On the Policing of People of Color and the Death of George Floyd

Someone with a face mask that says “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe” was said by Eric Garner as he was killed by police in New York several years ago, and it was also said by George Floyd recently as he was killed by Minneapolis police.

On Monday, May 25th, George Floyd, an unarmed person of color, was killed by a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for several minutes, even after he was handcuffed.

This was an extremely disturbing story—so disturbing that I am choosing not to show yet again to people the image of this officer kneeling on Floyd. It was yet another example of police using excessive force on an unarmed person of color.

And yet, at times over the past week, I have struggled to figure out what to say about the killing of Floyd. After all, I am white, I am conscious that I have a lot of privilege that comes with being white, and the last thing I want to do is drown out the voices of people of color advocating for justice. But then, I found that I did feel compelled to say some things, so here you go…

Growing up in New York City with all the friends of color my brother and I had, it was clear that there was a major disparity between the way the two of us were policed and the way our friends of color were policed. The two of us never got stopped, searched, or frisked by the police, but our friends of color frequently experienced that—so frequently that people would call it “walking while brown.” The stories of frequent stops from our friends also matched statistics for stop-and-frisk in New York City—blacks and Hispanics at one point made up only half of the population, but 85% of the stops.[1] I can go on and on with the statistics and the stories related to stop-and-frisk, but to read more, I encourage you to read my blog post about the institutional racism in the way I was policed. So when people suggest that racism does not exist with policing, I have personal experiences that show otherwise. Racism exists in policing.

What I didn’t do as much in that post on institutional racism and policing was show how said racism goes well beyond stop-and-frisk; after all, I was focused on my own experiences of privilege in that post. So, while an entire book could probably be written on racial disparities in the way people are policed (or are generally handled in the criminal justice system), here are some lowlights:

  • Blacks are 3.64 times as likely to get arrested for marijuana use as whites, even though usage rates are comparable. In some cases, those rates have become worse, even with the current push towards legalization in some parts of the country.[2]
  • Staying on the topic of drugs, even though usage of illegal drugs is comparable between blacks and whites, blacks are five times as likely as whites to go to prison for illegal drug possession.[3]
  • On average, police seem to require less suspicion of black and Hispanic drivers before they are pulled over than white drivers.[4] This statistic is particularly relevant to the current discourse on policing and people of color, as a few years ago a traffic stop of Philando Castile, a person of color, led to his being killed by a police officer.
  • Innocent blacks are about seven times more likely to be convicted for a murder they didn’t commit than whites.[5]
  • Unarmed blacks are about 3.49 times as likely to get shot by the police as unarmed whites.[6]

“How does this all relate to the killing of George Floyd?” you may ask. Floyd’s killing shows that the police murder of Mr. Floyd does not exist in a bubble. Far from it. To the contrary, this killing is a microcosm of a larger problem: there are vast racial disparities in the way people are policed in the United States of America.

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonoberholtzer/2012/07/17/stop-and-frisk-by-the-numbers/#43c323106703

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomangell/2020/04/20/on-420-aclu-highlights-racist-marijuana-enforcement-in-new-report/#229dc03f7487

[3] http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Race_and_Wrongful_Convictions.pdf

[4] https://openpolicing.stanford.edu/findings/

[5] http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Race_and_Wrongful_Convictions.pdf

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4634878/

Addressing Silence on Black Lives

I am not the sort of person who likes to write blog posts, or anything, at the last minute. However, the recent death and burial of Richard Collins III, an African American student at Bowie State University in Maryland, moved me to write this blog post. I decided that it would be wrong for me or others to ignore this tragedy and be silent on it, even if it means writing a blog post which may be slightly disorganized this week.

It is especially wrong for me to ignore this tragedy because it exposes an injustice that needs to be addressed—the fact that, in even the best-case scenario, many of us are silent or say “thoughts and prayers” about these tragedies against African Americans.

This statement may come across to some as an overly emotional response to a recent tragedy that in some ways hits close to home for me; since I have friends who are in Army ROTC or have been commissioned in the last couple of years, they may’ve served with Collins III if he lived. However, if people look at the pattern of reactions after the killings of African Americans, maybe all of you will understand my thoughts.

With many shootings against African Americans, such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, and many others, the reaction from numerous people (especially when law enforcement or neighborhood watchmen are involved, like in these three cases) tends to be one of pointing out the wrongdoings of the victims and celebrating “justice” when the people who took away these lives are declared “innocent.” I put innocent and justice in quotes because there is nothing innocent about killing someone, and because there is no justice in declaring the “innocence” of someone who took away a life that should still exist.

That being said, what is especially troubling is that, even when the lives of outstanding African Americans are taken away, there are a few prayers and condolences at best, and silence at worst. There were prayers and condolences after the tragic shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, but other than a short period of prayers and condolences, most attention was turned to other issues. The police officer killing of high school student Jordan Edwards in Texas last month got relatively little attention, even though Edwards was an excellent student and athlete. And the case of Richard Collins III, an outstanding student and recently commissioned Second Lieutenant in the United States Army who was killed by an alt-right nationalist, was also met with relative silence.

Admittedly, I was one of the silent ones, as I didn’t make a post on social media about Edwards or Collins III. But silence on the killings of people like these does not end violence against innocent African Americans, or even violence against African Americans who did not commit offenses that were deserving of death. However, the killings of African Americans, and the relative lack of outrage over these killings, gives life to Black Lives Matter’s rallying cry of “white silence is violence,” whether we realize it or not.