The recent acquittal of NYPD undercover detectives,
Michael Oliver, Gescard Isnora and Marc Cooper, can be likened
to throwing a Molotov cocktail in a room full of powder kegs
- and missing this time. The incendiary cocktails are
the legal justifications by the US
courts of state-sanctioned abuse and murder; the powder kegs
are the innumerable acts of injustice, neglect and violence
heaped upon communities of color. It is inevitable that one
of those tosses will land squarely on its target.
was the scenario 40 years ago when over 100 urban centers went
up in smoke after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr. When the Kerner Commission looked into why black folks
responded in like manner across this country, the conditions
were the same. The recipe for the combustible disaster was poverty,
unemployment, poor housing, and lack of health care in a gravy
Those conditions are again reaching their tipping
point. But we’ve also seen that the most common inflammatory
ingredient on a smaller scale has been an act of police terrorism.
Subsequently, cities like Los Angeles, Miami, Philly, Washington, DC and Detroit have gone up
in smoke over police aggression.
New York, where the most notorious and egregious examples of police
violence have been exposed, the powerful Blue Wall of Silence
prevails. Whether it’s the sodomizing of Abner Louima with a
toilet plunger or using black men for target practice in the
cases of Amado Diallo (41 shots) or the most recent cases of
Sean Bell, Trent
Benefield and Joseph Guzman (50 shots), the victims are often
portrayed as causing their own demise.
Most police departments have been shielded by
the law, regardless of their acts of violence and misconduct.
Time after time, there is no justice for the individual citizen
or the community. Even the most valiant efforts of committed
groups fighting against these atrocities have been muted. I
have been in such formations for nearly 35 years and occasionally
got an officer fired or got compensation for victims and their
families through civil suits. But never have we been successful
at getting criminal charges to stick, thereby sending a message
that black life does count.
Under this scenario, the rogue cops become more
emboldened and impatient victims become more desperate. About
five years ago, I began seeing and hearing from young, black
men that, with the kind of lawlessness by police seemingly condoned
by the justice system and the community, they had no choice
but to take matters into their own hands. These young, men -
not all drug dealers and robbers - expressed the need to defend
themselves against the police. Translation: Take them out before
they take me out.
Now, young men are
not just trying to outrun the cops, they are shooting back.
Nationwide, estimates of the number
of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty show
an increase of 30 percent in 2007 compared with 2006. And the
numbers are growing.
Police can now claim to have material justification
for the hypersensitivity to danger in the hood. The “I felt
threatened” rationale is used in many situations. Police departments
and police associations have their strategy down. They often
get unconditional support from elected officials, i.e. increased
budgets, better fire-power, etc.
the Sean Bell case, Judge Arthur Cooperman referred to the actions
of the NY undercover cops as careless and incompetent, yet still
acquitted the trigger-happy trio. Newly appointed NY Governor
David Paterson claimed he was “surprised” about the verdict,
given the number of rounds fired, but stated the justice system
had worked. It reminded me of US Supreme Court Justice John
Paul Stevens saying the death penalty has outlived its usefulness
(if it ever had any) but still voting with the majority opinion
to uphold lethal injection. They continue to hold up a system
rife with flaws and one in which the average working class person,
regardless of color or nationality, has little confidence.
As our young people struggle to deal with life
in America, they have lost faith
in the adults’ ability to bring the system to some modicum of
accountability. It is a complex situation with many factors
as to why police occupy our communities, disrespect our property
and lives, ignore their own procedures and protocols but seem
always to come out smelling like a hero.
The criminalization of young, black men has also
taken a toll of on our communities who have a basic right to
safety and security. Communities have been victimized by black
youth and by cops. A clear response to the brutalization of
a youth is not always forthcoming. Just as police feel threatened
in our communities, so do the young men who ride and walk the
Louis, we experienced a backlash against black youth when a
15-year-old kid killed a rookie cop last year. Both were African-American.
Antonio Andrews was quickly certified as an adult and will face
murder charges. Norvelle Brown, who had been on the police force
for only a year, was 22 years old. He joined the department
to make a difference, asking to be assigned to his old neighborhood.
When Brown came upon Antonio in a dark alley, Antonio didn’t
know if he was a cop that was ready to blow him away or a cop
that would take time to ask questions. Armed for general protection,
he shot and killed Officer Brown.
The African-American community has put its arms
around the Brown family, even naming a street after Brown in
the neighborhood where he patrolled. As for Antonio, only a
few have come to his aid for fear of being seen as coddling
a cop killer. It is complicated.
Community organizers, elected officials, clergy
and other concerned citizens must take this bull by the horns.
It is time to ratchet up our efforts and adjust our strategy.
It is a fact that we cannot rely on local prosecutors to mete
out justice to law enforcers; they must rely on these same entities
to help them prosecute cases. The demand must be for independent
prosecutors. We must also make murder by a police officer a
truly punishable offense.
We must teach our youth how to live in a racist
and hostile environment, what their rights are when confronted
by police, and provide them with affordable, safe and supervised
social and recreational outlets. These facilities are almost
non-existent for black and brown teens. Hanging
out not only makes young people a target for profiling by police
but also targets of other teens. Homicide is the number one
cause of death for black youth and given the grim realities
in which they live, suicide is number three. Our communities
and the few support systems left must rise to the occasion.
The Bush administration has put us all in peril but our children
and youth are the most vulnerable.
It will be interesting to see where Congressman
John Conyers, chair of the judicial committee, takes the Sean
Bell miscarriage of justice. His involvement is admirable and
whatever he does, it will give national attention to a chronic
issue. But it is clearly a problem too big for one man; it must
be taken on with bodacious resolve by caring communities.
Board member Jamala Rogers is the leader of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis and the Black Radical Congress
National Organizer. Click
here to contact Ms. Rogers.