Consider the numbers alone. We are barely more than halfway through the year 2018 and over 500 people have been shot and killed by police. 92 of those were black. While only 13% of America’s population is black, 31% of people shot and killed by the police are black, 39% of those shot and killed when not attacking are black, and 62% of those shot and killed by police when unarmed are black. Why the discrepancy in fatal shootings? The answer isn’t simple and a multitude of factors must be considered: a history of police brutality, racism and racial profiling, economic conditions, lack of educational and employment opportunities in inner cities, mass incarceration, the militarization of the police, and an over reliance upon firearms as the first defense.
These are but a few of the instances in recent years when black men were killed by the police…
On January 1, 2009, a twenty-two year old man, Oscar Grant, was shot in the back while being restrained by police at Fruitvale Station in Oakland, California.
On July 17, 2014, forty-three year old Eric Garner was choked to death by a plainclothes police officer after selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island, New York. Garner was placed in an illegal stranglehold after he asked the officer to not touch him.
On August 9, 2014, eighteen year old Michael Brown was shot six times in Ferguson, Missouri after an altercation with a police officer.
On November 23, 2014, twelve year old Tamir Rice was shot by police in Cleveland, Ohio while he was pretending to draw and fire a toy gun.
On December 2, 2014, thirty-four year old Rumain Brisbon was shot twice in the chest by a police officer in Phoenix, Arizona who claimed the pill bottle Brisbon was holding was a weapon.
On March 6, 2015, nineteen year old Tony Robinson was shot by a police officer in Madison, Wisconsin after reports were made that he was yelling, behaving erratically, and jumping in front of traffic. The police had been called to help the troubled young man who was later found to have been using multiple drugs.
On April 2, 2015, forty-four year old Eric Harris was shot to death during a sting operation in Tulsa, Oklahoma when an undercover police officer mistook his gun for his taser.
On April 4, 2015, fifty year old Walter Scott was shot in North Charleston, South Carolina during a traffic stop for a broken brake light.
On July 5, 2016, thirty-seven year old Alton Sterling was shot three times in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by police officers who claimed he was reaching for his gun while he was being restrained.
On July 6, 2016, thirty-two year old Philando Castile was shot seven times by police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota after a traffic stop. He let the officer know he had a gun and was then shot as he reached for his driver’s license.
On September 16, 2016, forty year old Terence Crutcher was tasered and then shot to death in Tulsa, Oklahoma by police officers, who referred to him as a “big bad dude”, after leaving his vehicle in the middle of the road and behaving erratically.
We’ve seen the headlines in the newspapers, the video reports on the news channels, the blog articles, the protests and rallies, and yet this epidemic of police violence against black men continues.
This is why Living Colour felt it necessary to cover Notorious B.I.G.‘s classic hip-hop track Who Shot Ya? in 2016 with a video documenting gun violence.
In the early hours of the morning on December 4, 1969, Chicago Black Panther Party members Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were gunned down by police during a raid. The previous night, Hampton had taught a course at a local church on political education and activism, and then with eight other Panthers met at an apartment gathering place for dinner, where his drink had been drugged by an undercover FBI agent in preparation for the police raid. Clark was found on security in the front room at a table where he sat in a chair with a shotgun resting across his lap. He was shot in the chest. In the bedroom, Hampton, heavily unconscious under the effects of the barbiturates slipped in his drink late the night before, did not wake in the midst of the gunfire. Hampton’s nine-month pregnant fiancée, Deborah Johnson, was dragged from the room and Hampton was shot to death while sleeping in his bed. Witnesses in the apartment reported overhearing the involved police officers having an exchange of words in which the following was said:
“That’s Fred Hampton.“
“Is he dead? Bring him out.“
“He’s barely alive.“
“He’ll make it.“
This was followed by another two shots fired at point blank range into Hampton’s head.
“He’s good and dead now.“
Three other Panthers (Blair Anderson, Verlina Brewer, and Brenda Harris) were also shot at by the police, brutally beaten, and then falsely accused of aggravated assault. The fourteen police officers involved in the raid fired somewhere between 80 and 100 shots. During the raid, only one shot was ever fired by a Panther, and that one shot was caused by Mark Clark reflexively squeezing the trigger of his shotgun as he himself was shot in the chest.
This is why I wear a Black Panther Party patch despite be raised in a small, rural, mostly conservative New England town with a population that was 96% white and being white myself. And this is why I write this post.
My Black Panther Party patch worn to express my support for the original goals of Bobby Seales, Huey Newton, and Fred Hampton.
“We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable; that all men are created equal and independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” – Thomas Jefferson, American founding father and slave owner, in The Declaration of Independence
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” – Amendment II to the United States ConstitutionThe equality of all man wasn’t acknowledged by Jefferson when it came to his his slaves, and there is no doubt that among black slaves, the predominant labour force in North America from 1619 to 1865, that there was no life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness. Independence was a myth. The reality was racial dependence. When viewed in context with the actual history, the words of Jefferson feel hollow, and his words and actions are further proof that the opportunities and freedoms guaranteed by The Declaration of Independence and by the Amendments to the Constitution of the United States did not apply to black people and were never intended to. The laws of the land protected the white man’s freedom, the white man’s land, and the white man’s property. These laws were not extended to people of colour of African, Native, Hispanic, or Asian descent.
On March 3, 1991, after a night of drinking and watching basketball, three friends, Rodney King, Freddie Helms, and Bryant Allen, decided to go driving around midnight in Los Angeles. King was the driver. At 12:30 am, husband and wife officers of the California Highway Patrol, Tim Singer and Melinda Singer, saw the speeding vehicle and followed in pursuit. This became a high-speed pursuit as King attempted to evade the police knowing that a DUI would violate his parole. The pursuit escalated, leaving the freeway for residential areas, and additional LAPD police vehicles joined in, including a helicopter. After being cornered, King was forced to stop his car at Foothill Boulevard and Osborne Street, where he and his two passengers were ordered to exit the vehicle with their hands on their head and lie face down on the road. Allen and Helms complied with this order and were subjected to rough physical handling, claiming that they had been kicked, stomped, and beaten. Helms received a head injury from a nightstick strike while he was lying on the ground. King refused to leave his vehicle at first, but when he did step out, he allegedly patted his buttocks, which was mistakenly perceived as him reaching for a weapon. Singer raised her weapon in preparation for an arrest. However, the Singers were informed that the LAPD would be taking over from this point onward, and all officers were commanded by ranking officer Stacey Koons to holster their guns. Officers Theodore Briseno, Laurence Powell, and Timothy Wind then proceeded to surround King and subdue him. Three of the four LAPD officers together then beat King with their nightsticks, and kicking and punching him over 50 times, as well as tasering him twice. Despite much of the brutal incident being caught on video by local witness, George Holliday, who then sold the footage to a local channel, the three officers, Briseno, Powell, and Wind, were acquitted of use of excessive force by a majority white jury. A federal trial later found officers Koons and Powell guilty of violating King’s civil rights. This famously resulted in riots throughout LA.
This is why Rage Against the Machine wrote Killing in the Name to address the long history of racial violence perpetuated by the police and by white Americans upon black Americans.
At 9:26 pm on March 18, 2018, a twenty-two year old black man, Stephon Clark, was shot while in the back yard of his grandmother’s house, where he had been living. Police had been looking for a suspect involved in a series of car break-ins where the windows of the cars had been smashed with a tool bar. Clark, who had previously had a stint in jail, was unarmed when he was shot. The only possession found on his body was a cellular phone which, according to the the two police officers on the scene, he had been holding out in front of him. Claiming that the white phone was being held out in an aggressive manner, and that they mistook it for a gun, and fearing for their safety, the two officers opened fire on Clark, firing twenty rounds. Eight shots hit Clark, six of which entered his body through his back, and the coroner’s report indicated that one bullet entered his body after he had already collapsed to the ground. It was three minutes before an officer attempted to speak with him and five minutes before anyone approached Clark who lay dying on his grandmother’s lawn. After the arrival of other police officers, and realizing all too late that Clark was unarmed, the two officers muted their body-camera microphones to avoid self-incrimination.
This is why Colin Kaepernick and fellow NFL players kneel during the playing of the National Anthem despite facing criticism from social conservatives who turn the discussion to disrespecting the flag and veterans.
Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick kneel during the National Anthem.
This is why we all must stand together and advocate for stricter gun laws, legal policy and procedure reform, and an open, national dialogue about racially motivated violence and racial profiling in law enforcement. We are all in this together and until all people are treated fairly and equally by law enforcement this kind of unnecessary and deeply contentious violence will proliferate. Regardless of your gender or race, as a human being, your fellow human beings are being killed, and it is your civic duty to recognize and address this injustice.