Killings by police a horrific pattern in black community
The following piece is from the Boston Globe. It was written by Akilah Johnson and Peter Schworm.
By: Akilah Johnson and Peter Schworm
It feels like a one-two punch for many in Boston’s black community.
First, a grand jury in Missouri declined to indict a police officer for shooting to death an unarmed black teen. Nine days later, a grand jury in New York declined to indict a police officer for choking an unarmed black man to death.
There had been optimism that this time things would be different despite a history to the contrary. Rodney King. Danroy “DJ” Henry. Trayvon Martin. All were African-American males whose assailants — white men in positions of authority — were not convicted, and in some cases not charged. And now: Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Those who have watched such violent episodes over and over again say their hopefulness has given way to fatigue — and fury.
And yet hope persists because, civil rights leaders, ministers, politicians, police officers, and youth leaders say, defeatism is not an option.
“What’s really at stake is the soul of the nation,” the Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou of First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain said as he traveled from Ferguson, Mo., to Boston for Thursday night’s protest on the Common.
From the White House to City Hall, the country finds itself trying to heal the festering mistrust between the black community and the criminal justice system, exposed recently by Brown’s death on Aug. 9 and the nationwide protests — some of them violent — that have erupted since. Demonstrators have shut down highways and closed malls while rallying around the statement “Black Lives Matter,” which has dominated social media.
Those in Boston’s civil rights community are trying to revamp the “Ten Demandments,” a local call to action sounded 22 years ago after four Los Angeles police officers were found not guilty of the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King.
“We are pitting the community against law enforcement with these types of grand jury decisions that are coming down,” said Darnell Williams, president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts. “People are losing faith. These are all cumulative cases that are in our spirit and our head.”
The justice system, he said, must be overhauled. Specifically, he argued, special prosecutors must be used to investigate police use-of-force cases; body cameras must be worn by police officers; surveillance cameras similar to the “Shot-Spotter” gunshot detection system should be installed in high-crime areas.
“The system is not working for us, so it is our duty to destroy it,” Williams said. “This whole Commonwealth was founded and predicated on protest politics. This country has been predicated on us voicing our opinion on those things we need to change.”
Right now, some young people in Charlestown and Dorchester say what needs to change is the sense that police officers are above the law.
The decision to not to charge New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo in Garner’s death sends the message that police can abuse their power, said 18-year-old Nueseline Goncalves, a student at Charlestown High.
“It made me feel like there’s no hope,” she said.
One of her classmates, Keisha Fertil, said police are seen as heroes while young black men are reflexively seen as suspect, something Jeff Ramos said he knows all too well.
The 19-year-old said he often feels the gaze of officers when he walks home at night after basketball practice, even though he pulls his pants up and tries to look as nonthreatening as possible.
“When I see police, I get on my toes,” he said. “I try to look away.”
Ramos said he worries that he might be confused for a suspect and find himself in a dangerous situation. He said he knows that most officers are fair, but that it’s hard not to see them all in the same light.
“Instead of authority figures, I see them as bullies,” he said. “And it shouldn’t be that way.”
Akim Callendar, 23, works security and has no criminal record. But in the eyes of the police, he’s always a suspect, he says. “We’re a menace to society,” he said. “That’s how they see us.”
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