When the saga of Michael Brown and the Ferguson, Missouri, police department began, it was obvious that racism was at the core of the problem. Michael Brown’s death served to point the finger at law enforcement and how they treat black Americans differently than whites, not only in Ferguson, but across the United States.
I grew up in Los Angeles in the 1950’s and 1960’s. After two unpleasant years in Catholic high school, I was allowed to go to public school for my junior and senior years. I was shy, but because I was a basketball player I made lots of friends. Venice High School was as diverse as any school in L.A. at the time. I had just as many black friends as white. I realized that although we had been raised in different cultures, we were basically the same.
In 1964 I enlisted into the United States Air Force. After basic I attended tech school in Mississippi. My roommate was a young man from Compton, California. We became friends. He told me stories about a different city. Police treated him and his friends differently than I was treated. They were stopped when driving for no reason, simply because they were young black men driving through a predominately white area. He said he was constantly harassed by police even when walking in his own neighborhood. I was in shock. What he told me was nearly unbelievable.
An investigation by the Department of Justice exposed unfair and unjustified treatment of black men and women in Ferguson. The abuse was not limited to officers on patrol; the DOJ found that commanders and court officials were implicated as well.
Today interdepartmental e-mails were released.
- One said that President Obama would not be President for long because no black man holds a job for four years.
- Another used stereotypes of speech to mock black men and women.
- Yet another mocked President Obama characterizing him as a chimpanzee.
- In 2011 a racist joke was passed around about a black woman in New Orleans who went to the hospital to terminate a pregnancy. She later received a check for $5,000. She asked the hospital what it was for and it replied ‘Crimestoppers.’
- Another told of a man who wanted to receive welfare payments for his dog because he was of mixed color, lazy, stupid, couldn’t speak English, and had no idea who his daddy was.
- A picture of bare chested women apparently from National Geographic was posted with the caption; “Michelle Obama’s high school reunion.”
- Lastly in December of 2011 an e-mail was passed around depicting derogatory stereotypes of Muslims.
Investigation of these e-mails revealed that they were sent by those in authority during working hours.
Ferguson is not unique, and this is not a recent issue. For decades blacks and other minorities have been regarded differently than whites; Ferguson has simply become an exposed ‘poster boy’ for a universal situation.
Just today the University of Alabama Police Department was informed that an investigation of reported racial bias was beginning. Letters from complainants added that the campus police used illegally obtained personal information for its own personal benefit.
Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others may be recent examples of extreme actions by law enforcement based on race, but they are not unusual. Statistics which are available are damning, but accurate files are seldom kept. The number of abuses by law enforcement agencies are surely much larger than those recorded.
By James Turnage