The death of Michael Brown was a turning point in America’s history of racial prejudice and violence.
This became apparent as police entered Ferguson, Missouri, flanked by tanks and armed with assault weapons and camouflage. The shooting of Brown on Aug. 9 ignited the already-present racial tension in Ferguson.
The obvious gaffes made by the local Ferguson police force made this shooting different than that of Florida’s Trayvon Martin, New York City’s Sean Bell and other young black men killed by law enforcement. This tragedy brought to light issues of discrimination on the part of law enforcement and a lack of communication between the police force and citizens. Many officers were filmed telling protesters in Ferguson to go home or face arrest. One officer specifically addressed protesters by saying “Bring it, all you fucking animals, bring it.” Such statements are more likely to agitate protesters than to calm them down.
Two journalists — Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post — were arrested on Aug. 13 for simply being in a McDonald’s. The reporters asked police for their badge numbers and names, which these officers refused to give.
This isn’t the first time police misbehaviour has sparked racial tensions and protests — nor will it be the last. One only needs to look at the stop-question-and-frisk program in New York City as evidence.
This program was established as a method of preventing gun crimes in dangerous neighbourhoods, by removing guns before they’re used. In 2013, police stopped New Yorkers 191,558 times. 56 per cent of these people were black, while 29 per cent were Latino and 11 per cent were white.
These numbers suggest that officers were told to target and persecute people of a specific race. Positive interactions between officers and the citizens they’re supposed to protect cannot occur when a specific group are assumed to be criminals. Police-community relationships should thrive on trust, faith and a need to protect society.
Michael Brown’s shooting has launched a discussion about these relationships around the world, including here in Kingston.
As someone who identifies as non-white, I fear encounters with police officers because of incidents of discrimination I hear about, as well as my experiences with law enforcement.
My family and I left Algeria when I was four, as we were tired of corrupt politicians and officials there. The one thing that remained with my family when we moved to Canada was their fear of the police. This wasn’t because they believed all policemen to be corrupt. The fear came because we aren’t white. A month ago, while driving around in my car in Bowmanville, Ontario, I passed by a police officer that made eye contact with me and decided to follow me for 10 minutes in order to determine what I was up to.
There’s nothing illegal about what he did. However, I felt as though from just one glance, this man had already labeled me as a “problem.”
These examples have happened to me outside of Kingston. In Kingston, I have felt at ease due to the Kingston Police Force’s (KPF) presence on social media. They make some effort to communicate with citizens.
In 2005, though, news broke that the KPF was 3.7 times as likely to stop someone who was black in comparison to a Caucasian. Updated figures regarding how the KPF currently operates haven’t been publicly released.
That said, I believe the effort they have made on social media is a step in the right direction towards better reaching out to communities.
The discussion around Michael Brown’s death should lead to more changes in the way police operate – changes that will allow people of any ethnic grouping to trust their local police officers, to never fear talking to an officer and to believe that they are here to help us and not to oppress us.
I sincerely hope that Ferguson becomes an example for future police stations and commanding officers to use in order to overcome racial tension and to promote discussion between the community and the police force.
Hamada Gazmetal is a third-year biochemistry major.
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