Reports of Charleston’s killer brought a huge sigh of relief to many who awaited his capture. Dylann Storm Roof was arrested on Thursday morning about 14 hours after he murdered nine victims. The 21-year-old was taken into custody without incident, according to law enforcement. In lieu of the many homicides which occurred during African-American arrests, it is quite puzzling how a murderer could be arrested in a civil manner; just as any citizen should be.
Police confirmed Roof was armed at the time of arrest, but suffered no injuries. Contrariwise, a number of black men who were unarmed have lost their lives during what should have been a civil arrest. Several high-profile cases of unarmed black men dying at the hands of law enforcement have sparked civil unrest and multiple protests around the country. Although the number far exceeds the more familiar deaths of Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Eric Garner and Michael Brown, these are enough to confirm a problem exists with black men and excessive violence.
A researcher and activist named Sam Sinyangwe started the Mapping Police violence project with hopes of providing answers to the death of unarmed teen Michael Brown. He said data could be found on all types of violent crimes, but when it came to people being killed at the hands of law enforcement, there was no data. After completing his research, Sinyangwe said:
In the aftermath of Ferguson, where the unarmed teenager Michael Brown was killed, there was this big question ‘Is this a pattern, is this an isolated incident?’ What my data shows is that Ferguson is everywhere. All over the country we seeing black people being killed by police. The youngest recorded was 12, the oldest 65 and more than 100 were unarmed.
In order to have the conversation on a national level, people are going to have to acknowledge the unpleasant truths about the stereotypes which are ingrained in their brains in relation to Black America. Darren Wilson, former police officer who shot Brown, said he had no other choice but to shoot the unarmed teen because his face looked like a demon.
Although Brown was unarmed, Wilson felt his life was threatened to the point of murder? Wilson’s language was so descriptive that he evoked stereotypes which persuaded the jury to decide that lethal force was a reasonable response to the black man who resembled a demon. These are the same stereotypes which were once employed to justify slavery. Why? It is easier to brutalize a man if you deny his humanity.
Meanwhile, Roof whose actions were already branded as a hate crime, was taken into custody peacefully. After displaying the behavior of someone deranged; one who could go into a church and commit such violent acts, Roof was not viewed as a threat to law enforcement. A black man without a gun poses a threat, but a white murderer with a gun in his possession does not?
Perhaps, this is why police in Ferguson would allow Brown’s lifeless body to lie in the streets surrounded by his own blood for hours. This – without question – speaks to the callousness of New York’s law enforcement who would discount Garner’s pleas for help as he suffocated on the ground. Yes, the chokehold may have been the underlining cause of death, but the unconscious callousness that allowed officers to ignore his audible claim of not being able to breathe while viewing him as a problem and not a person played a major role in his death.
The officers wanted to arrest Garner for selling loose cigarettes, a misdemeanor; while Roof was arrested for a series of unprovoked felonies. The coroner in Garner’s case chose to rely on science as opposed to stereotypes and ruled his death a homicide. Yet, a grand jury refused to render an indictment. Garner never made it to jail, but Roof was transported safely, without incident.
It is a sad day when a person is nearly born with a death sentence because of their pigmentation while a white man can shoot up a church and not be viewed as a threat. In order to rectify the misconstrued justice system, law enforcement will need more transparency, better training, greater accountability and a new-found respect for and relationship-building within the community. The justice system must be overhauled so the value of life is no longer reduced to the color of one’s skin.
Opinion by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
BBC: Why do US police keep killing unarmed black men?
Guardian Liberty Voice: Charleston Massacre: Where Is It Safe to Be Black in America?
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