Tag Archives: people of color

To (selectively) serve and protect

18-year-old Ramarley Graham was shot and killed by a police officer on Thursday, after police pursued him into his home. Apparently when he was shot he was in the process of flushing a small amount of marijuana down the toilet.

I bet being a police officer is some scary shit. Your whole profession – especially if you work in high crime areas – revolves around being in (potentially) dangerous situations.

One time I was in a potentially dangerous situation. A friend and I were walking home one evening when three people mugged us, one of whom pointed a gun at us to ensure cooperation. I knew that the chances that that person would shoot me were pretty slim (I sure wasn’t going to put up a struggle), but it occurred to me that there was a really small chance that I might get shot, and frankly that really small chance was utterly terrifying. If I had had a gun and if I had thought it would maybe save my life to use it, it isn’t impossible for me to imagine that I might have.

So – did the police officer think that there was a really small chance that Mr. Graham was looking for a gun he had stashed behind the toilet? Or was he so full of adrenaline that he wasn’t thinking at all?

Police officers are awesome a lot of the time, but it does seem like they’re more likely to be awesome with someone who looks like Nancy Drew than someone who looks like Ramarley Graham.

The shooting of Ramarley Graham was the third time this week that a police officer shot a suspect – in New York City. Which makes me think that although it must be really scary to be police officers, it must also be really scary to be afraid of police officers.

Check out the NYT article for more details here.

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Criminal image

Black men in this country have a 32% chance of spending time in prison. Latino men have a 17% chance. White men have a 6% chance. Women as a whole are vastly less likely to go to prison than men, but women of color make up the overwhelming majority of women who do. (For these and more solid basic facts, check out the Sentencing Project’s fact sheet.)

It is tempting to assume that that’s because people of color are the ones committing all the crimes. But what if it had more to do with the fact that when people of color break the law – especially Black people – we notice, and we call the cops. When white people break the law, we give them the benefit of the doubt, or decide not to call the cops even though we know what they’re doing is wrong.

Think that’s unlikely? Or perhaps true to a limited extent, but only a little and certainly not enough to explain the differences?

Please, please watch this segment of NBC’s “What Would You Do?” I promise you it will be one of those things you bring up in casual conversation all the time.

Watch the video here.

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