Ferguson is Everytown, U.S.A.

That’s the name of a blog written by Nusrat Choudhury, a staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. This column borrows from that blog. It really hits home.

The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, brings home the fact that we have a very big problem in this country -- and it’s not just the nationwide occurrences of abuse of force by police, or the insane and unjustifiable militarization of police – both of which are very serious problems we need to address. (If you point an Uzi at people used to living in a police state, they will probably be intimidated into submission. Point an Uzi at Americans exercising their First Amendment rights, you’ll get anger and pushback, maybe even a riot—and intimidation.)

For me, the number one question is, when and whether white America is ever going to wake up and realize that race largely determines what a person’s life is like in this country. That whether you are a person of color affects what happens when you walk into a mostly white restaurant (you get looks), retail store (you get followed), a company job or college interview (assumptions are made about your education, intelligence, and how you got as far as you did), or vacation resort town (you stand out and do not feel welcome). Everything you do and everywhere you go, you are not just a person, you are a person of color. Especially if you are a young black man walking down the street.

Race affects everything. Your access to housing, employment, education, healthcare, leisure, justice—you name it. But nowhere is the difference more serious, more potentially lethal, than encounters with law enforcement.

Including Michael Brown, at least six black men were shot and killed by police since April in circumstances that suggest the unjustified use of excessive force and possible racial profiling. Here are four of their stories.

New York City — Eric Garner, a black man suspected of illegally selling individual cigarettes was unarmed and asking the police, who wanted to arrest him to stop harassing him. His request apparently provoked them, because as the incredibly disturbing video shows, several police officers attacked him, ultimately sitting on top of him and placing him in an illegal chokehold. You can watch as he suffocates to death, while repeatedly and audibly telling officers, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”

Victorville, California — Pressman Dante Parker was killed after being repeatedly shocked with a stun gun by police attempting to arrest him as a suspect in a nearby robbery. Apparently, police suspected him because he was riding a bicycle, and the robbery suspect was reported to have fled on a bike.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin — A white police officer shot and killed Dontre Hamilton, a 31-year-old black man, who had been sleeping on a concrete sidewalk. The officer claims he was defending himself, but an eyewitness has another story. After hearing yelling, she saw a white officer stand up against Hamilton, "who was holding the officer's own baton in a defense posture." The officer "lunged" at Hamilton in an attempt to get the baton, but failed. The officer then stood 10 feet away from Hamilton, pulled out a gun, and shot Hamilton 10 times in quick succession without issuing any verbal warnings.

Ferguson, Missouri — Michael Brown was shot by an officer six times, including twice in the head, after being stopped for walking down the middle of a street.

As my colleague at the national office says,

“These stories make one thing painfully clear: The killing of black men in incidents that begin as investigatory police stops are anything but unusual in America. In this sense, Ferguson is Everytown, U.S.A.

Both explicit and implicit biases lead far too often to the killing of black men in police-civilian encounters. And they undergird the daily indignity and humiliation experienced by blacks who are stopped, questioned, and searched by police when they have done nothing wrong.

Police are sworn to serve and protect everyone equally, not disproportionately stop and harass only certain communities. Rather than express surprise and shock during a summer where six black men have been killed by police in highly questionable circumstances, it is up to us to do something.

The single most important first step is to provide accountability—including through the Attorney General's issuance of a comprehensive ban on racial profiling. Accountability will advance justice for past harms and pave the way forward for a future in which we are closer to the promise of equal justice for all.”


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