fear of blacks at root of Cincinnati unrest
A few years ago, when the Rev. Jesse Jackson enjoyed
greater credibility, he confessed he felt relieved when
a young man walking behind him on a dark street turned
out to be white.
Jackson's statement proves you don't have
to be white to share the fear so prevalent in our society.
Nearly all of us grow apprehensive when a group of young
blacks approaches, especially at night. Judging from
the experience of a relatively few, such a circumstance
can be dangerous indeed.
But that doesn't explain why so many Americans
extend these feelings to African Americans as a group.
It does not explain why well-dressed black businessmen,
lawyers, off-duty police officers and others have been
abused or killed by police officers.
It is nearly impossible for whites to understand what
African Americans experience daily all over America.
Whites know little or nothing about the slights blacks
encounter when they walk into a restaurant, shopping
mall or even library. Few whites ever know what it does
to a person inside when you cross a street and hear
the inevitable sound of electric automobile door locks
snapping shut. There's no way whites can know
what it's like for one's children to be
judged solely by their skin color. Police officers,
black and white, engaging in racial profiling, often
stop and arrest many well-dressed, law-abiding African
Americans guilty of nothing more than their skin color.
It's no secret that many young African Americans
are aggressive and appear ominous wherever they go.
Truth is, however, that the overwhelming majority of
blacks aren't. The argument, however, is that
people don't have the time to differentiate between
those who are dangerous and those who are not. Citizens
may enjoy the luxury of such judgments; police officers
should not. The difference is that all officers carry
weapons that too many are willing to use at the slightest
or even a perceived provocation.
Examples proliferate. Recall, if you will, the experience
of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed black street vendor who
died after being struck by 19 of 41 bullets fired by
four white New York City police officers. As it turned
out, Diallo was guilty of nothing. Remember the depraved
episode after Abner Louima was forced into a men's
room by at least two white officers in a Brooklyn precinct?
In Cincinnati, the fatal police shooting of an unarmed
19-year-old black man, the fourth since November in
that city, has sparked unrest during the last two weeks.
Such behavior cannot be justified, but certainly people
should understand the fear and frustration on the part
of blacks there. One tearful Cincinnati resident, Loria
Artis, put it simply: "We're tired, we're
And why shouldn't they be tired after civil rights
groups and the American Civil Liberties Union alleged
a 30-year pattern of racial profiling in Cincinnati?
True, the victim, Timothy Thomas, was no innocent. He
was wanted on multiple misdemeanor charges including
traffic violations, driving without a license and driving
while not wearing a seat belt. Should he have lost his
life because he attempted to run from officers, knowing
the police as he did?
Many years ago I was stopped on my front lawn by a police
officer who, without checking my identification, informed
me that I had "no business in this neighborhood."
I was not behaving aggressively, nor was I in any way
disorderly. Still, the officer placed his hand on his
weapon and ordered me to stop. Had I attempted to flee,
he might well have shot me. My neighbor promptly informed
the officer he was mistaken. The officer, now red-faced,
didn't apologize but charged me with "disorderly
conduct" because I didn't freeze when he
ordered me to stop. The case was later thrown out.
I don't deny that too many blacks are involved
in illegalities. Too many whites are, too. The disparity
between the reputations of blacks and whites is much
too great. That often leads to fear, which in turn leads
to disastrous consequences, including police abuse and
civil outbursts as in Cincinnati. The surprise, however,
is not that there are so many of them, but that there
are so few.