Updated: Nov 6, 2018
Juina R. Carter, Esq:
Recently, there’s been some discussion, unfortunately often occurring within the African-American community, conflating urban crime with the shooting in Ferguson. These two phenomena are not identical, interchangeable, or comparable. There is a great difference between the shootings that occur in the urban community and the shooting in Ferguson, and other such shootings. Let’s define and contrast the two situations, shall we?
Crime is universal. Crime has been around since the beginning of time and has existed and continues to exist within all societies, races, and cultures. However, the Ferguson shooting was not a crime. Yes, I said it correctly. The officer involved may or not be prosecuted criminally, but what he did in all honesty cannot be defined as merely a crime. Michael Brown and all other African-American men that were executed by law enforcement were victims of institutionalized racism.
What is institutionalized racism, and how is it different from criminal activity? Institutionalized racism, as practiced here in the US, overwhelmingly targets one race of people, namely African-Americans. Institutionalized racism seeks to normalize the disproportionate criminal behavior inflicted unequally by government entities and persons of power and authority towards African-Americans over and above all other races. Institutionalized racism seeks to marginalize and oppress an entire minority group. The Ferguson incident is a prime example of institutionalized racism. Crime committed anywhere against anyone is an injustice, but institutionalized racism is much more than merely criminal activity; It is rampant and widespread government sponsored injustices targeted towards persons of color, usually African-Americans, based solely on who they are.
The disturbing conclusion that must be drawn from these discussions that compare police executions to urban crime is that somehow the criminal behavior that occurs in certain segments of the African-American population condemns all African-Americans, whether male or female, to being police targets. These discussions infer that if African-Americans would commit less crime, behave better, dress better, or act more respectfully, then they would not be targeted by the police and other authority figures for various abuses and shootings. These discussions surmise that somehow the blame for these police shootings lies within the African-American community due to their poor behavior. This line of thinking, frankly, is absurd. It is victim blaming, pure and simple. No one with any amount of decency would tolerate these types of discussions if the subject was rape, domestic violence or anti-Semitism. The list goes on and on, but somehow victim blaming when it comes to African-Americans is valid and tolerated, and is even promoted amongst certain African- American circles as being honest and “calling it like it is.”
Additionally, I refuse to acknowledge the term or phrase “Black on Black crime,” especially as it pertains to these discussions to almost justify the shooting of unarmed African-American men by law enforcement. “Black on Black crime” is an intellectually dishonest term perpetrated by the mass media. Statistically, nearly all crime is intra-racial, with very few instances of inter-racial crime—meaning that the majority of all crimes committed are within one’s race, e.g., White on White crime, Latino on Latino crime, Asian on Asian crime. However, none of these terms exist in our vernacular. Yet why does the term “Black on Black” crime exist?
Let’s be real - even if everyone within the African-American community began to behave perfectly, institutionalized racism would still exist. Was it our behavior that caused us to be kidnapped and taken into slavery? Was it our behavior that fueled lynching, the KKK, Jim Crow laws, and race rioting? So why is our behavior suddenly the cause of police brutality now? This line of reasoning that African-Americans have to be perfect in order to deserve justice and fair and impartial treatment is a product of institutionalized racism, which is a by-product of—dare I say it?—that pesky “s” word that exists in our history that everyone wants to bury, forget about it, and act like the ramifications and aftermath does not continue to affect our society to this very day. And yet, here we are, discussing executions of African-American men by law enforcement in 2016.
Slavery, from its roots to its aftermath, needs to be addressed truthfully and honestly in America if we are even to begin to solve the problem of police brutality and many other manifestations of institutionalized racism. This is not merely a criminal issue that will disappear with better police training, increased enforcement of laws and new legislation. Until we wake up and face our racial issues head on, unfortunately we will continue to see more tragic police shootings and more Michael Brown victims.