By: Dionne Evans
In this day and age, just a little over 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement, it’s not uncommon for people to think racism doesn’t exist anymore or to hear someone say “Slavery was abolished long ago, what more can you want?” Though progress has been made in race relations since the Civil Rights Movement, racial profiling exists. It is still typical for police to stop black men and women on the streets just because of the color of their skin. The recent police shootings involving unarmed black men have caused outrage, protests, and arguments on how prevalent racism is in our American society. According to a New York Times article by Dalia Simmons, “Americans are increasingly likely to say that the police are more apt to use deadly force against a black person, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll finds.” That same poll also found that sixty-one percent of Americans now say race relations in this country are generally bad and 44 percent of Americans say deadly force is more likely to be used against a black person. Simmons writes, “Blacks also remain far more likely than whites to say they feel mostly anxious about the police in their community. Forty-two percent say so, while 51 percent feel mostly safe. Among whites, 8 in 10 feel mostly safe.” Even with this information, there are still many people who say racism is not a problem. Ironically enough, it’s usually those spouting racists views who say this. The police shootings and the Charleston church shooting spark outrage but not much debate on race relations. If anything, they’re dividing people even more.
Though African-Americans are voicing their unease and safety concerns, they are not being heard. Sometimes, they are even ridiculed by their peers. “Just follow an officer’s orders and you’ll be fine,” say some. However, based on experiences to those close to me, I know this advice doesn’t work for everyone. As a person of mixed race (half black, part white and then a little of almost everything else), I’ve had unique experiences. I know what it feels like to be prejudiced against because of my skin. Others, like my brothers, have had it much worse though.
My older brother standing at 6-foot-3-inches tall who sometimes touts a beard has endured things a lot tougher than I. I remember an incident that occurred when he was picking me up from high school. He was in one of about five or so cars waiting at the curb where most pick-ups and drop-offs occur. His friend, a dark-skinned African-American, was in the passenger’s seat and rap music was blaring from the speakers. I got in the car, and we were stopped by a police officer almost immediately after turning into the lane to exit. We were all confused. The officer came up to the window and told us my brother had been at the curb too long and asked him what he was doing there. “I’m just picking up my little sister,” he said. My brother’s friend started muttering under his breath and my brother shushed him. The officer then made my brother get out of the car. While there, he checked my brother’s license and let my brother back inside the car. After finding nothing, the officer came back up to us and said “I’ll let you off with a warning, but next time don’t wait at the curb so long.” He said this as if he were doing us a favor for not ticketing us for not breaking the law. I think my brother was a little shaken after that.
That wasn’t the worst encounter with an officer he would experience in his life. One night, maybe a year or so after the previous incident, on his way home from being out with friends he was stopped. This time the officer said it was for a broken taillight. According to my brother, the officer then started peeking into the car. “Have you been drinking tonight?” he asked. My brother told him he hadn’t, but the officer told him to step out of the car anyway to do a breathalyzer test. Of course, my brother wasn’t lying and there was no alcohol in his system. The officer wasn’t satisfied and then decided to search the car for any drugs or alcohol, with no such luck.
Though my brother had apparently been stopped for just a broken taillight and despite my brother complying with all of the officer’s requests, the office seemed determined. The officer then decided to run my brother’s license into the system. My brother’s license was suspended due to unpaid tickets. Now that was my brother’s fault. He was sent to jail for 3 days. My family was upset and confused. It was stupid that my brother was driving with a suspended license. He hadn’t told my parents about the suspension which is why he was still allowed to drive the car. But we were more hurt that the police officer claimed to be stopping him for a broken taillight yet went through all of the steps to find something else. I don’t know much about the court-hearings afterwards, I was still just in high school, but I do know that my brother got out of any further jail time or punishment, aside from community service, and the officer’s misconduct was at least looked into. Both incidents happened over 5 years ago and both officers involved were white. Racism involving police officers is not a new thing, but thanks to new technology, when it happens, it can be shared and, maybe, even deterred.
The incidents involving police abusing their power cause a lot of arguments. Sadly, it does not open up a dialogue about racism. Rather, it is often instead a catalyst for more racist remarks and actions. It’s important to keep in mind that racism isn’t just black and white, but these seem to be the races that are currently in the biggest divide. When discussing racism, it’s important to remember also that not all white people are racists and not all black people are thugs, but incidents like the Bland case gives ammunition to both sides.
Deniers express opinions like “They were criminals anyway, they deserved it,” or “Why do we hear so much on white-on-black crime and not on black-on-white crime, which is much higher.” Racism isn’t going to go away if we don’t acknowledge it or open up a discussion about it.
Even I sometimes scroll past the heartbreakingly discriminatory remarks on different news articles or Facebook posts. However, I feel a lot better when I explain to someone why their comments are incorrect or hurtful. I recently read an article on huffingtonpost.com about how the Charleston shooting was another missed opportunity to talk about race relations in our country. I think Diana Montero said it best. “Not treating the infection only makes the infection spread.”