On Monday 23 May 2016, Officer Edward Nero was found not guilty in the case of the arrest and later death of Freddie Gray. Nero, faced misdemeanor charges of second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and two counts of misconduct in office. Judge Barry Williams said there were “no credible facts” to show Nero was involved in Gray’s arrest.
On 12 April 2015, Freddie Gray was arrested by Baltimore Police Department for possessing what the police stated was an “illegal switchblade.” While being transported in a police van, Gray fell into a coma and died seven days later on April 19th, due to spinal cord injuries. The arrest was caught on tape, was shared widely on social media and soon went viral, sparking outcry from the public. The handling of Gray was put into question, were the police too rough in his arrest? And why did they treat Gray the way they did? Was it race related?
Gray’s case of possible police brutality and racism from the force is not the first. And it is also not the first case where the police were found not guilty. In 2014, unarmed teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer for stealing cigarillos in Ferguson, Missouri.. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/08/13/us/ferguson-missouri-town-under-siege-after-police-shooting.html?_r=0
That same year, Eric Garner was choked and swarmed by multiple officers when he was accused by NYPD for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/14/nyregion/eric-garner-police-chokehold-staten-island.html His untimely death was caught on camera, and made viral for all to see and fed the fuel for the now famous #BlackLivesMatter movement.
All three cases have a similar ending, the white police officer has an outcome of no conviction.
So what if the tables were turned? What if a black police officer had killed a white man?
On 3 Nov 2015, two black officers who killed a six year old white boy and severely injured the father were arrested seventy-two hours after and charged with second-degree murder. Much faster than Gray’s, Browns, or Garner’s case.
However there have been instances where African American police officers were acquitted of crimes where they have killed a white man. Gilbert Collar; an unarmed teenager from Mobile Alabama, was killed by Officer Trevis Austin in 2012. It was a case similar to Brown’s, with an unarmed teenager who seemed to cause no harm. Austin was acquitted of all crimes. But in a time where African Americans are being murdered and incarcerated at high rates, the judicial system seems more likely to indict a black officer than their white counterparts.
Here are some statistics on the incarceration rates of Non white Americans in contrast with that of White Americans:
- African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population
- African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites Americans
- Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately only one quarter of the US population
- According to Unlocking America, if African American and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates of whites, today’s prison and jail populations would decline by approximately 50%
- One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime
- Nationwide, African-Americans represent 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons
The Graph above shows the disparity between African Americans with access to education and those without. There are clearly social and economic issues that predispose those without educational foundations to be more likely to commit crime. American society needs to acknowledge and address the lack of opportunities and provide greater support for the impoverished. The Justice system must evolve beyond being a tool of severe force and there should be training for police officers on how to de-escalate rather than escalate tense situations through lethal force. There is a need for reorientation of the mentality in the US justice system, the law is there to censure justly and should not be used as a tool of selective repression of sections of the population.
The truth boils down to this: the US judicial system is quick to sentence African Americans, but is slow to incarcerate those who harm them. There is need to understand why the justice system in America is skewed in this way and greater attention should be paid to the root causes of the high arrest rates.
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