Is There a New Form of Lynching in America?
Once again a police officer has been acquitted of all criminal charges in the shooting death of an innocent and unarmed black American citizen. This shooting occurred only blocks from where I lived for fifteen years; I can picture in my mind’s eye the scene, the city block, where it happened. (It is an almost all-white neighborhood where black people are rarely seen.) I drove through it hundreds of times. By all accounts the black man was at the moment unarmed; there is no reason to suspect he was intending to do any violence to anyone. The officer’s defense was that he was “afraid.” He has been suspended or fired from the force, but the jury acquitted him of all criminal charges. Technically, legally, he is not guilty.
To forestall typical responses I will repeat the issue of grave concern for all Americans is not just that black boys and men are being killed while unarmed and not threatening anyone; it is that the killers are either not being charged or they are being acquitted. In this particular case one has to ask: In what other situation would an armed citizen, police or not, be acquitted of killing an unarmed citizen who posed no threat to anyone and was not committing any crime—even if for some reason he, the killer, was afraid for his life?
I remember watching a crime documentary show in which an adult male camper in the woods was convicted and sent to prison for shooting a man who was charging at him with seemingly clear intent of doing violence. The jury decided that the shooter had enough time to get away from the would-be attacker but stood his ground and shot the man. In other words, in other cases, juries have decided, and I suspect would most often decide, that fear for one’s life is not by itself sufficient defense to avoid conviction for criminal conduct.
So why are juries (grand juries or otherwise) so often now deciding that police officers are not guilty of any criminal conduct when they shoot and even kill unarmed black boys and men? I can only suspect that it is because they, too, are afraid of black boys and men. They must be identifying with the police officers and deciding that they, too, would shoot to kill in the same circumstances.
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How can this unfortunate series of events not lead fearful and/or racist police officers to believe that it is “open season” in America on black boys and men? (Yes, I know some black women have also suffered and even died at the hands of police, mostly “in custody,” and that is also a terrible tragedy and travesty. But it is obvious that in the vast majority of police killings by shooting of unarmed black people the victims are males. I also know that many white people have been unjustly killed by police, but the percentage is by far greater for blacks.)
I repeat: How can this unfortunate series of events not lead….
I believe the behavior of many juries in these cases is prima facie evidence of latent racism. To be sure, many of the people on the juries would rightly claim not to hate black people. The issue of underlying racism is not always hate; it is often fear just because the person is different or belongs to a class that has been stereotyped as dangerous in some way.There is a principle that should be adhered to in order to avoid anarchy and/or a police state condition: Unarmed people should never be shot or killed unless they are in the act of using their hands as weapons to do violence and cannot be stopped any other way. This principle should be self-evidently true. The only exceptions are in times of war when “collateral damage” cannot be avoided and in situations where a person is in immediate, grave danger of great bodily harm and cannot escape. (I know that some will want to add capital punishment to the list and I acknowledge that, in some places, that is an exception to the principle. I, personally, do not believe in it because it is never necessary.)
So why have very few non-black observers and commentators about police killings of unarmed black boys and men in which the police have been acquitted dared to call this a new form of lynching? I think there can be only one reason: Many Americans are so obsessed with “law and order” and are so afraid of black boys and men that they do not think they deserve full and equal rights under the law—even when they are entirely innocent. How was that not the underlying cause of most lynchings of black boys and men? And of the fact that numerous white people stood by and watched and said nothing against the horrific acts of violence—often perpetrated against innocent human beings?
Given juries’ (and some prosecutors’) tendency to side with and acquit police officers in such cases (viz., of shootings of unarmed black people who pose no immediate danger to anyone), the only remedy for this social evil is for the federal government to bring charges against the police officers involved for violating the victims’ civil rights. So far, that has only happened in a few cases and, again, juries have most often acquitted the police even of that.
I believe we, in America, are once again living in a racist social atmosphere in which no innocent black boys or men are safe and in which police have reason to believe they are safe to kill unarmed black boys and men. It is time for outrage and outcry (not violence) from those who are “on the fence” and have “mixed feelings” and are not yet ready to name this evil for what it really seems to be: a new form of lynching.
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