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Stop silencing the messenger

By Irma McClaurin, Ph.D.
Culture and Education Editor

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This commentary is part three of a four part series on racism and the over-policing of African-Americans and other people of color.

Peacefully protesting the injustices by the police towards Black suspects (who have not been convicted of a crime) and seeking equal treatment under the law is the right of every American citizen.

Black Lives Matter cannot be held responsible for the actions of individuals who may use the cover of protests for their own agenda. And it is wrong for law enforcement and the media to create connections where none exist between peaceful protests and civil disobedience and the criminal act of violence against police. When any citizen (Black or white) takes justice into his or her own hands, it is vigilantism pure and simple and violates our rule of law. However, we also must hold police accountable when there is an obvious pattern of mistreatment (that may not be perceived as illegal) but certainly is clear indication of unconscious bias and an unequal enforcement of the law when applied to Black and Brown people.

America needs a healing. America needs a healing, to reclaim our humanity.

The “justice gap”

What is our current sociocultural context for the Black Lives Matter protests and for the unjustified violence directed at police? The conditions are staring us in the face every day, if we choose to see them.

We are familiar with the “achievement gap” concept, which describes the difference between the educational achievement of white students and Black and Brown students. This gap is attributed to unequal educational systems and resources, whereby whites have greater access to higher quality of teaching, educational resources and educational opportunities to learn beyond the classroom.

How is it created? White parents are better positioned to hire tutors, send their children to private schools and take advantage of science camps, computer camps, sports camps and the like because these programs are generally found in their communities or they have access to networks of people who can inform them of such resources. The same is not true for Black and Brown parents and students. The result is a gap in educational achievement and degree attainment.

Along similar lines, I want to introduce the concept of a “justice gap” between whites and Black and Brown, focusing on young men. The achievement gap is an illustration of how some people are privileged and others are not just disadvantaged, but actually brutalized in a systemic way.

In the eyes of America’s law enforcement, white youth are presumed to be innocent whereas Black/Brown youth are automatically presumed guilty. White youth who perpetrate violent crimes are more likely to have a “mental health” as a defense, whereas such defenses are virtually non-existent for Black and Brown youth. We see evidence of police coercing Black and Brown youth into confessing (even if the confession is false) so they close the case. We have numerous cases of false incarceration, with no repercussions for those who responsible.

White parents have access to legal knowledge and resources because of their networks or their wealth, whereas Black and Brown parents are reliant upon public defenders, some of whom hold innate biases that make them less likely to vigorously defend their Black and Brown clients. In sentencing, white judges tend to incarcerate Black and Brown youth for offenses for which white youth are given suspended sentences, house arrest or community services.

This reality is the context within which we must understand the assaults on police, without condoning such violence. Police stand as the most visible symbols of an unjust justice system that starts from the minute a crime is committed. In this system whites are treated as individuals and Black and Brown people are viewed with group suspicion and bias.

America needs a healing. America needs a healing, to reclaim our humanity.

Irma McClaurin is an award winning columnist, who 2015 received the Black Press of America’s Emory O. Jackson Column Writing Award from the NNPA. She is the Culture and Education Editor for Insight News, a consultant, an activist anthropologist, writer, motivational speaker and founder of the Irma McClaurin Black Feminist Archive at University of Massachusetts Amherst. More about the author can be found at www.irmamcclaurin.com.

August 30, 2016
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