A few days ago, Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of the charges of manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm that resulted in the death of Philando Castile. Upon the verdict, Castile became the latest in a too-long list of minorities, particularly black males, to lose their lives at the hands of a police officer who will never be held responsible.
In response to the verdict, Colin Kaepernick posted the following tweet that predictably caused an uproar:
A system that perpetually condones the killing of people, without consequence, doesn't need to be revised, it needs to be dismantled! pic.twitter.com/BVVPVZIQyD
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) June 16, 2017
Does that make you feel uncomfortable? Does that comparison conjure tense emotions or even outrage? If so, then Kaepernick achieved his objective. It was meant to shake you out of whatever tacit acceptance you might’ve slipped into after hearing that yet another black man’s killer has been acquitted.
Kaepernick’s post isn’t in any way, shape or form an accusation that all police officers are racists. It is a broad indictment on a system that enables and protects those who abuse or misuse their power as police officers. It is the condemnation of a philosophy that has encouraged police officers to believe that their lives are better or worth more just because they wear a badge. It is a jarring and uncomfortable reminder that black and brown men and women are all too often not being served by the people who have sworn to protect them.
Black men are incarcerated and targeted by police officers at a rate that is disproportionate in this nation. That is not conjecture. That is a fact – and if you are not smart enough to see where that racism stems from and far back it goes, then I don’t know how to talk to you.
No, they are not being targeted everywhere by every officer. It’s true that the majority of police officers would never murder an unarmed or legally armed citizen, regardless of race or color. But if they are the kind of officer that would do that, they will get away with it under our current justice system – and that’s a horrifying reality that people refuse to face.
Even if 95% of police officers are doing their job for the right reasons – and do not let any bias or predisposition prevent them from applying and enforcing the law fairly – that’s still not good enough. In that hypothetical, there are still tens of thousands of police officers all over the country who can get away with jailing or killing an innocent man or woman on a whim.
Why is that acceptable?
If comparing police culture to slave patrols seems hyperbolic and alarmist to you, then it’s time you do your research. Black men are being killed by people in power and there are no consequences. None. There is currently no reason for a person with a badge and a gun to believe that they cannot get away with murder in this country – particularly if the victim is a minority, and even more especially if the victim is a black man.
Kaepernick is right: the racism and violence that fueled slavery and post-slavery United States bears an uncanny resemblance to the racism and violence that results in the unanswered for deaths of American citizens like Philando Castile. So no, it’s not slave catching. But it is a system of suppression and denial of basic rights – and now you’re paying attention, because that’s what invoking the horror of American slavery does. It freaks us out. As it should.
Just because most police officers are good people does not mean that the system isn’t broken. If you believe that most of the police force are brave people with integrity who make a great sacrifice through their public service, then you should want a system that always holds them to that standard and doesn’t group them in with racists and murderers who hide behind a badge and point fingers at their dead victims.