We can all agree that there are certain things that we’ll never see in this lifetime. But there are things that happen, events over time that defy our beliefs, thing that give us hope, happenings that those before us believed would never come to pass.
I thought I might live to see the election of an African-American president — I can assure you my mother, now 80, did not — so in 2008 I was more than mildly surprised. That said, I’m not now, nor have I ever been, under the impression that Barack Obama’s presidency ushered in an era of American colorblindness, a ruse too often offered up as if it were not the fiction that it is.
While voting remains unchallenged, the single-most valuable authenticator of a democracy — if 75,000 more African Americans in Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia acted on this last November, which professional athlete is or is not going to the White House would never be discussed — election results do not take the accurate temperature of American race relations.
The last few months have hammered home my belief that racism is an intractable problem in American policing that we are stuck with, and the court system, while willing to be hyper-punitive in the prosecution of Black offenders, is nothing more than a modern day Underground Railroad to freedom for white cops accused of taking a Black life.
This apartheid system will never be dismantled.
In two separate encounters with police that turned violent and resulted in the fatal shooting of Black motorists by a police officer — each one captured in high-definition video — the cases ended last week without convictions in Cincinnati (Samuel DuBose) and St. Paul, Minn., (Philando Castile).
The retrial of the horrific 2015 shooting of DuBose, stopped by former University of Cincinnati police officer Raymond M. Tensing, ended in a mistrial. You’ve seen the horrific shooting and there is no need to rehash it. Worse, history tells us we’ll be discussing another incident featuring the exact same demographic with regard to the person being shot and killed very soon. What you maybe less familiar with is the long history of racial exclusion in hiring police officers that almost guarantees that tragic interactions like these continue to occur.
In 2015, University of Cincinnati saw nothing wrong with having just four African Americans among its 73 police officers. Where was it taking its instruction from? Why, the city, or course. Cincinnati looks nothing like the multi-ethnic cities of the East Coast. It is split down the middle with 48 percent of its citizens white, 45 percent of them Black, and 3 percent listed as other. However, the 1,012-member police force identified 676 (67 percent) as white, 308 (30 percent) as African American and 28 (3 percent) as other.
If damn near half the city is Black, neither the city nor the university can attribute these absurdly high discrepancies to simple oversight. It is unquestionably the systematic refusal to hire African Americans, which would benefit the city on two fronts.
One, it opens up a middle class existence for hundreds of others wondering what happened to the American Dream. Two, it adds faces to both forces that African Americans, distrustful of police from coast to coast, will see as less adversarial, particularly when they have committed a crime as heinous as driving without a front license plate, which DuBose was guilty of.
These discriminatory hiring practices, of course, aren’t just a problem in Cincinnati as much as they are part of the American status quo. As of 2015, in at least 50 cities with more than 100,000 people, the percentage of police was less than half of what African Americans represent in the cities’ population.
It is not, however, the overwhelming preponderance of research that indicates the obvious existence of discriminatory hiring practices that demonstrate the intractability of the problem. Truth be told, the only fields in which you don’t have these imbalances are the ones that white people don’t want, such as sanitation workers in large cities or strawberry pickers in California. You know, the jobs conservatives claim are being taken by people crossing the Rio Grande illegally.
No matter how good the attorney, what can’t be put on trial is the color of one’s soul. This is the case in the April shooting of 15-year-old African American Jordan Edwards. Edwards, a promising student by all accounts, took a bullet to the head from an AR-15 rifle fired with murderous intent by white Balch Springs, Texas police officer Roy Oliver.
The police department initially said that the car was “driving aggressively toward the officer.” Unfortunately for him, the life was sucked from this lie when video of the incident proved Jordan’s car was leaving the party that Oliver had come to break up.
Who is Oliver? He’s former cop now charged with murder. He’s also a liar, proved so by the fable concocted regarding the direction the car Jordan was traveling in was headed when he was shot. Most likely, this account was corroborated by panicking colleagues on the scene. How else would it have gotten out before the department was forced to retract it?
Last week, Oliver was indicted on an unrelated charge for an incident that happened two weeks before the Edwards shooting. Off-duty at the time, Oliver is accused of pointing a gun in the face of a woman alleged to haven bumped the back of his truck. There was a 13-year-old girl in the car.
Balch Springs is 20 percent white. Its police force is 80 percent white.
End, end, end.
John N. Mitchell has worked as a journalist for more than a quarter century. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweet at @freejohnmitchel.