Is there finally consciousness that law enforcement officers too often serve white privilege, not justice?by Diane Roberts / June 1, 2020 / Leave a comment
In spring of 2018, Sacramento, California police saw 23-year-old Stephon Clark standing in his grandmother’s back garden with what they believed was a gun. They opened fire. After they killed him, they discovered he was actually holding a mobile phone. Earlier this year, a former cop called Gregory McMichael grabbed his shotgun and jumped in his pick-up truck with his son Travis to chase down Ahmaud Arbery, a young black man out jogging in Brunswick, Georgia. Arbery, shot three times, bled to death.
In each instance there were local demonstrations, demands for greater police accountability, and official pledges of improvement. Most Americans tutted, shrugged, then went about their business. Black lives matter, sure, but those guys must have been doing something wrong: otherwise, why would they get themselves killed?
In Clark’s case, the Sacramento district attorney declined to bring charges. In Arbery’s, three men have been arrested and charged with murder. The difference? In Arbery’s case there was a video.
Now something has changed. Pretty much every living soul has watched the video of a Minneapolis cop with his knee on George Floyd’s neck, grinding his face into the pavement as Floyd pleads, cries, and dies. He’s not the first black man to die on camera: we’ve all seen it many times before. There was Floyd’s fellow Minnesotan Philando Castile, shot by police in front of his girlfriend and her four-year-old child and Eric Garner, put in a chokehold by an NYPD officer who ignored Garner gasping, “I can’t breathe.” But this time it feels different, as if a wire worn thin over too many years finally broke: as if a critical mass of Americans finally realised that too many of our police equate dark skin with criminality and violence. Many of us are just now coming to the truth that law enforcement officers too often serve white privilege and white property, not justice.
Perhaps three and a half years of Donald Trump’s race-baiting presidency is raising the national consciousness. The white men now charged with the murder of Arbery claimed he looked like somebody who might have robbed a local construction site. That’s code: he was a black guy in a mostly white space. An intruder. The white woman who tried to weaponise the police against a black bird-watcher who told her…