Police Brutality and Black AmericaBy Anil Shrivastava ‘Musafir’

When I first watched police officer, Derek Chauvin pressing his knee against George Floyd’s neck on national TV, I thought the officer was mentally deranged. It happened in Minneapolis, MN on May 25, 2020 in front of onlookers in broad daylight. When this went on for 8 minutes and 46 seconds despite Mr. Floyd’s repeated appeal that he wasn’t able to breathe, I knew that it was a case of gruesome murder. I am not familiar with the police protocol, so I can’t say what the other three police officers standing there could have done, but they could have certainly asked Derek Chauvin to release his knee from Mr. Floyd’s neck. That certainly makes then accomplices in Mr. Floyd’s homicide. The incident has etched a disturbing and horrifying image in my mind which, probably, will stay there for as long as I live. As much as I tried to separate myself from outrightly branding this as a race issue, I couldn’t deny the fact that it was a white police officer who mercilessly killed an unarmed black man. This didn’t have to happen again but it did.

Such incidents have been happening for a long time in our nation. In recent years, the blacks have been protesting police brutality against them that includes ‘Black Life Matters’ movement, dismounting of statues of confederate heroes and kneeling by black football players during the National Anthem at NFL games. 

I decided to talk to a few people of color to obtain a first-hand knowledge about this systematic malaise in our society that has become a routine now. The folks I talked to are well-to-do men of color living in rich suburbs. To my surprise, all of them were stopped and frisked by police several times for no obvious reasons. One of them drives an expensive car. He was stopped on the suspicion of stealing that car. One was taken into custody for going 10 miles over. Another guy told me that he was stopped and questioned by police at least on three different occasions while walking in his own neighborhood and on nearby streets. The police officer demanded that he show his driver’s license and used ‘f’ word for not carrying his ID with him at all times. These gentlemen also told me that their friends and relatives also had gone through similar experiences many times in the past. Had they violated the law, at least one of them might have met the same fate as Mr. Floyd did in Minneapolis.

Forms of police brutality towards men of color range from assault and battery to mayhem, torture, and murder. Some broader definitions of police brutality also encompass harassment, including false arrest, intimidation, and verbal abuse, among other forms of mistreatment. We cannot overlook the fact that sometimes stop and frisk and even the use of deadly force is required by police. Sometimes they have to make split second decisions. But those actions were not required in the cases mentioned above including the murder of George Floyd.

Police brutality against blacks is deep-rooted in the psyche of many police officers (not all). We need to look back and understand the reasons. During the days of slavery (1700s), the southern states used to have ‘Slave Patrols’ to prevent escapes and uprising by enslaved people on plantations. Slave Patrols was formally dissolved after the end of the Civil War in 1865.

Unfortunately, the end of Slave Patrols was replaced by ‘Black Codes’ for the purpose of determining the place of work and wages earned by black Americans. Black Codes also restricted black voting rights and controlled travel and residential choices of black Americans. Again, the police were responsible for upholding those codes. ‘Black Codes’ was made illegal with the ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868.

But within two decades, Jim Crow laws aimed at subjugating African Americans and denying their civil rights were enacted across Southern and some Northern states replacing the Black Codes. This mandated separate public spaces for blacks and whites, such as schools, libraries, water fountains and restaurants. Again police were responsible for enforcing the laws. Blacks who broke laws or violated social norms were subject to police brutality. In addition to that, lynching of African Americans by white mobs were totally ignored by police at that time. 

Six decades after, the brutality is still going on. Seems like it got embedded in police DNA or is it the old habit that’s hard to die?

I believe that things can change and will change, if we take action. This needs a better screening and training of our future police forces. I like the following steps suggested by Oakland County (Michigan) Sheriff Michael Bouchard. Sheriff Bouchard suggests the following:

 “Look deeply into their social media. If they’re spouting racist things, that’s a ticking time bomb.

 Go into the applicant’s neighborhood and ask around to find out what kind of person they are.

 During a polygraph test, asked the applicants their intentions for becoming a police officer.

 Make accountability and discipline primary focus during training.”

Let me admit that although I have great respect for almost every black American I have come in touch with, I have not cared much to know about their history, plight and circumstances. I am not proud of it, but I never pretended that I did.

Finally, I disdain liberal elites who post condescending stories about blacks on social media. Most of them do this because it makes them look good in their followers’ eyes. I am also wary of politicians who take them for granted and exploit them. My suggestion to everyone including myself is to get real; make friends with African Americans and love everybody equally.

“May All be Happy,

May All be Free from Illness.

May All See what is Auspicious,

May no one Suffer.

Om Peace, Peace, Peace.”

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