‘When will we matter?’
Police brutality sews skepticism, distrust
Whenever Shaun Adams drives his black, 2021 Mercedes Benz CLA250, he’s afraid he’ll get pulled over by police and never see his family again. Sometimes he takes an Uber to certain places because of his paranoia that something will happen to keep him from coming home.
“Nice car, rich town and Black men don’t really mix well together,” says 26-year-old Adams. “Either I stole the car or I’m doing something illegal because it doesn’t seem right that I should drive such a lavish car.”
The sound of sirens always alarmed him growing up because he witnessed the harassing episodes the police gave his father and older brother.
“I pray everyday as I watch my Black sons leave for school that God keeps them protected from the bad police officers. I can’t lose them the way I lost my father,” says Adams, who witnessed his father in 2015 being killed by police officers during what should have been a normal traffic stop. The police had dragged Adams’ father from his vehicle and as he reached for his wallet, the officer pulled the trigger and shot his father in the back of the chest. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
In his exemplary “I Have a Dream” speech during the 1963 March on Washington, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”
For the past 400 years, police brutality against minorities has been a conflicting topic. According to police brutality statistics, the police killed 1,166 people in 2018 and 1,147 people in 2017. Black people comprised 25% of those killed, despite being only 13% of the U.S. population. This has caused many minorities to be skeptical of police officers and thinking of them as slave patrols. According to the National Law Enforcement Museum, slave patrols were responsible for three actions: to chase down and apprehend runaway slaves, to form an organized terror to keep slaves from revolting and to maintain a form of discipline.
“The police hunt us Blacks down like we’re slaves because that’s what they’re used to doing,” says Chasity Washington, California State University of Bakersfield alumna. “What if I wanted to hunt them down? What would I be called?”
Gerald James, a 32-year-old Los Angeles resident, wonders: “When will we matter? When can we take a simple jog in our neighborhood or drive in our cars without worrying about if we’re going to make it home safely because some crooked cop doesn’t have anything better to do?”
Many women and men such as Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile and George Floyd, to name only a few, have lost their lives due to the careless actions of the police. Protesters worldwide hold signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop Killing Us,” and march down highways demanding justice for all victims of police brutality.
It has been four years since the tragic passing of 32-year-old Philando Castile and almost one year since the death of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor. Castile was fatally shot in Falcon Heights, Minneapolis by former police officer Jeronimo Yanez from the St. Anthony police department. Yanez pulled Castile over for a broken tail light and footage shows Yanez open fire through Castile’s car window moments after Castile revealed he was licensed to carry a concealed weapon.
Taylor was also fatally shot in her apartment when officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove of the Louisville Metro Police Department forced entry into Taylor’s apartment as part of an investigation into drug dealing operations. According to an analysis by the Washington Post, Blacks are “2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers,” and Black people were 28% of those killed by police in 2020 despite being only 13% of the population, according to Mapping Police Violence.
Because of police brutality, many minorities do not feel protected by law enforcement and refuse to seek assistance from any officer, even in a case of an emergency.
“Being involved in a hit and run incident a month ago, my first thought was to call my dad, who forced me to file a police report. And when finally speaking with an officer, his main concern was making sure I wasn’t trying to get a check; implying I was not in any serious pain,” says Chidera Agu, a 24-year-old Cerritos resident.
In an article he published on HuffPost.com, Larry Harris, Jr. wrote that when people of color are murdered by police, many are forced to deal with the possibility that they could be the next victim on a T-shirt. “When I have to interact with police I am very careful- careful about what words I use, careful to obey every order and careful to not seem like I am engaged in criminal activity,” Harris wrote.
On the other hand, many white Americans have a completely different experience with the police. Nick Kokkinos, a Valencia resident, said he believes the police are “misunderstood and should be given a chance.”
“I mean not all cops are bad right?” Kokkinos said. “Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel people should die; however, I feel there are some cops who mean well, but get caught up in the heat of the moment. I certainly haven’t had any problems with them and I speed in my car all the time.”
Everyday in the U.S. people of color like work hard to stop the senseless killing of other people of color. Movements like Black Lives Matter and Baltimore United For Change work to fight police brutality that involves dealing with the overall issue by targeting day-to-day incidents. They all work toward resolving any ongoing cases through various methods, including educating communities, demanding legislative action and advocating for justice on behalf of victims and families affected by police brutality. There are a number of protests held by affinity groups, church organizations and youth centers.
“People tell us to focus on the present and forget the past. But, we just simply can not and we won’t. As long as people are dying in various communities, unnecessarily, we will be ready to work to stop the violence and until we matter, I do not feel safe around police officers,” says Lenard.