This is not one of those “Happy Fridays” let’s all be happy. The past few weeks have been marred by violence that has shaken our nation.
Instead, this Friday is a chance where we as a nation must take a step back and truly reflect and examine our conscious and unconscious feelings on racial bias, prejudice, and the role of violence in society.
I’m currently thousands of miles from the states, but even in the land down under my heart dropped deeper than Australia’s geographic location once I watched videos of both Alton Sterling and Philando Castile’s deaths. (And LITERALLY as I type these words twelve police officers in Dallas were shot, with five dying. When will this stop?) Sitting in the Melbourne airport I froze- with my mouth wide- while watching Sterling thrown to the ground and pumped full of lead. Even as he lay there, with blood gushing from his chest, the gun stayed pointed on his helpless body. Not long after that, Twitter was abuzz with new footage of a murder in Minnesota. As I watched video of Castile’s limp and lifeless body, narrated by his girlfriend, I couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down my face. The gun, similar to Sterling’s situation, was still pointed at a body that only had a few heartbeats left.
This is the current state of our nation. Guns pointed, quick trigger fingers, and now with visual evidence that went viral, we have a chance as a nation to not only have another conversation on present day racial bias, but also hopefully examine a system that is obviously discriminating against African Americans.
Almost as a prelude to this week’s shootings, the Department of Justice announced that it would now force its 28,000 employees to participate in training to confront unconscious racial biases.
When announcing the initiative, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates stated the DOJ’s rationale: “Given that the research is clear that most people experience some degree of unconscious bias, and that the effects of that bias can be countered by acknowledging its existence and utilizing response strategies, it is essential.”
Acknowledging the existence of unconscious bias is certainly a step that must be taken by all branches of law enforcement- even if it took until 2016 to reach this conclusion. I believe that unconscious bias undoubtedly played a part in the shooting of Philando Castile. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton agrees, “Would this have happened if the driver were white, if the passengers were white? I don’t think it would have.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Governor Dayton's comments. Castile was 32. I am 26. As a white male, with a girl and child in the car, I would bet my life that I would not have been shot four times. That is where white privilege and unconscious, or even conscious, racial bias comes into play.
When studying racial bias among law enforcement, UC Berkeley criminologist Paul Takagi declared “police have one trigger for white and another for blacks.” The New York Times posted a gripping article that communicated the story through words, but more importantly, told the story through videos. These videos provided evidence of how the trigger finger is employed against blacks in our nation. Citizen journalism, which was utilized through the unedited videos with both deaths this week, is now transforming how the world sees and understands justice.
From the aforementioned New York Time's article: “A lot of white people are truly shocked by what these videos depict; I know very few African-Americans who are surprised,” said Paul D. Butler, a law professor at Georgetown University and a former prosecutor. “The videos are smoking-gun evidence,” he added, “both literally because they are very graphic, which generates outrage, and figuratively, because people believe their own eyes.”
As a nation, we are in the midst of a revolution. Two unarmed black men were shot and killed by the police for all of America to see. As the details continue to pour out it has been confirmed that multiple police officers were shot and killed at a Dallas protest for the death of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. We are living in a cycle of violence. The American psyche is troubling. Desensitized to hate. Desensitized to death. Desensitized to violence.
Change must come- because if it doesn’t we are bound to repeat the revolving cycle of violence. And if that's the case, I'm terrified for our future.