aNewDomain — The angry reaction of many black Americans of a Ferguson, Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict a policeman in the shooting of unarmed 19-year-old Michael Brown on August 9th has prompted a rather predictable split-screen ideological narrative.
On the left, progressives sympathetic to the oppression of the poor and racial minorities declare that officer Darren Wilson is a murderer allowed to walk free. On the right, law-and-order conservatives take the cop at his word when he claims he feared for his life when he pulled the trigger.
No doubt, there is a race divide in perceptions of the police. A national poll about Ferguson conducted in September found that 91% of blacks believed that Officer Wilson should have been charged with a crime, compared to 42% of whites.
“The story is [probably] one of lived experience,” University of Michigan sociologist John Pacek told the Christian Science Monitor. “The day-to-day experience … that black Americans have with police and with other institutions leads to a less trusting environment.”
As an upper middle class white man who distrusts the police, I’m an exception. But I’ve lived in racially diverse neighborhoods in New York City for years. I walked from my building, on a mostly white block, to the nearest subway, in the southwest corner of Harlem, every day. Not only did I observe economic discrimination — on the black part of my walk streetlights went unfixed for months, street cleaning occurred weekly rather than daily — I saw bored white cops hassle black kids sitting on their stoops in humiliating “stop and frisk” searches. My black roommate always had to present ID to retrieve his packages at the post office. I never did. Racism is real and pervasive and ubiquitous. I’ve seen it.
Lost in this anti-cop blacks vs. pro-cop whites paradigm is the daily reality that many whites have unpleasant dealings with local law enforcement. Not only that, unarmed white men get shot to death by cops, too — often without sufficient justification.
From 1999 to 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2,151 whites were shot to death by police in the United States. (That’s more than blacks numerically, but fewer per capita.)
Whites as victims of police brutality? You bet.
There is considerable evidence that white privilege won’t protect you from being beaten or otherwise abused when you fall into the clutches of white (or black) cops. In 2000 I was roughed up by an LAPD motorcycle cop for no apparent reason, other than the fact that he didn’t like the cut of my jib. (He charged me with jaywalking, which as a New Yorker I do often, but wasn’t doing then.)
In the United States, local law enforcement has a license to kill — and if they use it, the odds are, nothing will happen to them. Black or white, the smartest course of action when you fall into their clutches is with deference and courtesy, including when declining to answer questions, which is your right.
Based in New York, Ted Rall is a syndicated writer and cartoonist — and a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He’s also a columnist at aNewDomain and the author of After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan, due out Sept. 2, 2014. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon, follow him @TedRall on Twitter and check out his posts on Google here. His Silk Road to Ruin: Why Central Asia is the Next Middle East (expanded and updated) is available now.