Cheryl Cook: Racism’s a river that runs deep
“Get out of the car!”
“Why was I pulled over, officer?”
“Get out of the car!”
“I’m afraid to move my hands from the steering wheel to my seat belt.”
“Get out of the car and on the ground. You are being charged for resisting arrest!”
The story unfolds with a Black man being pulled from his car at gunpoint. Multiple officers are present. Only one Black man.
But it still ends with his death.
Why? How does a minor traffic stop escalate into tragedy? An expired tag? A license missing from a rear bumper? The suspect is fearful of the police. He questions the stop as harassment and an infringement of his rights. The police are only interested in compliance. The rapids begin to quicken and rise.
Racial profiling is a euphemism for the blunt reality of harassment. It is a form of subjugation and humiliation. It happens every time an officer turns the squad car around because a Black man looks “suspicious.”
“Suspicious” is a euphemism for Black.
The river of racism in our country has run so deep for so long that police trainings can’t stem the tide. Community outreach programs can’t dam the current. They end up being mere lip service to defend police brutality from public outrage. Because It goes much deeper. We have floated along an accepted course of prejudice and tributaries of bias in our society for too long. Enforcement is the process of ensuring compliance with laws, regulations, rules, standards and norms.
But racial profiling is not police enforcement. It is the historical breach that gives one man the right to control and denigrate another based on color. How do we know? Capitol police officers are attacked by a mob of white insurrectionists. The police are ordered to refrain from the use of firearms. Backup is delayed for over three hours from the onset of the assault.
A handcuffed Black man is surrounded by officers who call for backup. Derek Chauvin arrives and places his knee on the man’s neck for over nine minutes. Three full minutes after his death.
White convicted felons with political connections are granted pardons before they see one day in prison. The Black suspect is served a death sentence by police officers who deem themselves trial, jury and executioner. Throughout our history, the blatant sins of the South have evolved into a covert subterranean culture of racism that seeps throughout our country. But it flows. And it flows deep.
Harass the Black man. Put him in his place. Make it harder for him to walk down the street, to vote and to breathe. Because, be it a noose or a knee, the result is the same.
In 1955, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago visiting relatives in Mississippi was accused of flirting with a white woman. Her relatives kidnapped him, forced him to carry a 75-pound cotton gin fan on his back to the banks of the Tallahatchie River. They ordered him to remove his clothes, then gouged out his eyes, shot him in the face, and beat him to death. They bound his mutilated body to that cotton gin fan and threw him into the river.
The jury of white men found the accused murderers innocent. His name was Emmett Till. His mother said that her son struggled with stuttering and she had taught him to whistle to break the stutter. If you are a white American, you may feel that the deaths of unarmed Black Americans at the hands of police don’t impact or involve you.
“If they had respected the police …,” you may say.
Did that “innocent” verdict by the jury in the Emmett Till case impact white America? I think it did. It demoralized our faith in our laws and judicial system. Will the decision by the jury in the George Floyd case impact us 66 years later?
The Tallahatchie still flows. It meanders quietly on the surface. But the racism in our country runs deep. We need to honor and support the police who protect us all equally and fire those who kill us selectively. It’s time for America to find that confluence of rivers that provides mutual respect, despite moving sources that define us by race or politics, for this country to continue flowing ahead.
The verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial will set our course.
Cheryl Cook lives in Penn Valley.
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