By Kevin Lair
Senior Elm Writer
It seems as though we cannot go a day without hearing of yet another shooting or prosecution trial surrounded by accusations of racism and discrimination. It seems as if our nation is on a constant turbulent path towards a revolution pitting whites against blacks. This is certainly nothing new given our nation’s tumultuous history of racial segregation, discrimination, and violence, but why are race relations in America this bad in 2015?
One point that must be made when discussing race relations is the inevitable fall to the “lowest common denominator.” Far too often we see elected officials, activists, and news propagandists define these issues and altercations on the basis of color, a “white cop killing a black kid” or vice versa. Why must we define the situation on the basis of color rather than on the actual circumstance and people involved?
Reducing the situation to a colored label immediately assumes that the altercation was race-related and instigated solely on the account of some racial intolerance or injustice. So quickly we eliminate the possibility that the altercation had absolutely nothing to do with race. The sooner we can stop basing these altercations on color or defining them as race-versus-race situations, the sooner the public will stop drawing colored lines in the sand and be able to have an intelligent conversation.
A supplemental point is that we as a society are so quick to ignore or cherry-pick the evidence that supports our predetermined narrative. For example, a recent Department of Justice report concluded that the symbolic “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative was inconsistent with the evidence of the August 2014 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO. In November, a grand jury chose not to indict Wilson after concluding that he acted out of self-defense.
The DOJ’s March 4 report concludes, “Investigators tracked down several individuals who, via the aforementioned media, claimed to have witnessed Wilson shooting Brown as Brown held his hands up in clear surrender. All of these purported witnesses, upon being interviewed by law enforcement, acknowledged that they did not actually witness the shooting, but rather repeated what others told them in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.”
The report adds, “Witness accounts suggesting that Brown was standing still with his hands raised in an unambiguous signal of surrender when Wilson shot Brown are inconsistent with the physical evidence, are otherwise not credible because of internal inconsistencies, or are not credible because of inconsistencies with other credible evidence.”
The report’s findings illustrate that individuals were quick to perpetuate this false “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative without knowing the facts of the case. The public issued its own judgment on Wilson, and this inaccurate depiction of the shooting was replicated nationwide by St. Louis Rams players, members of Congress, civil rights activists, and countless protestors. This is what happens when people jump to conclusions without knowing the facts or examining the evidence of the case.
The February 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman and the July 2014 death of Eric Garner via chokehold by New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo similarly led to activists and protests claiming racism and race-based violence. Both cases ended in acquittals or grand jury decisions not to indict, prompting additional protests and even the Dec. 20 ambush and murder of two NYPD officers. Whether we agree with a grand jury’s decision or not, we must remember that in America we are innocent until proven guilty and tried before a jury of our peers. That is a strong legal system, and disagreement with the outcome does not indicate a biased or racist legal system.
I am also disappointed in President Barack Obama’s personalization of these issues. The president infamously asserted that “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” Statements like this further muddle the conversation and prevent productive conversations on race relations.
I call on the president and fellow elected leaders to seek productive race dialogues. I encourage our elected leaders, civil rights activists, and all concerned individuals to organize and participate in town hall conversations across the country to address these issues, discuss areas to improve race relations, and establish a narrative of peaceful resolution to race-based violence. The sooner we employ our national leaders to engage in productive conversations on race, the sooner we can transcend racial barriers and end race-related violence in America.