percentage of black victims. Some cite that as of 2015, black people account for 40 percent of the American prison population, while white people account for only 39 percent. Apart from this argument being morally questionable — higher crime rates do not justify police killing suspects — it is contextually dubious.
The racial disproportionality in prisons largely results from police bias. Not all prisoners have been rightfully convicted — meaning that while 40 percent of all prisoners are black, 40 percent of all crimes committed are not committed by black people.
Statistically, black people are more likely than white people to be arrested for the same crime. That disparity can be seen concretely in marijuana use. Both black and white people consume marijuana at similar rates, but blacks are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.
Furthermore, black people are convicted more often than white people even when they have been arrested for the same crime. Blacks account for only 35 percent of drug arrests, but make up 46 percent of drug-related convictions.
Even after these convictions, black people still experience bias in the criminal system. They receive longer sentences, on average, than white people convicted of the same crime.
The situation is not always “life-threatening”
Even if we are to assume that higher black crime rates legitimately account for higher police-related deaths in the black community, statistics also show that black men are more likely to be killed in non-life-threatening situations than their white counterparts.
Unarmed black men have been shot at the same rate as unarmed white men — meaning that, adjusting again for population proportions, black men are five times more likely than white men to be shot when they are unarmed.
Between January 2015 and July 2016, police shot and killed 175 black men between the ages of 18 and 29, versus 172 white men in the same age range. Of the black victims, 24 were unarmed. Of the white victims, 18 were unarmed.
Those statistics are illustrations of a racist reality. One explanation for those racial disparities is an implicit bias of police officers. Whether it is because of intent or fear, police are killing black people because of their skin color.
In a 2015 study on implicit bias, the Pew Research Center found that 48 percent of whites implicitly favored whites over blacks. While that is obviously an issue in and of itself, it becomes an even bigger problem when that bias is held by people with careers that require quick decision making that can have life-or-death consequences.
Why the black-on-black crime argument is a joke
Although it should go without saying, Black Lives Matter, as an organization, is not against police officers. Of course, some police officers are not racist, do not kill suspects and have genuinely good purposes. These police officers should be respected. But it is the frequent cases of police officers shooting and killing black men, without punishment, that necessitate reform.
This is one of the principle differences between the black-on-black death that is so often used to defend police shootings: black people do not kill black people because they are black, but police officers do.
Those who argue that police shootings are not a race issue and that Black Lives Matter is not an organization with legitimate qualms, including former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani in a 2015 interview and Donald Trump in a 2015 tweet, often cite the fact that black people kill more black people than white people do.
Most violent crimes, however, involve victims and suspects that are of the same race. In fact, 56 percent of violent crimes involving white victims were conducted by white perpetrators. This number only jumps to 62 percent for black victims and black perpetrators. Although this is only a 6-percent difference, the phrase “white-on-white violence” is never used.
The other oversight of this argument is that black violence has been established and catalyzed by a history of social, political and economic inequality created by slavery and upheld by segregation.
Blacks have been forced to live in areas with high crime and poverty rates. Through legal and social factors, this oppression causes them to continue to live in underprivileged urban areas.
Even without these very real facts, to use murder and crime to justify the murders of anyone by police officers, regardless of race, in unnecessary situations is to devalue life and humanity.
America needs to change
The point is not just that the police shootings must end. It’s that these murders are the radical manifestation of a racism that is present in the daily lives of black Americans. We are asking for the equality that is supposedly given to us by the Constitution. We are asking for the equality we shouldn’t have to ask for. And white opposition is saying “no.”
That’s what All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter are doing — they hear us say, “black lives matter” and rebut, “white lives are important too; let’s stop focusing on black lives.”
Of course, white lives and the lives of police officers also matter. But the problem is that to the government and to society, they are demonstrably more important than black lives. If you don’t find issue with that, you are definitively a racist.
If after seeing all the concrete evidence of racial inequality and bias in police shootings you still think the problems are the fault of the black community and not white America, you are seeing what you want to see to protect the state of your privilege. You are telling people that their pain is invalid.
If we seem angry, it’s because we are.
How many more articles must we write about this issue? How many more lives must police take? How many more years will pass in which the government refuses to adopt necessary pro-black legislation? How many more times do we have to scream “stop killing us, stop taking away our rights, stop treating us as lesser” for white America to listen?
Trayvon Martin, Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Tanisha Anderson, Laquan McDonald, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Rumain Bribson, Kayla Moore, Jerame Reid, Tony Robinson, Phillip White, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Anthony Lamar Smith.
Read their names again and again and again. Until it sticks.
For the names of all police shooting victims since 2015, visit this link.
Contact CU Independent Opinion Columnist Lauren Arnold at email@example.com.