POLICE BRUTALITY: BLACK LIVES AND GUN VIOLENCE
Jessica Terrell, first year writing UNC Asheville student
On September 13, our class went to visit the Peace Gardens. “The Burton Street Peace Gardens is a sanctuary for positive action, designed to create neighborhood food security, community cohesion, and a vibrant, sustainable local economy” (Hood Huggers. 2018). While walking around it was defiantly mesmerizing; the people in charge and who made the gardens possible are called the Hood Huggers. They took all the trash from the lower-class neighborhood nearby, and made it into a work of art. While walking around I stumbled upon a piece of art called “Last Words” (gun violence and police brutality). The piece was on a plastic table with pictures of all of the police shootings that involved African Americans since Trayvon Martin. It continued to go on the side of the fence, and on old rusty red chairs. There were also some in a plastic bin and articles of the people who died, and what happened to them. As an African American I relate to this problem because not only are my people endangered essentially, but so is my family. This is also a topic that is often brushed aside and not looked at or taken seriously considering that there has been about 223 African Americans killed just in 2018 by police.
Today in the United States, police shootings and gun violence have reached an all-time high. Police violence has also reached a peak in the black communities. In the year 2018 we have already had 798 people killed by police, 223 which were African Americans. Black lives matter is a movement that is trying to make its way into the American culture, due to the police brutality that has happened throughout the years. There are many names that have made this movement relevant like Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown Jr., Eric Gardner and the list goes on. Research shows that these problems occur due to the dehumanization of African Americans, and often viewed as ape like beings, “Associating African Americans more closely with the ape metaphor enables individuals to deny them a human essence” (Ellawala 2018). The police force is employed by mainly white officers, and it is also shown that “officers view black kids less innocent than whites” (Ellawala 2018). With the skewed views of the police, this has caused our country to go on many strikes and the people affected feel like they have little to no voice. The country also has been pushing stricter gun laws to help prevent, and prosecute the people who are pulling the trigger on the innocent lives. In this paper we will look at the problems and possible solutions with police brutality, especially for African Americans, in the country and in Asheville.
Why it happens/ who is targeted
The main reason why these problems are occurring is because there are neither strict enough laws in place nor consequences whenever someone mistreats another person, especially when they are in the hands of authority. Today there are stricter laws in a sense of police handlings but these problems date back to the early nineteenth century. Police were known as watchmen and often volunteers. The officers relied on personal authority and community support and emphasized order maintenance based on community norms over strict enforcement of the law (Brogden. 2005). For innumerable years dating back to the 60s and 70s civil rights has always been an issue. Another name for the mistreatment of people by police is the police subculture. With this explanation this can help us understand why they are so aggressive to people of color. It is said that “officers consider themselves the moral authority that keeps society safe from crime and anarchy” (Clockars 2018). In actuality, minorities experience the opposite effect as they are targeted due to the color of their skin and little power they have to do many activities.
Many people fear getting shot at, assaulted while driving, or even just by walking around their neighborhoods. In their subculture being aggressive, or mishandling a person with force is sought to be morally righteous, because they are the ones that carry the authority, “The police culture, or subculture, consists of normative values that guide behavior in an officer's working environment. While other occupational groups also have shared behavioral norms, the police subculture is notably strong. Real and perceived dangers associated with police work contribute to the strong police culture” (Skolnick 1966). In 1991 the beating of Rodney King was one of the main subculture topics with police. During a protest King was filmed being beaten by several LAPD cops while other cops stood doing nothing. “There was total and utter backlash against the police force after this happened. In the aftermath of the ensuing riot, an independent commission investigation found an environment tolerant of brutality and aggravated by racism and bias” (Manning. 2005).
The brutality hasn’t slowed down since then. In 2012 Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. Trayvon was walking in a hoodie to get skittles and iced tea when Zimmerman followed him, reporting that he was doing something suspicious. Martin realized he was being followed then began to run. Soon after, Zimmerman shot Trayvon in the head and face. According to Zimmerman, it was out of self-defense. On July 13, 2013, he was acquitted of the crime even after admitting to it. August 7, 2015 Christian Taylor was fatally shot after driving his SUV to a car dealership where a burglary was happening at the same time at that business. The Arlington police shot him in the showroom and soon after the police officer was not indicted for the shooting. In Mt. Auburn, Ohio, Samuel Dubose was shot in the head after trying to drive off while an officer was confronting him about a missing frontal license plate. He was 43 years old. The officer prosecuted for this crime retired from the department after the jury failed to give a decision. With footage from a clear dash cam, Philando Castile was another victim. Forty seconds after being pulled over for just another traffic stop the officer shot Castile because he said he was reaching for his weapon. Officer Yanez was also acquitted for second degree manslaughter and two counts of intentional discharge of firearm that endangers safety, his defense was that he feared for his life. The list goes on for the amount of shootings on the national outlook, but some in the area may wonder what Asheville’s outlook is.
Considering Asheville is a very hippy and happy area, one wouldn't think that such things are happening in this very city. “Two years ago a fatal police shooting of a local black man ignited a summer of racial tension, police launched an intelligence operation to monitor the efforts of two civil rights groups, a Citizen Times investigation has found” (Burgess 2018). Today there are many BLM groups that work together in a peaceful way as they always do to raise awareness to the community. It goes to show that whenever a person expresses support, or their feelings for something police automatically get on the defense. Instead of asking the people to calm down or simply ignore them, they are quick to draw their weapon. According to the people behind the BLM movement in Asheville, APD's motives had nothing to do with public safety."That's just an intimidation tactic, basically,” “They are looking for something to hold on us. It's inappropriate. “Experienced law enforcement personnel say the monitoring is not unheard of” (APD monitored groups. 2018). People in the community believe that the department is simply trying to cover up what they did instead of owning up. Then again if someone comes clean about what they did, and how it was wrong it makes the whole department and city look bad. Many cops shot out of fear, and some do it out of impulse. The people at the protest believe that it was out of hate for black people, and that needs to come to an end.
Gun control is the most important solution to help decrease the rise of African Americans, or any minority, being shot at. Gun control is one of the most talked about topics considering that every American loves their weapon because it makes them feel safe. It is often stated that there needs to be more of a criminal control rather than gun control. A lot of people would argue that there should be simple requirements like background checks to make sure that you are stable enough to even purchase a gun, and even a legal age to own one. Both side of the argument are valid, and there needs to be both criminal and gun control. In Asheville people state that there needs to be Criminal not gun control. With enough space to keep the truly dangerous locked up, and the will to hold people responsible for violent, predatory crime, rather than guns, citizens and law enforcement officers can all be safer on the streets (Gannett Co., Inc. 2008). Considering that this statement was published over 10 years ago it still has some support within itself. Not only should there be gun control but there should also be training within the police departments to help with lowering the shooting incidents. It is also been shown that police have different procedures for the different races and how they deal with the person. So, a white person would have different protocols than a Hispanic or African American. A majority of these studies found that participants tended to shoot faster and more accurately at an armed Black man than an armed White man, while being slower and less accurate in responding to the “don’t shoot” command when presented with an unarmed Black target compared to an unarmed White target (Ellawala, 2016). This is why we need training in the police areas because our communities are widely affected, and will continue to be affected if control isn’t happening. Until then we will continue to have such incidents occur to innocent people.
With all of the research, and all of my findings I defiantly find this work of art very touching. Seeing the faces of the innocent victims puts you in a different perspective while looking in their shoes, or the families. Looking around this happens every single day. Some people we may not know got killed and others are put in the news. I believe that with major work, perseverance and dedication we can one day have stricter gun laws, to allow people of color to feel safe in their own environment. I also believe that one day someone or some people will help the police force make us feel safer, and make a difference in the community. This has also made me want to be more involved in the community, and to join groups that will make a difference to people who have been affected, and to prevent these occurrences. Until then it is important to look at our surrounding problems and to see what we can do as a country to make a difference.
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