This week an INTERNAL police investigation ruled that the shooting death of handcuffed suspect Chavis Carter was a suicide. Carter, an African American, was with two white boys when he was pulled over by the police in rural Jonesboro, Arkansas. After the two white boys were let go, Carter was searched by the police, handcuffed and thrown in the back of a police car. A few minutes later Carter is dead with a gunshot wound to the right temple; handcuffs intact.
The explanation immediately released by the police department is that the young man with no history of mental illness or suicidal tendencies killed himself. A month later this has become the official version. Case closed. Another young black man dead.
The Chavis Carter story is just one of hundreds of cases of young black men being killed while under the custody of police. It is typical in many unfortunate ways: black man captured by police, black man killed, crazy story released by police as an explanation, media acceptance of explanation (if there is any media coverage), and everybody moves on. The double-standard is mind-boggling. If this was a white boy or girl in the same situation there would be inquiries, national coverage on every channel, investigations and millions spent on finding out the truth. Chavis Carter and those like him get nothing.
In this reality a black man would be a fool not to adjust his way of life. I am a parent of a well-mannered, 15-year-old boy who has never been in trouble with the law. When it comes to the police it is imperative that I teach him the realities of dealing with police as a young, black male. The basic rule is simple:
Even though you've done nothing wrong, you are a black man and you could easily be arrested, shot, beaten or killed by police.
In addition, here are the rules and realities that I preach to him in order to keep him alive:
1. If you see police, DO NOT RUN. That is a license for them to kill you
2. Never talk back to police. This is a license for them to smack you around and or arrest you
3. Be prepared to be treated differently than your white friends when approached by police
4. Assume that you "match the description" of somebody who committed a crime
5. Be prepared to be arrested whenever a cop approaches you
6. Running from the police will most likely get you killed even if you've done nothing wrong
7. If you are wrongfully detained by the police they will most likely get away with it
8. If you are beaten up or killed by the police they will most likely get away with it
Video evidence of police brutality means nothing. Eyewitness testimony means nothing. No matter how unbelievable the explanation is the police are always believed. "He was reaching for a gun" "He matched the description." He looked menacing." Black men constantly accused, arrested or worse and the police seem to never get prosecuted or at best get a slap on the wrist.
For those white people who are reading this who think that I am just some black guy "popping off" here is a little bit of my experience as a typical black man.
As a child I was accused by police of being a "peeping tom" while playing hide and seek with my white friends in a white neighborhood
As a teenager I was accused by police of stealing bicycles
As a college student I was accused by police of stealing my own coat
I was accused of breaking and entering while I was house sitting for my friend in an all-white neighborhood
I was accused of being a drug dealer because I spent a few hundred dollar bills in a neighborhood bar
I was harassed by police because I was making out in my car with a white woman
In ALL cases I had MULTIPLE police surround me, many times with guns drawn. In some cases I was arrested, in other cases I was detained and let go. In every incident there was NO EVIDENCE of any wrongdoing besides a policeman telling me that I was a suspect or "they received a call". Every incident was terrifying and each incident could have ended up with my death if I had panicked; saying the wrong thing, runnning or even mouthing off.
Evey black man reading this can relate to what I am writing here. Many if not most have had similar experiences. Comedians from Chris Rock to Dave Chapelle joke about the completely different experience that black men and white men face when pulled over by police, but the reality is no joke. What is happening to our young black men is a moral outrage.
For those still skeptical who may think that I am just a black man with a personal axe to grind let me assure you that I am merely giving voice to a problem faced by millions of African American men. As a writer for The Black Man Survival Guide I get countless submissions from people telling us the story of young black men who have been shot, beaten or killed by the police. None of the stories made national headlines. There was no moral outrage outside of the immediate community. In almost all cases there was no restitution for the victim and no acknowledgement of any wrongdoing.
For every story we get there are countless more stories that never get told. Their stories are far, far worse than mine. I am alive and have no criminal record. Others are not so lucky.
This is the reality of being young and Black in America. Your life could be snuffed out at any minute by the police. If you live in a predominantly black neighborhood, you are just one of a million "suspects" who may get a beat down by police (see Chad Holley). If you are a black man in a white neighborhood you are a "suspicious character" and need to be taken out (can you say Trayvon Martin?).
Police misconduct unfairly targeting African Americans is just one of many reasons why we need a Black Man Survival Guide. The reality is that there are many issues like this that disproportionately affect African Americans to include unemployment and AIDS in the black community, school inequality, predatory lending and diabetes. This is not a racist thing, this is a REALITY thing. When African Americans are no longer disproportionately affected by these and other issues there will no longer be a need for this website. Until then we will speak out on issues and try to affect change. All we want is for all people to live in America with equal treatment, equal opportunity and the ability to pursue the American dream.
Stay strong America. Whatever is in darkness eventually comes to light.
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