Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Missouri chapter said in a statement of condolence to Michael Brown’s family, “Unarmed African-American men are shot and killed by police at an alarming rate. This pattern must stop.”
Yes. It must stop, and yet the pattern of police officers shooting unarmed African-American men is not slowing down.
Just how often police officers shoot unarmed individuals is difficult to quantify because the reporting of use of force is inconsistently and disparately documented. USA Today reports that on average there are 96 cases of a white police officer killing an African-American or person of color each year between 2006 and 2012. “Nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person during a seven-year period ending in 2012, according to the most recent accounts of justifiable homicide reported to the FBI.” The reports show that 18 percent of the black people killed during those seven years were under the age of 21, compared to 8.7 percent of white people. This data is based on justifiable homicides reported to the FBI by local police. Of course, the FBI’s justifiable homicides database only accounts for cases in which an officer killed a person who has been convicted of a felon. It does not necessarily include cases involving victims such as Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others who were unarmed when confronted by police.
Yesterday a new story of an officer killing an unarmed black man was reported. The video of the shooting reveals the unarmed man, Walter Scott, running from the police officer, not running toward him as the police officer claimed. It also shows the police officer handcuffing the man he had just shot eight times in the back.
I read the article and sat in silence for a very long time. I knew this was a conversation I needed to participate in on social media. But what I also know is that it is a conversation too many people are tired of having. I also have loved ones in law enforcement, and this conversation inherently is perceived as an attack on them. This conversation is not an attack on law enforcement; it is an attack on the violence perpetuated by people within law enforcement. Walter Scott’s brother Anthony stated, “I don’t think all police officers are bad cops, but there are some bad ones out there.” If a man who has just lost his brother at the hands of police violence can recognize that, I think members within the law enforcement community should also be able to recognize this.
As I sat reading the article, I remembered a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter most.”
I don’t know of anything more important than human life. And yet human life seems cheap on the streets of the United States, especially the lives of people of color.
Police officers who shoot unarmed people are almost never held accountable for the killing. Worse yet, they are almost always within the confines of the law. And because the law is on their side, people shake their heads at the protesters, defend the police officer and most often blame the victim. We need to remember that what is legal is not always what is right. Nazis legally murdered 6 million Jews. And in the United States, we legally enslaved black men, women and children for more than 300 years. Legal? Yes. Morally correct? Absolutely not.
It is time for police officers to stand in solidarity with the victims. It is time for police departments across our nation to root out the killers, prosecute them and hold them accountable. It is time for our nation to stand up and say, “We will not tolerate this any longer. Lives matter. Black lives matter. And we can no longer be silent.” Because, as Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Robyn Short has ghostwritten numerous books and is the founder and publisher of GoodMedia Press. She is a student of A Course in Miracles, a self-study system of spiritual psychotherapy. Robyn is a passionate believer in peace and social justice. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from Auburn University, a Masters in Liberal Arts from Southern Methodist University and will graduate with a Masters in Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution from Southern Methodist University in 2014. Robyn is the author of Prayers for Peace, and the forthcoming children’s book Peace People, co-authored with Nanon Williams. Robyn is available for book signings and to speak on topics of peace building and nonviolence, especially as it relates to these core issues. Contact Robyn by email.