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Why African-American Men Fear The Police

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The recent arrest of prominent Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., has put the spotlight squarely on the issue of police confrontation with African-American and Latino men and catapulted it into the national consciousness and daily discourse by President Obama’s assertion that the Cambridge police had acted “stupidly.” While most Blacks understood, others failed to grasp that this is the reality of life for most African-American men, especially those in urban communities across the U.S. An emotional and sometimes painful discussion of racial profiling, police brutality, and race relations, in general, is taking place in homes, in the media and among ordinary people.

In his latest book, The Most Dangerous Gang in America: The Police, author and social activist, Richard Jeanty tackles head-on the issue of police brutality. He documents example after example of cases where Latino and African-American men, and women, have lost their lives senselessly after coming into contact with the police.  “As a Black man,” Jeanty says, “I want people to understand what it feels like to be in my shoes. I know that I am a potential victim.” And it makes no difference if you are from the ‘hood’ or live in the suburbs, in your car or in your home, as Professor Gates discovered, and Earl Graves, Jr., another professional African-American man, found out when he was stopped, in 1995, and searched by Metro-North Police.  Jeanty adds, “Make no mistake, the message is loud and clear: no matter who you are in this society, as long as you are Black, you can still be stopped, searched and arrested by the police. And all Black men know, a seemingly minor interaction with the police can turn deadly.” Compiled from newspaper reports, The Most Dangerous Gang in America: The Police, re-visits several of the most notorious cases of murder by police: Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Alberta Spruil, Anthony Baez, and Ousmane Zongo.  In each case, unarmed Black and brown men and women were gunned down by the police, who, in many instances found some reason to justify their egregious behavior.

According to published reports, in New York City, Blacks accounted for 66% of those killed by the police between 2000 and 2007. And of 88 fatal shootings, only in one instance was an officer convicted of wrongdoing. In Detroit, another city with high police-involved killings, an average of 10 fatal shootings occurred between 1990 and 1998.  First published in 2007 with a focus on the New York Police Department, this new edition looks at police killings nationwide, from California to Florida and Kansas to Georgia.

The Most Dangerous Gang in America: The Police, examines issues such as:

·        Racial profiling

·        How the police hide behind procedure

·        Stereotypes of African- Americans

·        Police brutality towards gay men and lesbians

·        African-American cops and the ‘blue’ line

Following the murder of Amadou Diallo, University of Chicago assistant professor of psychology, Joshua Correl conducted a study to gauge how racial bias plays into a police officer’s decision to shoot a suspect. 270 police officers from 15 states, and 187 civilians were tested.  The study drew two conclusions: that police officers were less likely to shoot an unarmed man, regardless of race than the civilian testers but were quicker to decide not to shoot an unarmed white suspect than an unarmed Black suspect and slower to decide to shoot an armed white suspect than an armed Black suspect.

Says Jeanty, “Clearly, police involved killing of brown and Black people will continue until concrete steps are taken to bridge the gap between police officers and the people they are paid to serve. I truly hope that this book will get a dialogue started and maybe even set the motion for some action towards a resolution.”

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