“None of the ambiguities that existed in the Ferguson case exist in the Staten Island case, and yet the outcome is exactly the same. No crime, no trial. All harm, no foul.” – Jon Stewart
With a clenching jaw, I was able to understand those who said that Trayvon Martin’s death was a tragic mistake of circumstance, not an issue of race. Though I disagreed, I was not there.
Through grinding teeth, I was able to bring myself to terms with those who argued that the killing of Michael Brown was an act of self-defense, not because he was black. Though I disagreed with the grand jury’s decision, I was not there.
However, the entire world was there to watch the death of Eric Garner. Today, we must remember an indisputable truth that has somehow been forgotten, and rededicate ourselves to the work of rectifying it: racism still exists.
Garner’s death was broadcast across the nation, and this time there is no argument. The 43-year-old unarmed, asthmatic father was killed by an overzealous white police officer’s chokehold while attempting to arrest him on suspicion of selling unpackaged cigarettes in Staten Island.
The officer didn’t shout racial slurs or brandish a Klan membership card while doing it, but he didn’t have to to inflame racial tensions. The officer, in all likelihood, had a racial view similar to one that all white people, including me, have had at one point or another.
It’s one colored by media stereotypes and social pressures that have caused whites to knowingly or unknowingly treat blacks differently. I can nearly guarantee the officer didn’t approach Garner thinking of what he could do to harm him, but in approaching Garner, the officer saw him as a threat and not a fellow citizen.
In the end, this single act speaks to the wider problem of police acts disproportionately affecting people of color every day.
Protesters rally against police brutality and racism by marching with their hands up along Liberty Avenue on Dec. 4, 2014 in downtown Pittsburgh. (Michael Henninger/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)
Garner noted this moments before his death as he said, “Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. This stops today.”
He shouldn’t have had to die for his words to come to fruition.
On Wednesday, a Staten Island grand jury decided not to pursue criminal charges against the officer, who had twice previously been sued for constitutional rights violations, according to The Washington Post.
Racial issues often hide behind ambiguity relying on the testimony of one witness over the account of others. However, in the case of Garner, it was wide out in the open. The evidence was clear; the camera’s were rolling. And even though, with indisputable evidence, we can say that a police officer’s overuse of force caused the death of an unarmed black man, the criminal justice system declined to protect him.
It’s that same criminal justice system that enforces the law in such a way that one in three black men will go to prison sometime in their lifetimes: It’s in the same nation where blacks have lower income, less wealth, fewer opportunities for quality education and lower homeownership rates than whites.
As an American, you’re left with two options. Either institutionalized racism still exists and is restricting black opportunity and equality, or white people are inherently better in our society. The latter claim is both irrational and the very definition of racism. However, those are the only two options.
While this case is still fresh, one thing is clear: the anger that I long imagined would boil over in this situation never came. Instead, it was replaced by an immense sorrow, as through the last few weeks I’ve watched us fall decades behind where I once thought we were in the evolution of race in America. As we’ve become more polarized as a nation, so have our views on race. Now, rather than having a conversation about what is racist, half of us are refuting the claim that racism even exists.
In our ultra-partisan national psyche, it almost seems as if the fact you are conservative or the fact you are liberal is now the primary thing coloring your view of the issue.
The question of whether racism exists and whether we should wage a fight against it shouldn’t divide us, especially along those partisan grounds. Race in America isn’t a Democratic problem. It isn’t a Republican problem. It’s an American problem.