The Guardian reported in December 2015 that 1,134 black men were killed by the police in the United States of America that year—a rate five times higher than the number of white men killed by the police during the same period. Young black men were nine times more likely to be killed by police than other Americans. Even though African-American men, ages 15-34, only make up two percent of the U.S. population, they represent 15% of the deaths resulting from use of deadly force by police. There is an epidemic in American criminal justice system.
Alton Sterling was a black man.
On July 5, 2016, the last day Sterling would spend on this earth, he was selling CDs at a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was wearing a red shirt. He had permission of the Triple S Food Mart owner to conduct his CD business outside the store.
The police received information from an anonymous 911 caller that a black man wearing a red shirt and selling CDs in front of the store had threatened him with a gun that he had in his pocket.
Baton Rouge Police officers Howie Lake and Blane Salamoni, both white men, responded to the call. The officers told Sterling to put his hands on the hood of a car. He did not comply. The officers wrestled Sterling to the ground. Within 20 seconds of their arrival, Officer Salamoni had his gun drawn and pointed at Sterling’s head, threatening to shoot him in his “fucking head.”
Within 90 seconds from the moment the first order was given to Sterling, the two officers, with malice and specific intent to kill, shot him three times in the head and three times in the back, killing him almost instantly.
An ensuing search discovered a loaded .38 caliber pistol in Sterling’s pocket and post-mortem, toxicology exams found drugs in his system. Countless white men have survived similar encounters with police, especially in states where it is now legal to openly carry firearms, like Louisiana.
Both the U.S. Justice Department and Louisiana Attorney General’s office decided not to bring criminal charges against the officers.
Then there is the case of Stephon Clark. He was also a black man and only lived to be 22 years old.
On March 18, 2018, two Sacramento, California police officers, Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet were dispatched shortly after 9:00 p.m. to a neighborhood in response to a report that someone was breaking into vehicles in the area. A sheriff’s helicopter was also dispatched to the area to provide overhead surveillance. The pilot spotted a figure running, jumping over a fence. He conveyed that information to the officers on the ground.
The two patrol officers confronted Clark in the backyard of a residence. The officers yelled for Clark to raise his hands. Clark had a cellphone in his hand. The officers—one white, the other black—mistook it for a weapon. They fired twenty rounds from their service weapons. All the bullets struck Clark. He died at the scene before or after the officers handcuffed him.
Again, how many white men under similar circumstances would have survived only to be questioned and either arrested or released?
Clark’s death, like the deaths of so many other black men before him killed by the police, has triggered a national furor.
No Justifiable Reason to Kill Suspects
Assuming without either factual or legal analysis that the police officers involved in the these two shooting deaths of black men had probable cause to investigate their behavior and detain them for questioning, the officers did not have justifiable cause to commit these two homicides.
Although the Baton Rouge officers said they saw a gun, the weapon later discovered was buried deep in Sterling’s pocket. The two officers had Sterling on the ground restrained when they pumped six bullets in his head and back. The two Sacramento officers say they mistook Clark’s cellphone as a weapon, but released videos show that they riddled his body with all 20 bullets fired from their weapons just moments after the initial confrontation with Clark took place in his grandmother’s backyard.
The question that percolates in the deaths of these two black men at the hands of the police, as in most cases involving black men killed by the police, is whether race was either the underlying or primary reason for the homicides. We believe that it was. Most likely, neither of these young men would have been killed had they been white.
We fully accept the reason for the death of so many black men at the hands of the police given by Chauncey Devega in the March 29, 2018 edition of Salon: Negrophobia.
“At the core of [Louisiana Attorney General Jeff] Landry’s exoneration of the police who killed Alton Sterling is a basic belief that has existed since before the founding of America and continues to the present. Black people, especially black men, are inherently scary, violent and dangerous. In many ways, negrophobia is a founding principle of the United States. It is enshrined in the Constitution, as seen in the three-fifths clause, protections for the slave trade and enforcement of fugitive slave laws.
“Negrophobia is, of course, based on lies and cruel distortions. Like racism and white supremacy more generally, it is almost a type of witchcraft or magic – ideas that have largely been discarded by Western modernity as primitive and backward, not worthy of serious discussion – negrophobia lives on as a powerful social force.
“In its most ridiculous form, negrophobia is channeled by the belief that black people have higher pain tolerances than white people, possess superhuman or extraordinary powers, and are closer to being animals (especially apes and gorillas) than fully human.
“In its more quotidian form, negrophobia is channeled through racist stereotypes and beliefs that black people are lazy, inherently violent, less intelligent or naturally criminal, and that they lack the ‘impulse control’ and ‘culture’ of regular,’ ‘normal’ middle-class 9white) people
“Negrophobia can also be understood as a type of funhouse mirror. Its existence is predicated on the dangers of ‘blackness,’ in a world where to be ‘white’ is to be inherently good, safe and normal. This is a dangerous delusion, especially considering that in the history if the United States white people have inflicted far more violence on nonwhites than the other way around.”
Devega’s contention is supported by these basic indices. Roughly three out of every four police officers in this country is white. White people comprise 63 percent of the U.S. population, blacks just 13 percent. The majority of white people believe the police are honest and that they do a good job while a majority of black people distrust the police and do not believe they are doing a good job.
Historical racism is rooted deep in those numbers and explains why 31 percent of the people killed by the police in this country are black when they comprise only 13 percent of the population.
“Negrophobia” is not a comfortable concept for white people to accept. But it is implanted in every facet of American life, and as long as it is, black men will be gunned down by the police, as was Alton Sterling and Stephon Clark, more because they were black than any danger they may have posed to the community.
White people, it’s time to get our heads out of the sand….