MICHAEL BROWN AND ERIC GARNER PROTESTS HIT A RACIAL NERVE
The recent protests that are being seen across this country has once again brought up the issue of race in this country. Unless you have been living in the desert in seclusion, you have certainly heard about the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the chokehold death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York. Everyone has an opinion regarding these two cases, and I am sure there have been many heated discussions around the water cooler at workplaces across the country. Your opinion of these two cases is more than likely based on your background, such as your experiences with racism and your experiences with police officers. It is so unfortunate that these two African-American men had to lose their lives in such a tragic way, but it seems that the protests and all of the media coverage has brought this issue exactly where it needs to be, in the face of all of the American people.
Michael Brown, 18, was shot at least six times by police officer, Darren Wilson, with two of those bullets striking him in the head. Michael Brown’s body lay in the street for several hours to the outrage of the Ferguson community in which he lived. There were so many eyewitness accounts and so many different sides of the story. Officer Wilson claims that Michael Brown struggled with him for his firearm in the police car, then managed to run away. It is at this point that there is a lot of controversy. Officer Wilson claims that Michael Brown turned towards him and charged at him, leaving him no choice, but to fire several shots killing Brown. There are other witnesses that say Brown turned around with his hands up, in a surrender mode and was still shot and killed by Officer Wilson. Prior to the confrontation between Officer Wilson and Michael Brown, it is alleged that Michael Brown stole some tobacco products from a convenience store. A video depicts Brown stealing the products and getting very aggressive with the store clerk when he was confronted. After leaving the store and walking back home with a friend, Brown was stopped by Officer Wilson and ultimately was shot and killed by Officer Wilson.
Eric Garner, 43, was killed by police officers in Staten Island, New York, when he was approached by police officers for selling loose cigarettes on the street. A bystander happened to videotape the incident and the video has been shown on most of the media outlets depicting how Garner was taken down in a chokehold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo. There were other officers who simultaneously held him down applying pressure to the neck and chest area of Garner. Garner repeatedly told officers "I can't breathe", but to no avail. After a brief struggle with the officers, Garner laid on the sidewalk motionless. After several minutes paramedics were called and allegedly in the ambulance, Garner had a heart attack and was dead about an hour later. The medical examiner ruled that Garner died from compression to the neck and body, with asthma, obesity and heart disease being contributing factors. Garner was approximately 350 pounds. The controversy here is that Garner was put in a chokehold which was prohibited by the New York City Police Department since 1993. The other issue with this case is why was such an aggressive tactic used for such a petty crime as selling loose cigarettes?
WHY RACE IS A FACTOR IN THESE TWO CASES
Both of these men that were killed by police officers were African-American. In the case of Michael Brown, many people are saying that if Michael Brown hadn’t stole from the convenience store this incident may not have happened. Others say that Brown got what he deserved because he was a criminal who bullied the store clerk. Both of those opinions could be true, but even if Brown was guilty of stealing and bullying, does he deserve to die for that crime? Brown did not possess a gun at the time of the incident. There was an apparent struggle at the police car, but there are conflicting stories as to what really took place.
Eric Garner was also unarmed yet he was killed because officers allegedly felt he was a threat to them so had no choice but to kill him.
These two cases had enormous media coverage and millions of people protested these killings. If you looked in the crowds of protesters you saw people from almost every nationality completely outraged as to how this could happen in America in 2014. The fact of the matter is that African-Americans have been killed by police for many years, but what makes it different now is that people do not expect to see it on video. People can see that race plays a huge factor as to why these men are dead. Police officers have a very dangerous job and every time they go out on those streets they pray that they will make it to see another day. They have families just like we all do, but when you take an oath to be an officer, you have a duty to “protect and serve” the people. The people should not have to be in fear of the police.
The other factor in these unfortunate deaths is that both of these men were big men. They were bigger than the officers who confronted them. It seems that when some officers are faced with a big, black man they are intimidated by the size of these men and make the conscious choice to use aggressive tactics when they confront these men. Just because a man is large in size does not automatically make that man a threat. It seems that when you bring the race of man into this along with the size, this has proven to be a recipe for disaster for a lot of African-American men. So what is the answer? Should all big, black men stay in the house for fear of the police confronting them? That is just ridiculous. Police officers should adhere to the protocol that has been established for them and stop bringing into their jobs their own personal fears and prejudices. Just because you carry a gun and have been given power doesn’t mean you have a right to wield that power recklessly and kill innocent people. These two men may have been committing crimes, but that’s what our judicial system is there for. Your job as a police officer is to arrest these individuals if you think a crime has been committed and let the Courts deal with them accordingly. Every step to avoid the death of a suspect should be taken. Taking your gun out and shooting a person should be the very last resort. In both of these cases the police officers could have used other means of apprehending these men before the deadly use of force was used.
The people are protesting the deaths of these men because they shouldn’t have happened, and even after the facts and videos are out there for the world to see, these officers are not charged for the deaths of these men. This makes some people believe that black lives aren’t as valuable as some other races, but Michael Brown had a family that loved him and wanted to see him live out his life. Eric Garner had a family that never expected his life to be taken in such a violent way. Could Michael Brown and Eric Garner done things differently to avoid this outcome? Maybe, but who among us has not done something in our lives that we regretted later on in life? The difference is they were not given the opportunity to tell their side of the story or live long enough to have regrets because their lives were taken away in a split second by police officers who were most likely afraid of these men, instead of dealing with them as human beings, they chose to wield their power and end their lives.
The issue of race in this country is at a fever pitch because people are tired of being treated unfairly, being humiliated and degraded, being made to feel that your life doesn’t matter and if you are killed by police officers they will get away with it because they will always hide behind “I feared for my life”. I personally know many police officers, and the majority of them are good people that value human lives and have a healthy respect for their jobs, but there are those small few police officers that come to work with all kinds of baggage and take out their aggression on innocent citizens of this country. I have heard that there is a code among police officers to not speak out against another officer, but for those officers that are not speaking out, maybe tomorrow it could be your mother, father, sister or brother who is shot down in the street. You will then want justice, but where is the justice for Michael Brown and Eric Garner?