Many are arguing there is no systematic racism in our country and certainly no systematic racism within law enforcement, including one of this week’s letter writers. We tend to forget, however, that we live in a very big country and what is happening (or not happening here) doesn’t reflect what is happening in other places, especially in our major cities.
One fact many people are quick to point out is that more white people are shot and killed by the police each year than black people. While it’s true the number of white people killed is higher, it is also true there are far more white people in America than there are black people. What we have to look at are the per capita numbers. How many of each group gets killed annually on a percentage basis? That is what really matters.
According to Statistica (statistica.com), while there are more white people shot and killed annually by police, the rate of fatal police shootings from 2015 to June 2020 is much higher for blacks and Hispanics than for white suspects. Among black Americans, the rate of fatal police shootings between 2015 and June 2020 stood at 30 per million of the population, while for White Americans the rate stood at 12 per million of the population. Hispanics were also killed at a higher rate at 23 per million of the population.
Those numbers should be alarming to everyone.
What should also be alarming are some of the stories currently being told by black police officers, FBI agents, and military members. If you don’t think there is any systematic racism, then you haven’t heard their stories.
In a recent editorial for USA today, former Detroit Chief of Police Isaiah McKinnon shared how he was beaten by the police at the age of 14 for walking through a white neighborhood, how after he became a Detroit police officer he was routinely called the N-word by white officers, how during the 1967 riots in Detroit he was pulled over by two white officers and had a gun put to his head and told, “Tonight, you’re going to die, n-----,” before he managed to escape, how years later he reported a group of officers for beating three black teens and was told by his commander he couldn’t “ruin the lives of those good officers,” and how after he became the Detroit chief of police he was pulled over by one of his own white officers while driving an unmarked car because the officer “thought it was a stolen car.”
Former FBI special agent Andre McGregor—a technically trained cyber agent, firearms instructor, and medic, who graduated from Brown University—recently shared some of his experiences on cnn.com. McGregor said shortly after stationed in the FBI’s Manhattan Field Office, he got “the talk” from one of his fellow officers.
“Shortly after I graduated from Quantico, a cop friend in town congratulated me on my academy successes, then proceeded to walk me through a scenario: one day, I might be off-duty at 7-Eleven or Wawa getting food when someone tried to rob the store. I will want to intervene by pulling out my gun to detain the criminal. The cashier would call 911 and somehow in the heat of the moment my description would be confused with the perpetrator's—so much so that the local cops would show up, see me with a gun and shoot me. So instead of getting shot, my friend advised that if anything like that ever happened, I needed to put my gun down once I saw the red and blue lights pulling up, lie on the ground with my arms extended, let the cops handcuff me alongside the criminal, and they will sort out who I actually was later. He was trying to save my life, just in case.”
Of course, none of his fellow white agents ever got “the talk.”
McGregor also shared how he was pulled over by a white police officer while working surveillance late one evening. “The officer walked up to the driver's side door and I said exactly what I was taught at the academy: ‘Sir, I'm on the job and armed.’ The officer replied, ‘OK, please show me your ID.’ I began reaching for my ID and the officer said, ‘Reach slowly, I don't want to have to shoot you’—to which I immediately responded, ‘Yes, I don't want you to shoot me!’ He stared intently at my FBI (credentials) and said, “Do you have another ID?’"
Chad Brown is a decorated U.S. Navy veteran who received multiple honors for serving in Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf and Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. He can’t even manage to go fishing without being harassed, as he recently related in “Hatch,” a fly fishing magazine.
“The reality of being black in America is being born with a target on you. You can’t separate from this target. It follows you wherever you go. Every time you step outside, your target is visible. You’re judged, spat on, called ‘n-----' time after time. You walk into a store or office and are falsely accused of a crime. You’re subject to traffic stops simply for being in the ‘wrong’ neighborhood, and then you get harassed by the cops.
“Once, when I was pulled over, the cop asked me if I was a U.S. citizen even though my driver’s license clearly indicates that I’m a United States veteran. My car tires have been slashed while fly fishing. Once, while I was fishing on Veteran’s Day, my brake lines were ripped out of my truck.
“On social media, I have been publicly accused of ‘taking’ fly fishing from white people. I’ve been told ‘This is our sport not yours!’ and ‘You need to ask permission to fish my river!’ I have received threatening phone calls where I was told I will be drowned the next time I try to fly fish.”
We’d all do well to follow Brown’s advice: “We are all now bearing witness to a relic of the old world. Racism is the foundation on which our nation was built and it has never left us. When will we break the cycle of generational poison? When? We are all humans, but we will be all only when we have accepted all races as human. White folks have the choice to not participate. White privilege provides one option to not fight for what is right. But white people also have the choice to lean into their privilege and use it to build a bridge to stronger communities, to make all humans a race of one.”
I’d be proud to go fishing with Chad any time!