Op-Ed

Black parents have a role in preventing more tragedies

MIAMI PROTEST: Protestors shut down traffic on N. Miami Avenue Sunday in protest of recent deaths of black men at the hands of police in other states.
MIAMI PROTEST: Protestors shut down traffic on N. Miami Avenue Sunday in protest of recent deaths of black men at the hands of police in other states. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

As black America bleeds over the Michael Brown case, we blacks must ask ourselves some hard questions: Why didn’t Michael Brown just follow the legitimate order of a police officer to get out of the middle of the street? Of course, black America in particular should be outraged if an unarmed black child who was trying to surrender to police was shot dead with his hands raised. But is that what really happened in the Brown case?

As the forensic evidence emerges, I can understand why the Ferguson grand jury did not indict Officer Darren Wilson who had every right to approach Michael Brown. The teenager engaged the officer in a struggle at the officer’s car. Credible black witnesses testified that Brown charged the officer. Witnesses who made false claims about what they saw faded away as forensic evidence contradicted their claims.

Even though the Ferguson police lied about the extent of Wilson’s injuries, why was Wilson injured at all? You don’t get to hit a police officer.

Some observers have suggested that Wilson should have retreated, but I do not agree. He is a police officer. They don’t get to run.

Of course, the death of this teenager is a tragedy, but there are many other cases of wrongful deaths of black males by white police officers that are not so burdened by the actions of the victim as is the Michael Brown case.

This is every black parent’s nightmare. White parents tell their boys not to disobey police officers because they could be arrested. We black parents tell our sons not to disobey police officers because they could be killed. This is one of the defining differences between white and black America today.

The warning we give our sons was, and still is, based upon the hard reality that white police officers do not respond to black males in the same way as they do to white males. The difference in their responses is based upon fear and prejudice. This may well have been the case in the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, who was fooling around with a toy pistol when a white officer fired on him with no warning. Would Rice be dead today had he been white? I don’t think so. But then, would he be alive if only some adult had not stupidly given him or allowed him to have a toy gun that looked real?

A New York grand jury’s refusal to indict a white police officer in the death of Eric Garner, a black man who was killed by the officer using an illegal chokehold is much more difficult to comprehend except as a racist act. Apparently, Garner refused to cooperate with the police after being stopped on the street for a petty crime.

That failure to cooperate gave the grand jury hearing that case the opening it needed to not indict the officer. It was a very tiny opening because the police in the Garner incident could have waited him out or used some other non-lethal approach to arrest him. Would such deadly force have been used on him had he been white? I sincerely doubt it.

There will always be conflicting accounts about the actions of the police and members of the black community in particular. For that reason every police officer in this country who polices a high crime area should be wearing a body camera.

President Obama did the right thing by providing money for the purchase and use of body cameras for police officers however the proposed budget is not nearly enough to attack the problem on a national level.

Perhaps to white America, blacks cry wolf every time a white cop shoots a black male, but for us that wolf, race prejudice in a police uniform, is real and on occasion is killing us.

Certainly not all white officers are racist, and given the level of crimes in our communities we need the police. We do a disservice to good officers when we demonize an entire police department. But that wolf is real, and white and black America working together can and must kill it. How? Certainly by better police training but also by black parents reteaching that old lesson to our sons and grandsons, it matters not if you think you are in the right — obey the police immediately. Being right makes no difference if you are dead.

Marvin Dunn the author of “Black Miami in the Twentieth Century” and co-authored “The Miami Riot of 1980: Crossing the Bounds.”

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