This is just awful. In 2006, three NYPD police officers fired 50 shots at three unarmed black men, killing one of them. Their trial just came to a close and they were acquitted. This verdict just blows me away. What kind of world do we live in where police officers (who can in fact be referred to as “peace officers” – see the wiki page for law enforcement officer) violently kill innocent people and go totally free? Sadly, it does not surprise me too much, neither the racism nor the trigger-happy policemen. Law enforcement is set up to encourage people in ways of thought that are far from peaceful and far from contributing to a peaceful society. First of all, the position of police officer is going to attract a certain type of person: one who desires power, who is perfectly willing to carry and use a gun, and who believes in punishment. Next, we give these people an incredible amount of power, and teach and encourage them to view the world through the lens of “good guy” and “bad guy”. It should not be too much of a surprise, then, that many police officers abuse their powers, and are quick to believe that someone is doing something wrong. They (and we as a culture) see themselves as the “good guys” out to take care of all those “bad guys”. This does NOT in any way justify the actions of the police officers in this incident or in any similar incidents. However, it is not an isolated or surprising incident because it is part of a systemic problem with the entire field of law enforcement and the way our culture views it.
The acquittal, however, does shock me a bit. Some of the language in the nytimes article makes the actions sound quite unjustifiable: “The shooting followed a confrontation between Mr. Bell and a stranger outside the Club Kalua, where Mr. Bell had attended his bachelor party. During the confrontation, Detective Isnora said, he heard the threat about getting the gun.” So, they overheard a threat about getting a gun, which if you ask me implies that the men did not yet have a gun, and this is considered justification for shooting 50 shots? According the judge who acquitted them, it is: “The officers responded to perceived criminal conduct”. So, shooting at unarmed men is an appropriate response to perceived criminal conduct? Not imminent bodily threat, but simply perceived criminal conduct? What an awful precedent this is setting.
It’s pretty clear that both the actions of the police officers and the acquittal are racist. There is a good post about this on the blog Racialicious, discussing how our culture teaches us to fear black men and view them as combatants. I don’t have too much to add, but I will say this: the systemic problem that I discussed above, about the way that we create a “good guys” versus “bad guys” mindset, is, I think, closely tied to racism. Not only does our culture teach that there are good guys and bad guys, it further teaches (in subtle and perhaps not-so-subtle ways) that the white people are the good guys and the non-white people are the bad guys. This acquittal is only going to serve to further this awful myth that black people are the bad guys.
To bring everything one step further, the entire problem, both the systemic problem with law enforcement and the racism, can be summed up as the “us versus them” mentality. This mentality is deeply embedded in our culture, and one which allows us to commit and justify violent acts. We need to move far, far away from thinking in terms of us versus them in order to create a culture of peace.