We at Unity in the Community have been paying attention to the current news about the young black men being killed by police.
Yet, through comments, it seems many Americans consider themselves racially unbiased, but at the same time have negative automatic, gut-level feelings toward African-Americans, which are relatively unintentional. In other words, it is possible that they associate African-Americans with negativity without knowing it.
Research done by University of Washington, University of Virginia, Harvard University and Yale University’s psychology departments shows that even if a person considers themselves racially unbiased, these negative automatic feelings could cause them to harmfully discriminate against African-Americans. The study concludes that when someone risks harming other people, they may have a duty or obligation to behave with a certain amount of care, caution and attention.
Now think about someone who considers themselves racially unbiased, but has those negative automatic feelings. Individuals who really think because African-Americans have an issue with what these cops are doing, we are blind to what’s going on in our community. Yet there is room in the African-American community, as well as other communities, for change.
Mike Brown was no angel, but he did not deserve to be gunned down in that manner. Eric Garner, who was strangled in New York, was no angel, but he did not deserve to be put in a choke hold until he passed away. The police overstep their boundaries all the time, and nothing happens to them. People the world over are saying enough is enough.
By comparison, we often hear these acts trivialized with talk about the many blacks who kill other blacks, i.e. black-on-black crime. That’s like saying we shouldn’t be upset when a woman is killed by her husband because women fight other women all the time. The difference is, if the perpetrators are caught, those black people who kill other black people get indicted for murder.
With that said, we think that most are missing an important point expressed in the sentiments of black people when these kinds of incidents occur. Police are sworn to protect and to serve, gang-bangers are not. Thus, while it is equally unfortunate, it is more egregious when one is violated by such an agency, and that frustration is exacerbated when there is not equal treatment under the law. Justice is supposed to be blind; no one holds such standards for the underworld. Yet it seems the police in some areas are becoming more of a paramilitary organization used to enforce the wants and needs of the state.
Within that paradigm, young black men become nothing more than just enemy combatants of the state. As such, they have no real value; they cease to matter. Also, no one is saying that people killing each other of the same race is OK. And although it is true that all lives matter, to speak that sentiment in a climate of insensitivity toward a particular group of people — specifically when their well-being and actual ability to live is on the line — is in itself a negative, automatic feeling. Some people need to stop interjecting that saying, “All lives matter, not just blacks.” We don’t go to a breast-cancer-awareness rally and then scream loudly that we should be considering other diseases.
So no one is trying to make black lives more important; we just want them to at least be as important as white lives or those of any other race.
Today, it’s not just blacks who have spoken out against the violence. But we understand that the powers-that-be don’t want to see unity, they keep bringing up things that are irrelevant to the current situation. It’s the hate that hate produced. Yet they have found no probable cause to return any indictments in both situations.
What message does this send to the rest of the world’s communities? Sometimes, our emotions can get the better of us, but if we must think logically and unbiasedly, should the officer(s) involved be allowed to walk free without explaining why they felt that that level of force, which led to the suspects’ deaths, was necessary in the first place? The justice system, despite the attempts that have been made to make it fairer to all, was designed to subvert and subjugate some segments of our society. Yes, a lot of reforms have been done, but more still needs to be done. There are vestiges of prejudice that remain deeply embedded within the system, and it is every American’s responsibility to join hands to fight any form of bias in the system.
Because of this, some people really get sick when they see people not hold the police to higher standards. Some also would like to see the police with better benefits, including mental-health counseling for PTSD. The push for body cameras is being supported by the police union. The cameras will hold police accountable for what they say and do and don’t do, and we expect they will increase productivity and decrease citizen complaints.
These events have re-opened wounds festering too long and too deep in our land. That is why it is especially critical during these days of tension and uncertainty that we, along with the churches, seek to bridge that gap. God calls us to unity, and when we do choose this, God fully expresses himself in that environment of unity. So we are to “weep with those who weep,” and we are to “put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience,” according to the Bible. In addition, we are to have “unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart and a humble mind.”
Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
Butts and his wife, Sharon, are co-founders of Unity in the Community and coordinators of Bryan County’s 2014 Unity in the Park Festival.