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Equal protection from the law

Melvin B. Miller
Equal protection from the law
“Well, I guess the white conservatives will now say they have another martyr.” (Photo: Dan Drew)

Police departments across the country declare that their duty is “to protect and serve,” or some similar commitment. However, many African Americans wonder whether this obligation really extends to them. If a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. can gun down an unarmed teenager, and be absolved of criminal liability, then what protection do blacks have?

The police shooting of Michael Brown is not unusual. Such incidents have been getting greater publicity since the Amadou Diallo case in New York 15 years ago. Diallo, a 23-year-old immigrant from Guinea, was gunned down on his doorstep by four policemen. They hit him with 19 bullets when they thought he was reaching for a gun, but he was unarmed. All four were acquitted.

Americans are now becoming more aware that incidents of police brutality are quite common. It began in 1992 with the brutal police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles. The technological development of cell phones and digital video cameras has enabled citizens to record such violent events. Police accounts that are at odds with the video or photograph lose their credibility. Now the media publicize police assaults that have dramatic appeal.

During the Katrina hurricane in New Orleans, police officers shot and killed Ronald Madison, a mentally disabled man, who was trying to cross the Danziger Bridge to find food. James Brissette was also killed and four others were wounded. This case was so grievous that police officers involved were prosecuted and convicted.

In the case of Sean Bell in 2006, a 23-year-old citizen of New York was shot by police as he left the bachelor party on the night before his wedding. The police fired 50 shots and also wounded two of Bell’s friends. Three of the five police detectives involved were tried and found not guilty.

The unarmed Oscar Grant (22) was killed by a transit cop in Oakland, Calif. in 2009 at the Fruitvale BART station. The cop was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2010.

Manuel Loggins, a marine sergeant, was shot and killed in 2012 in San Clemente, Calif. His 9- and 14-year-old daughters were able to view the incident. He was unarmed and non-violent. Orange County paid his family $4.4 million in damages.

In 2012, the unarmed Ramarley Graham was shot and killed by a New York policeman, Richard Haste. The charges against Haste were dismissed on a technicality and a grand jury declined to indict.

Recently, Eric Garner died as a result of a chokehold by the police who were trying to arrest him, allegedly for selling unlicensed cigarettes. Execution is a severe penalty for a misdemeanor offense.

The license to shoot blacks with relative impunity extends beyond the police. In 2012, George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old boy who was in Sanford, Fla. to visit his father. Zimmerman asserted that he fired in self-defense although Martin was still holding a bag of Skittles in one hand when he was shot. Nonetheless, Zimmerman was acquitted.

It appears that a major function of the police is to protect white privilege and to serve the benighted concept of racial superiority. Both of those ideas will only lead to continued conflict in American society. Often, a subjugated and dominated ethnic group will turn to violence against the oppressor. However, the descendants of former slaves in America have chosen to work toward justice and freedom for all. This is the higher path.

Those in authority must discontinue policies that foment racial hostility and can only lead to more violence and national disunity.