Vilifying unarmed, shot victims

William T. Robinson, Jr.

William T. Robinson, Jr.

Each day only verifies that there exists a racial divide in America that must be addressed and corrected if we are to go forward as a nation in recognizing and exercising the liberties of all our citizens. Some law enforcement agencies and some media subliminally suggest that unarmed victims shot by policemen caused their own outcomes by previous unlawful violations. Most people of color find this insulting and unwarranted.

It is not surprising that the tension continues to escalate in the midst of racial unrest among people of color and many established law enforcing agencies. Tulsa, Oklahoma and Charlotte, North Carolina, are the recent sites of unarmed citizens of color being shot and killed by police officers. The situation is only exacerbated by the use of what many feel as extreme and unwarranted action by officers upon individuals involved in misdemeanor offenses.

There is a growing disconnect with many African Americans and Hispanics with law enforcement agencies whom they feel disproportionately target people of color and use unnecessary force and action subsequently leading to the death of those stopped or arrested. Time after time, videos have been produced showing unarmed people being subjected to questionable brutality or force. Recent videos have shown one unarmed victim on the ground verifying that he is indeed unarmed; however, he is still shot—and another victim is shown with his hands in the air that is still shot and killed by law enforcement officers.

While it is visibly plain what has occurred in many cases, many law enforcement agencies seem to help in supporting officers. They rationalize or try to justify why they resorted to using deadly force. In fact, with the aid of the media they often portray victims as ‘riddled with arrests’ and not as good examples of law-abiding citizens. It is as if they are saying the victim deserved their outcome. Vilifying or demonizing the victim once you have shot or killed the victim only acts as a cover up which only infuriates and intensifies hostile feelings for law-enforcement agencies by the Black community. This can only be seen as a smokescreen that helps legitimize the action of the policeman and to dilute the harshness of the action as a whole.

Common sense dictates that at the time of an altercation, most policemen are not aware of the full history of the arrested individuals—especially if they are just arriving at the scene. Therefore using past violations as a reason for unnecessary or brutal action is suspect at the least during a shooting or killing.

All too often those involved in the murder are given paid time off while being investigated (and eventually found innocent) by those involved in the criminal justice system. It is not hard to understand why so many people are protesting and demanding changes and justice from law enforcement agencies they feel are complicit in targeting and killing Black people as if their lives don’t matter.

Black people, especially, are not protesting against law enforcement officers that protect and keep innocent people safe. They are protesting and demanding changes of the systemic use of the law by some police agencies in promoting and allowing disproportionate discriminatory practices on people of color and allowing some policemen to get away with murder. The public is demanding justice for the families and communities of those senselessly murdered by police officers.

Policies and practices occurring within some law enforcement agencies must change. More accountability is demanded for officers who may feel that barring a gun gives them the right to kill at will. A more uniform policy should exist among all law enforcement agencies in gun use training, especially in deciding whether to maim or kill. Psychological tests as well as unannounced drug screening should be mandatory practices occurring periodically. Justice should be administered fairly across the board, not targeting minorities. There must be transparency in dealing with the community, especially after a shooting as well as friendly interaction among the policemen and the community.

The bottom line is that a respectful and healthy relationship between the community and policing agencies is necessary in safeguarding and protecting our community. This can only occur with mutual cooperation by all parties. We have a long way to go but positive change is possible when we become honest and open to changing what we know is a corrupted and bias system. Attempting to turn public opinion against shot or killed unarmed victims because of past infractions often acts as nothing more than a cover up and unwillingness to change.