If we are to err as Americans on any side in our critique of other countries, it should be in the direction of being...
By Fred McKissack
Do police officers have an existential fear of black men? I‘m quite clear that black men have an existential fear of the police.
I fear police officers, even though I’ve never been to jail or arrested, and even though I have family and friends who are either current or former police officers, federal investigators or corrections officers.
If a police officer is following me, I tense up, and a flood of thoughts flow through my overactive imagination.
“Why is he following me? Is he running my plates? Why? I’m an American! I’m driving a Kia! I’m an Episcopalian!”
As irrational and, admittedly comedic, as the above reads, the fear and anger black people have of police are quite rational and ought not be dismissed.
The recent deaths of two unarmed black men at the hands of police — Michael Brown, the 18-year-old black student from Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner, a 43-year-old father of six in New York —are but the most recent examples of why so many of us fear the police.
Other unarmed black males have met the same fate: Kimani Gray, Orlando Barlow, Aaron Campbell. And Patrick Dorismond, and Amadou Diallo. Look them up; their savage deaths at the hands of those commissioned to protect us are shocking examples of police brutality.
Having grown up in St. Louis and visiting the city at the time of Brown’s death and the tense days and nights afterward, I was reminded of the area’s segregated past. Not much has changed.
For decades, certain parts of North St. Louis County were a no-go zone for black folks, with a myriad of restrictive covenants and intense police scrutiny.
The St. Louis metropolitan area is the ninth most segregated area in the United States, according to a Brown University project. Ferguson is a city of 21,000 people. Two-thirds are black; one quarter live at or below the poverty line. The mayor is white. Five of the six city council members are white. The city’s police department is almost exclusively white.
This racial composition of the power structure adds to the siege mentality on the minds of black citizens in Ferguson and other hyper-segregated towns and cities.
For back America, the feeling of exclusion and harassment goes back almost 400 years and persists today.
I can only hope that it will dissipate by the time my son reaches my middle age.