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Columnists

Complexity Thickens When Cops Who Killed a Black Man are Also Black

I saw a news blurb stating that a 29-year-old black man died three days after a traffic stop with Memphis police.

A day or two later, while reading the Wall Street Journal, I came across an article titled ‘Five Former Memphis Police Officers Face Murder Charges in Tyre Nichols’ Death’, which included photos of all five policemen. I was surprised to see that all of them were black.

Not because I don’t think black cops are above committing brutal homicide – there are bad apples in all races – or because I think the primary motive of police brutality is racism. Rather, because of the four black-white officer/suspect homicide possibilities: 1) black cop kills black suspect; 2) black cop kills white suspect; 3) white cop kills white suspect; and 4) white cop kills black suspect, the first three versions happen too, but go almost unnoticed while the last one gets top billing by the majority of the shamelessly agenda-driven mainstream media.

Those who watched the video released by the Memphis Police Department or read a description of it surely must agree that this display of gut-wrenching brutality is terrifying and abominable. But if we can learn from even the worst events so as to benefit society, then Nichols’ killing allows us to focus not on “why do white officers kill?” (again, they weren’t white in this case) but rather: “why do officers of any color kill young, black men?”

First of all, just because racists still exist, and some of them are white cops, and some of them hate blacks specifically, doesn’t mean that the majority or even a significant minority of white-on-black cop killings has anything to do with racism. It would be a wild leap to purport that the five officers who viciously pummeled Nichols to death are self-loathing black men who despise their own kind. There has to be another reason.

Second, the overwhelming number of African-Americans who die in police custody are young and male. You don’t hear much about 67-year-old black men beaten to death by cops, because such instances are virtually nonexistent. If such things really did happen, the media would bombard us with banner headlines and round-the-clock coverage. You also don’t hear about cops beating or shooting women to death – of any color.
It’s something about young black men, but not only about them. It’s also about young, white men dressed like bikers or neo-Nazis. After 9/11, it also became – literally overnight – about Muslims dressed in religious garb.

But young, black men have it worst. It’s not their wardrobe – which they can change – it’s the color of their skin, which they can’t.

According to recent (2020) Department of Justice statistics, although African-Americans comprise merely 12 percent of the population, as compared to 60 percent for non-Hispanic whites, there were actually more arrests of blacks for the most egregious types of crimes.

As there are five times as many whites as there are blacks living in the United States, it’s not surprising that they led in most criminal categories. But more blacks were arrested for murder, non-negligent homicide, and robbery (which is theft by using force or threat of force).

Conversely, more whites physically abuse their significant others, drive drunk, forge checks, abuse drugs and alcohol, embezzle, possess stolen property, and engage in prostitution.

Keeping that in mind, consider that cops put their lives on the line every second they’re on duty. The fight-or-flight wiring all humans possess kicks in not when they encounter a mail fraud scammer or a computer hacker, but when they come face-to-face with an armed robber. That Nichols and countless other black victims were unarmed isn’t the issue: it’s that the raw majority – and overwhelming majority, percentage-wise – of dangerous killers are young, black males. Unfortunately for Nichols and millions of other peaceful young, black men, they’re singled out because of what they look like. Sometimes because of hate, but mostly out of fear.

As is often the case, the best solution to saving the lives of young, black men is education. But that education needs to be broad, to reach not only aspiring and veteran law enforcement officers, but also black men, as the latter need to face the reality that as much as we’d like to think we’re living in a world where everyone is treated the same – we’re not. They need to be extra-careful about the choices they make, the places they visit, the way they dress, the time of night they walk or drive, and most importantly, the tremendous respect and deference they must afford even the most undeserving obnoxious cop who’s arresting them.
It’s not fair, but it’s better than being dead.

But there is a light at the end of what may be a very long tunnel: there was a time when the most feared group of Americans – based on what they looked like – was Japanese. It was immediately after Pearl Harbor, and even the U.S. Supreme Court declared that in that specific circumstance, it was legal to put their fellow Americans into internment camps, just because they looked Japanese. Many decades have passed since then, but if you ask most Americans today: “what race/nationality do you most fear?” Japanese wouldn’t even come to mind.

Accordingly, while we’re retraining cops not to have itchy trigger fingers or otherwise short fuses, we need to train black men not to commit violent crimes. We can no longer pretend that they’re not the league-leaders in that respect. Once crime stats begin to fall, perhaps one day cops of our grandchildren’s generation can chase a young black man and think to themselves: “he’s black, so he’s probably harmless.”

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