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The Perils Of Being A Young Black Man In America
Sadly, An Unarmed Black Man Being Killed In America Is Not Unusual
The recent shooting death of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson, a Ferguson, Mo., police officer, is only the latest example of how deadly can be in America for African-American men.
Too often, African-American men are looked at with suspicion. Too often, they are profiled needlessly. As a result, far too often they are the victims of violent deaths by law enforcement authorities.
Consider the events that led to the death of Brown, who was shot several times by Wilson in broad daylight. Multiple witnesses have said that even after Brown held his hands up, Wilson gunned him down in the middle of the street. Brown was unarmed.
There is no doubt in my mind that if Brown was white, that would not have happened.
Now, consider the Trayvon Martin case, which made national news. Young Mr. Martin was literally stalked and killed by Andrew Zimmerman, a member of the neighborhood watch in his Sanford, Fla., community, while simply walking home from the store. Martin was unarmed.
There is no doubt in my mind that if Martin was white, that would not have happened.
Recently, in New York City, 43-year-old Eric Garner, who was choked to death by a New York police officer, who confronted him for selling loose cigarettes. Garner was unarmed.
There is no doubt in my mind that if Garner was white, that would not have happened. And nor should it happen, to any person, white, black, yellow, or brown.
But when these types of events do happen, they almost always happen to a black man. And, the incredible thing here is those three examples can be expounded on to the point where this entire space is dedicated to violent deaths of unarmed black men.
I could be wrong, but I do not know of one case in which a white person has died under such circumstances. It's not that whites aren't confronted by the law, it's not like they don't break the law. The difference is when they are confronted by the police, things rarely escalate to violence.
For example, look at how law enforcement officials interacted a few weeks ago in Nevada when rancher Cliven Bundy, in clear violation of federal laws, stood with armed supporters. During that standoff with federal authorities supporters of Bundy patroled the land carrying weapons, holding road blocks, and even had snipers on hand.
How did law enforcement officials handle that situation? They did nothing. They backed down.
Now, compare that to what you have watched in Ferguson this week, where tanks rolled down the streets, and tear gas was used, while law enforcement officers in military fatigues trained their guns on innocent citizens.
There is no doubt in my mind if African-Americans had been spotted carrying weapons in Ferguson as they were in the Bundy ranch, they would've been gunned down.
One of the main problems is African-American men, in particular, face a perception problem. "We as the African-American community...our young kids get stereotyped a lot," said Tracy Martin, the father of Trayvon Martin, while appearing on MSNBC's Weekend With Alex Witt on Sunday. "We have to break the stigma, we come together as human beings and say African-Americans lives matter as much as any other ethnicity group."
Mr. Martin is correct. But it will be difficult to change the perception as long as African-Americans are continued to be portrayed as thugs and hoodlums. In each of the three cases cited, there was an attempt to sully the reputation of Brown, Martin and Garner.
While unflattering clips of Brown have been shown, authorities have piece-mealed information on Wilson. It took days of public pressure to even get his name. And we still don't know how many shots he fired, or any official details of what led him to shoot Brown.
And, let's be clear. There is no denial that a segment of the African-American community, like the few that have been looting in Ferguson, choose a life of crime and violence.
However, there is a yet another sector of African-American men that are strong and bold. There are fathers who are leaders in their families and communities. There are men who defend their country, teach today's youth, and go to work every day making contributions to their respective communities.
And, let's remember, there is an entire generation of young African-American men seeking higher education. You can find them at Hampton, Howard, Tennessee State, Morehouse and all the other Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and other colleges, universities, and community colleges in the country.
They seek the American dream just like everyone else. But unlike most other ethnic groups, they do so with a bullseye on their back.