How do you solve a problem like institutionalized racism?
by Monica Cruz
Last Monday, President Obama proposed spending $75 million federal dollars to provide body cameras for about 50,000 police officers across the country, a whopping 2% of our total police force. The Congressional Black Caucus, the American Civil Liberties Union and George Zimmerman’s lawyer Mark O’Mara all publicly expressed their support for the proposal. I doubt I’m alone in automatically distrusting anything that George fucking Zimmerman’s lawyer agrees with.
The absurd ineffectiveness of this proposition was confirmed two days later when a jury declined to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the Staten Island police officer who was caught on film killing Eric Garner. In the disturbing video, Pantaleo is shown using an illegal chokehold to overpower the asthmatic Garner, a black convenience storeowner accused of the trivial crime of unlawfully selling cigarettes. Struggling for air, Garner is heard gasping, “I can’t breathe!” a total of eleven times before he goes quiet and stops moving, then the officers proceed to handcuff him. Despite recorded evidence literally showing Pantaleo killing Garner (using a chokehold that was banned in New York decades ago), Garner’s family was declined justice for his murder. If cops are given body cameras, how can justice be served when recorded evidence of a crime is not seen as enough to prove the murder of a black man? Obama’s proposal is a step in the right direction, but will likely do nothing at all in combating police brutality.
The problem of violence against people of color by police runs much deeper than simply giving out a few cameras.Garner’s unjust death is only one of several publicized murders of black people at the hands of cops. The national outcry for justice for victims of racially charged police brutality began back in August, when 18-year-old Mike Brown was gunned down by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was accused of stealing a pack of cigars prompting Wilson to attempt to detain him. Contrary to many false reports, the owner of the store he was accused of stealing from stated multiple times that Brown had not stolen anything from him. In his conflicting testimony, Wilson claimed that Brown punched him multiple times in the face and attempted to take his gun, yet there is absolutely no shred of evidence to prove this. Finally, Brown was shot at close range in his chest, shoulders, and hands, proving that he was kneeling and had his hands up in surrender when he was killed. The media largely brushed over the indisputable evidence proving Wilson’s guilt, and focused more on the traces of marijuana found in Brown’s system and the (disproven) accusation that he stole from the convenience store. This attempt to thugify the unquestionably innocent Brown follows our culture’s trend of blaming black victims of police brutality for their own deaths.
Last month, 12 year-old Tamir Rice was shot eight times by a cop in Cleveland after being seen holding a fake gun. The media first made an effort to criminalize the young boy by reporting that he came from a “bad” neighborhood and his father had a history of violent behavior. It took almost a week for incriminating information about his killer, Officer Timothy Loehmann, to be reported. This blatantly racist depiction of Rice is simply the media’s way of convincing us that his life wasn’t really worth it anyway. His crime-riddled neighborhood and violent father were deceitfully used as “proof” that he would have ended up deserving death, a disgusting trope used to criminalize black people even as young as Rice.
Our government must realize that police body cameras are hardly a band-aid for the gaping wound of racism that has existed in our society for pretty much all of history. Eric Garner’s recorded murder, and the unjust killing of hundreds of innocent black people by those who claim to “serve and protect” prove that this problem needs a solution much bigger than simply giving cops cameras. In order for real change to occur, we must eradicate institutionalized racism of every form and end our culture’s dehumanizing portrayals of people of color. Of course, this is a tremendous task and I am in no way qualified to make up a single, concise solution. The best thing we can do is to stay aware of injustice and stand up for marginalized communities in our day-to-day lives in any way possible. Attending a protest, sharing information on social media, and speaking up when others say problematic things are small ways we can help eliminate racism and every other form of injustice poisoning our society. Racism is a much bigger than we can even understand sometimes because it is so engrained in our way of thinking. But with knowledge and action, we can help end injustice one day at a time.