America is an unusual place. Another self contained world within itself. A country built on entitlement and oppression where racism has always been rife, no matter how much it was pushed under the rug. This year alone, 576 people have been killed by police, and 136 of them were black. Unlike a lot of the killings across America, many of these deaths were unnecessary and many were filmed and widely shared on social media. The killings aren’t just killings though. They are the killings of black bodies, held accountable for the actions of every other black body across the country. It is the expression of years of institutional racism, from a country which calls itself “the greatest in the world.”
The most recent uproar is over two more killings of black men (be warned – these links are graphic). Alton Sterling was shot outside a convenience store under reports he was selling CDs, and Philando Castile, who was shot four times in the arm, while his girlfriend and daughter were in the car with him. In neither occurrence were the men posing a threat to the officers, and Castile informed the officer he was armed but reaching for his ID before he was killed. They happened a night apart.
“The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear […] The abuses that have followed from these policies – the sprawling carceral suspects – are the product of democratic will. And so to challenge the police is to challenge the American people[.]”
— Ta-Nehisi Coates
Although racism is still a huge issue in the UK, the police brutality situation is still existent, but different due to alternative gun laws. Most standard police officers in Britain don’t carry guns, and those that do are specially-trained firearms officers. The Metropolitan Police Service said this is to counter public fears. In America, a world where Walter Scott can be shot for having a dodgy brake light on his car, it seems as if the US’ police’s guns protect and serve white people, but are a constant terror for black people.
When Mark Duggan was shot and killed by police in Tottenham, riots, arson and looting spread across London. Although there was sadly no justice received for Duggan and the policeman was not convicted, Police did admit their mistakes, commissioned tests and performed investigations. This compensation, although little, is hugely different for the aftermath of shootings in the US. There has been an investigation opened into Alton’s death, but everyone’s doubtful that the officers will be punished. The police forces that killers belong to quickly jump to the defence of the officers, who are usually just put on paid leave and return back to work. Plus, since the riots in 2011, there have only been 6 police shootings, with only one of them known to be black. In America there has been 16 in the past seven days, four of them of black people.
One of the most incomprehensible aspects of these shootings though is the mindset that comes from a man who can knowingly shoot an innocent person and feel no remorse and admit no wrong. The officer in Castile’s shooting sounds shaken, but that doesn’t forgive his actions. The officers in Sterling’s shooting said they felt “completely justified” in their actions. “Completely justified” in shooting a man for allegedly selling CDs. Regardless of whether Sterling had a gun or not, he wasn’t pointing it at them, so there was no need for him to be shot. Whether out of arrogance, terror or narcissism, the guns these men hold entitles them to murder, just like their skin colour entitles them to get away with it.
“”I could have you arrested!” [the white man told me]. Which is to say: “I could take your body.” Which is to say, “One of your son’s earliest memories will be watching the men who sodomized Abner Louima and choked Anthony Baez cuff club, taze and break you.”
— Ta-Nehisi Coates
Who can activists and families go to for help when those who are supposed to protect them are the ones endangering them? As things have been going, it’s clear the killings aren’t going to end any time soon, especially if the institutions there to bring justice dismiss it like nothing happened.
From the roots of slavery, to the Civil War, through Jim Crow Era and the KKK, all the way to Mike Brown and this week’s executions, it isn’t just commonplace in America for black people to be killed. It’s heritage.
Words: Marisa Lee