Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Facebooking About Racist Incidents

I read, post and comment on news reports that are of interest to me on Facebook. As an Anti-Racism Trainer, stories about racism and racial justice obviously fall into my interest area. I post stories when I think there is a teaching element to them or when I just want to express my reaction to the stories. Part of Facebook’s appeal is that it is a forum where I and other Facebookers can get emotional and spiritual support for our feelings of grief, frustration, confusion, and angst over things that happen in the world that we find distressing, oppressive, or evil. Facebook is also a place where we can discuss these stories in depth.

The news stories that get reported and provoke the most commentary tend to be the most egregious of their ilk, whether it be campaign finance violations, ethics abuses in government and business, or racism in the public arena including in the criminal justice arena. Bad news is news in the media.

I was asked about the story of the White Kansas teenager who was chased by two Black teenagers and doused with gasoline and set afire, and why I had not posted that story. Frankly, I was unaware of that story until it was pointed out to me. That is also a racially-motivated hate crime, this time against a young White man. I am appalled at this hate crime, and I hope that the perpetrators will be brought to justice. I will be praying for the injured teenager.

Regrettably, in these United States, systemic, institutional racism does target people of color, especially those with the darkest skin. That is not a matter of opinion. That is a fact. Thus, I and others, react and respond to stories of racism against people of color. We do it both as a lament of how things are and a cry for how things should and could be . . . if only we loved our neighbors more and treated everyone as human beings deserving of dignity and justice.

It is noteworthy to point out the disparity in the amount of attention that a story about a racially-motivated hate crime gets, depending on the race of the victim(s) and the race of the perpetrator(s). If I Google “doused with gasoline,” I get less than a page of results to reach a news story about the White Kansas teenager. That story hasn’t reached the proportions of headline news like the still unfolding story about Trayvon Martin.

The story of an unarmed Black man killed by armed police and other policing authorities is not a one-time story. There have been other stories with the same meme of an unarmed Black killed by policing authorities, some shot in the back. See Amadou Diallo (1999), Sean Bell (2006), Prince Jones (2011), Ramarley Graham (2012), among other similar stories.

The four police officers who shot Diallo fired 41 shots and were acquitted by a jury. Five officers fired 50 bullets in the Sean Bell case, three were tried, and they were found not guilty, although the city of New York settled a related civil case with a financial payment. The case of Prince Jones, who was shot eight times in the back, shoulder and arm, involved a Black undercover detective, and the prosecutor chose not to charge the police officer, although the county ended up settling a civil suit with a financial payment. Teenager Graham was shot and killed inside his home after a pursuit by two police officers who are on camera kicking down the door to the apartment; the shooting occurred in early February, and the legal proceedings are in process. Martin was killed by a neighborhood watch captain, identified by his father as Latino.

The race of the authority figures doing the shooting is not limited to White; In Jones’ case, the shooter was a Black, and in Martin’s case, a Latino. What is alarming is the number of cases involving unarmed people, primarily males, of color, who become the victims of police shootings. They are targeted, because they are dark-skinned, and they are suspected of being in the places where they’re found for suspicious, illegal reasons, then followed, questioned, or pursued aggressively, and confronted with baton or guns and threatened with arrest or violence. This is wrong, and it is unjust. As a nation, we must do better.