By Chelsey Sanchez
Sean Bell was 23 years old the night he died in 2006. Oscar Grant was 22 years old when he died in 2009. Trayvon Martin was only 17 years old when he died in 2012.
What do all of these men share in common? They were African American; they were accused of a crime; they were unarmed; and they were shot and killed.
The African American youth of America so often pass through society, each making history in their own right, and yet, so often pass by unnoticed or forgotten. The police officers who killed Bell were acquitted on all charges; the officer who killed Grant was sentenced two years in prison (yet only served under a year); and the neighborhood watch coordinator who stalked, shot and killed Martin was declared innocent.
On Aug. 9, 2014, Michael Brown was the next name to join this list.
18 year-old Mike Brown (as he was called by friends and family) was shot at least six times by a local police officer when he died on that Tuesday in Ferguson, Mo. The Ferguson police department claims that the officer who killed Brown, Darren Wilson, was attacked when Brown allegedly tried reaching for Wilson’s gun. However, the police department’s claims contradict those of the witnesses’, the majority of whom argue that Brown merely surrendered to the cop with his hands in the air before being shot down.
Additionally, the police department claimed that a convenience store reported a robbery moments before the incident and that Brown was a possible suspect; however, the police department confessed that Wilson was unaware that Brown was a suspect at the time of the shooting, thus invalidating this information.
Truthfully, we will never know the whole story of what exactly happened on Canfield Drive on Aug. 9 at 12:01 p.m. We will never know if Brown attacked the officer, or if he resisted arrest. The inevitable truth is just this: we will never know–so we must not let what we do not know affect how we think about what we do know.
And what do we know? We know that Brown was African American, that he was killed by a caucasian police officer, that at least six bullets pierced body. We know that he died with his hands in the air.
Whether we care to admit it or not, our skin color and status give certain people certain privileges. Wilson, a caucasian police officer granted paid leave almost immediately after murdering Brown, is a perfect embodiment of those privileged qualities. However, what we must come to realize is that justice is not a privilege, but a right.
Often, our defense of the privileged majorities results in the neglect of the oppressed minorities.
We, as a society that boasts of its freedom, opportunity, and justice can no longer turn a blind eye to the faults tearing our country apart at the roots.
Racism and police brutality are both a reality and a threat to American society. These two concepts tend to intertwine and blend together to form a bigger picture.
In 2007, Colorlines and The Chicago Reporter found in a study that African Americans are the overwhelming majority of victims of police shootings in major cities like New York, NY and Las Vegas, NV where “the percentage of black people killed by police was at least double that of their share of the city’s total population.”
In a 2013 New York Times article, multiple studies proved that both African American and caucasian people illegally use marijuana at akin rates; however, although caucasians make up about 6.5 times more of American population than African Americans, African Americans are four times more as likely to be targeted for illegal drug use.
This blatant evidence of racism and police brutality in America can no longer be ignored. In a society that views a person of color more as a target than a human, we all must make a conscious effort to derail racism’s obvious role in government matters and even personal affairs. We can and must be better than the culture we live in today. Our ethics should not reflect what a flawed society has manifested within us, but, instead, be cultivated through our empathy and passion for social progress and change.
Our only hope is that we take control of the reins of our history today and steer it into a path we can look back upon fifty years from now and be proud of. Otherwise, we all might as well put our hands in the air and surrender now, not like that’ll do any of us much good.