By Anthony Stanford
Published: August 17, 2014, Aurora Beacon News
As I write this column all the facts regarding the shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson are not yet known. So far, the only thing that has been confirmed is that the teenager was shot several times by an officer assigned to the Ferguson Police Department.
The state of affairs between demonstrators and police in the St. Louis suburb of 21,000, where 67% of the residents are African-American, and only 3 percent of its police department is black, is as shaky as the information provided by the Ferguson Police Department. Moreover, refusal by authorities to release the name of the officer involved in the incident has prompted rioting, looting, police clashing with protestors, and arrests.
But let’s keep it real and acknowledge that what happened in Ferguson is indicative of a much larger problem that has festered for decades between young black men and police across the country. In fact, it is the relationship or a lack thereof that is at the center of what is happening in Ferguson and other communities.
While conducting research for my book about police corruption, excessive force and biases aimed at minorities, the strained rapport between law-enforcement and blacks is an issue that emerged repeatedly, and in ways that I had not expected.
The turmoil in Ferguson, once again, brings to light the widespread negative perception of black men in contemporary society. The policies and procedures used by some law enforcement organizations seem to reflect the negative mindset present in society, as it relates to black men.
This is not just be shooting off my mouth. The evidence of systemic and racially biased policing procedures, like stop-and-frisk, consensual car searches and other racially biased strategies have been substantiated.
It is not necessary that you travel to New York City to verify their existence.
However, what is necessary is that our elected officials, and law enforcement hierarchies, give immediate attention to the problem.
Moreover, organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), National Urban League (NUL), and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), and others that have passionately advocated for eradicating racial disparity in policing strategies, should have a place a the table.
To be fair, while conducting research, I also discovered that negative and discriminatory action by the police is not solely initiated by white police officers, or confined to urban communities. There are many incidents of black police officers that are alleged to have engaged in acts of brutality and excessive force. However, cases where white officers are involved garner an incredible amount of media attention.
It is also true that by refusing to provide information related to criminal activity, some blacks, help to protect those that do great harm to the stability of their communities. In doing so they impede, changing for the better, the relationship with dedicated police officers that are committed to their sworn oath.
Make no mistake there is skepticism and outright mistrust of the entire criminal justice system by some minorities. Black men are especially, and with good reason, wary of law enforcement personnel. However, don’t believe for a moment that the cynicism and unrest started with the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri and Eric Garner in New York. In fact, the downward spiral predates the wrongful conviction of New York’s Central Park Five, more than twenty-five years ago.
A sad reality is that when the story broke about Brown’s killing, I advised my publisher that a revision of the manuscript would be necessary. Frankly, given the circumstances, there is no doubt that more revisions are in the cards.
Anthony Stanford is the recipient of the 2014 Outstanding Aurora African American Heritage Advisory Board Award. His latest book, revaluing the Federal Workforce: Defending America’s Civil Servants is now available.