Tuesday, December 05, 2006
They Shootin' 3: Expendable Black People Zones
As the fallout over the Sean Bell continues the usual jockeying over who's more "innocent" is ratcheting up in the New York media. The police officers claim that they were "justified" in shooting, which is another way of saying that they are innocent of the accusations being leveled against them. On the other side, the survivors Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield have the lack of a gun and their bullet-riddled car as proof of their own innocence. The police attorneys remained adamant that there was a fourth shooter, who miraculously has yet to appear. Along with taking needed attention from the two men lying in their hospital beds, this defiant search for the fourth shooter, presumably the lone guilty party in this case, this quest takes away from the most glaring issue: If the undercover officers were in the club investigating accusations of drug dealing and prostitution, why did they follow the non-drug carrying or prostitute bearing trio of Bell, Benefield and Guzman out of the club?
Wouldn't wielding all of their might on these three jeopardize their entire investigation?
Just a thought.
Remaining on this question of guilt and innocence for a few more moments, NYTimes Columnist Bob Herbert produced this opinion piece on the December 4th narrating another incident in which a group of young people were intimidated by undercover officers. Except this time there was no shooting and the multi-racial group of Ivy-League graduates, one bound for Harvard Law. Herbert's piece is entitled "Presumed Guilty" as in the two black men were presumed guilty of stealing the car in which they were sitting. However, as it turns out this article might have been well served being titled 'very lucky':
It turned out that the cops were acting on a mistaken computer report that Mr.
Rowley’s car was stolen. As frightening as the incident was, the four people in the car were
lucky that none of the cops opened fire. “I spent that night in jail,” said Mr. Rowley, “and
a lot of the officers told me that if this had been elsewhere — for example, if this had been
in the Bronx or Harlem — I’d have been dead.”
The quote comes from one of the victims pounced upon by the officers in front of the Union Square train station at 14th street in NY's Village.
I was alarmed (definitely not surprised) to hear the declaration "if this has been in the Bronx or Harlem — I’d have been dead.”
Are we all ready to agree that Black people living in certain sections of New York city are expendable? We know about the health concerns of living in communities without adequate grocery stores, and chemical plants that increases one's chances of asthma and lead poisoning. Should we just go ahead and list certain districts as EBPZs (Expendable Black People Zones)? Maybe come up with traffice signs, better yet, tolls to iterate that you are entering a EBPZ at your own risk.
For most of the twentieth century African Americans knew that we had to alter our behavior if we traveled through the South, the original EBPZ. The murder of Emmett Till brought these horrors to the fore of the nation's consciousness and those working in the Civil Rights Movemements of the 50s, 60s, and 70s did their best to eradicate as many of these EBPZs as possible. It appears now that we are now at the tipping point, either there's going to be a new proliferation of EBPZ as African Americans are gentrified out of the prime spaces in major cities and segregated into new/old ghettos--or and I hope this happens, that some serious changes occur and we never hear these words again "if this has been in the Bronx or Harlem — I’d have been dead.”
This would have to be a national programme, because as the case of Brandon Burks, the 16year old Michigan teen shot and killed on Sunday November 26th, this phenomena extends well beyond New York. Burks's case also involved a plainclothes police officer, this time one moonlighting as a security guard.
One might say that it's a tragic coincidence that Bell and Burk's deaths took place on the same weekend, but the facility with which African Americans have been able to avail testimonies of similar incidents suggests that these deaths go far beyond coincidence.
Police officers as a whole should not be unjustly indicted for the actions of a few.
Instead, what we need is a very frank national discussion about policing before the American nightmare of totalitarian regimes really take shape. The fact that so many African Americans in particular, and young people in general can easily rattle off incidents of harassment at the hands of police officers suggests that too many Americans are forced to vascillate between fearing officers and having to rely on them, neither of which is conducive to effective police work.