In September of 1955 Mamie Till allowed Jet magazine to print the badly decomposed photo of her son Emmett Till on the front cover. Till’s image on the Jet cover sparked outrage across the United States. Many Americans asked the same questions we are asking today when faced with a multitude of cases over the past 20 years of unarmed Black men and boys being killed by the police and vigilantes.
How can White America and the police take the life of an 11-year-old boy? Till was murdered by two well-known White male residents, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, in Money, Mississippi. Both were found not guilty of the kidnaping and murder of Till, a Chicago native.
While Till’s death took place 60 years ago, his murder represents the same racial profiling and violence taking place today that impacts Black men and boys at the hands of police and vigilantes.
The Staten Island District Attorney stunned a large segment of the country, Dec. 3, when he announced that a Grand Jury opted not to indict New York police officer Daniel Pantoleo for choking Eric Garner to death. Garner’s death was captured on film by a local bystander. Within hours of the murder, the video-recorded execution went viral on social media platforms. Millions of Americans watched Garner—a 43-year-old father of six—beg for his life on film. Garner uttered, “I can’t breathe.” He cried out eleven times while being choked to death by the very people we expect to protect and serve citizens.
Brown and Garner are now added to a long list of unarmed Black males who have fallen victim to police brutality. John Crawford of Ohio, Ezell Ford of Los Angeles, and Dante Parker of Victorville, Calif. are just a few of the Black men who have been killed by the police but have not received a great deal of media attention over the last several months.
With President Barack Obama hailing as the first African-American in the White House, with Eric Holder the first African-American Attorney General and more African- American elected officials than we have ever had, there is still a culture of aggressive policing that victimizes our sons, grandsons, husbands and neighbors in the African-American community.
These ongoing incidents across the country speak to larger societal issues related to race in America. It is like a never-ending bad nightmare that unarmed Black men and boys are still subjected to the unconscionable conduct of the police that results in death on video in 2014. The deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis illustrate a clear pattern of bias and a failure to recognize young Black males as human beings who contribute daily to society.
The issue for me is far greater and more complex than simply outfitting officers with body cameras or increasing training for officers. The issue of unarmed Black men being killed is morally wrong and cannot be addressed solely by legislative mandates.
As a Black father, I expect police officers and American society to recognize the “humanity” of my son and other Black men and boys. In interviews with Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, he referred to the 18-year-old Black male as a “demon” and a “monster.” Wilson’s characterization sheds light on the lens through which many White Americans view young Black males.
While most police officers are decent hard-working men and women, all too often young Black males are confronted by police officers who are already intimidated by Black males. Many times the fear that police have of Black males leads to unlawful arrests, brutality and even murder.
Much discussion will occur over the next few months and years regarding civilian review boards and body cameras. However, it is imperative to elevate the conversation to ensure that America realizes that “Black lives matter.” Each of these incidents should be a wake-up call for parents, community leaders, clergy and other organizations concerned about children.
Finally, the following are three actions steps for Black parents:
- Talk with children about encounters with the police
- Identify opportunities to watch the news and discuss incidents of police brutality and vigilante acts in real time.
- Assure your children that they are safe and give them an opportunity to communicate when they do not feel comfortable about what they hear on the news or witness in the community.
David Miller is a husband, father and author of several books including “Dare To Be King: What If the Prince Lives? A Survival Workbook for African American Males.” @uchangenow