Police Under Fire

06/04/2015 - 7:15am
Racism should be separated from the dangers of police misconduct.

#BlackLivesMatter: Jews participate in a demonstration organized by Jews for Racial & Economic Justice in December 2014. Twitter

Racial discrimination has reached a boiling point in our country. With every death of an unarmed African-American at the hands of police comes a new protest, and with every protest comes new debates that consume America. I was prompted to write this article by the growing tide of ridicule and violence that has been unfairly aimed at police departments, rather than at the individual officers who are sometimes charged with breaking the law. Additionally, it has appalled me that community leaders have spread messages of violence based on hearsay and false accusations, not on facts. These groups have depicted an America where the issue is white vs. black rather than justified police action vs. unnecessary force. Yet, I have faith in America and I trust that our country can emerge from this difficult period stronger and more equitable than ever before.

Teens should raise their voices when the facts clearly show that there is injustice within our borders. If we do not, anger and the distrust of the police will engulf America and the debate will dissolve from a struggle to a conflict between blacks and whites. A struggle leads to new ideas and will help shape a new America, whereas a conflict is harmful and will detract from the work of the civil rights leaders who sacrifice their lives for equality.

As a Jew whose people are sometimes targeted by hatred and persecution, I sympathize with the black community, and I recognize that there is a legitimate problem in our country. I support racial equality and those who turn to peaceful protest. However, I cannot support the handful of prominent leaders and news agencies who use the actions of a few officers to indict entire police departments, drowning out the voices of activists and leaders who work tirelessly for true reform. 

Freddie Gray was an unarmed African-American who died while in police custody in Baltimore. Some accuse the police in Baltimore of profiling African-American neighborhoods, but we cannot be oblivious to the facts. In 2014, the FBI announced that Baltimore had the fifth highest homicide rate in the United States, according to The Baltimore Sun. Furthermore, the areas hardest hit by riots and protests have some of the highest homicide rates in the city, according to Neighborhoodscout.com. Gray’s neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester demands more police presence and resources. This does not justify racial profiling — it is the police department’s job to focus on high-crime areas. Law enforcement protects all citizens, no matter their ethnicity or race. Most of the time, the police follow the letter of the law, but when rules are broken the police administration must investigate with full transparency in order to maintain trust. No officer is above the law.

Some neighborhoods in Baltimore were heavily guarded. Citizens have the right to protest in a peaceful manner and defend their version of the truth. But there is no excuse for turning the right to demonstrate into an opportunity to incite violent riots that turn peaceful cities into veritable war zones. These actions must stop if people want their demands to be taken seriously. Often it is a select few voices who are guilty of inciting the masses. (Photo: The National Guard protects the residents of Baltimore. CNN) 

This occurred last summer when residents of Ferguson, Mo., a St. Louis suburb, flooded the streets to protest the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager. After Brown’s death, Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights leader with a controversial career of stirring anger and accusing people of racial injustice, arrived in Ferguson. There he eulogized Michael Brown and demanded immediate action and change. “This is about justice! This is about fairness! And America is going to have to come to terms when there’s something wrong that we have money to give military equipment to police forces, but we don’t have money for [police] training,” he declared at Brown’s funeral. In my opinion Rev. Sharpton’s presence ignited the events in Ferguson, as his political reach stretches far beyond his speeches.

Thousands swarmed the streets in Ferguson, businesses were shuttered and the National Guard was employed. Rev. Sharpton made little effort to stop the riots; instead, he played his speeches off the anger of the populace by using vague phrases such as, “We have to be outraged.”

It is evident to me that Rev. Sharpton came to Ferguson for self-serving purposes. He wanted to create a national scene when in reality the events were a local issue. The investigation into Brown’s killing concluded that the shooting victim had been moving towards the accused officer without his hands raised. Instead of helping, voices like Sharpton’s agitated matters and caused the innocent people of Ferguson to be caught up in a violent political scene.

The violent response in affected communities is a recurring theme. After Gray’s death, news correspondents flocked to the city calling his death another example of racism and police brutality. Yes, it is a matter of negligence, or perhaps even malice, and certainly a horrible tragedy, but anyone who calls this a race issue is forgetting the facts. Baltimore has a black mayor, a multiracial police force and a black prosecutor. In the Freddie Gray case, three officers were white and three black. The circumstances of Gray’s death should not be confused with a racial issue; the Baltimore case should focus on broad problems such as police corruption and poor training. When the problems are mixed with race, dangerous events ensue such as the senseless riots. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s first step of nonviolent protest was the collection of facts. If we do not pursue the truth and, instead, rush to make assumptions, we will fuse the issues of racism and police mismanagement together and will turn protests into incubators for violence.

As a white teenager growing up in suburban New Jersey, I will admit that I have a privilege many don’t — namely, the color of my skin. It is shocking that I would need to say this in 2015, but it is a reality. We need to focus on changes that would be beneficial to all Americans. As the future of this nation, we teens need to let our leaders know that we will neither tolerate racism nor police negligence. My Jewish tradition reminds my people that we were strangers in another land. We must ensure as a society that African-Americans do not feel like strangers in their own land. 

author's bio: 
Aryeh Lande is a freshman at Golda Och Academy in West Orange, N.J. 

Comments

Submitted by Luke on Thu, 06/11/2015 - 6:37pm

Great post.