Photo by Kelly Lacy from Pexels
By Tyra Gordon
Racial injustice has erupted throughout American history even before this country’s official inception. The Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, pronouncing the thirteen colonies’ separation from Great Britain. During this time, the enslavement of Africans was in full force, as the men who occupied the American colonies began to bring millions of African slaves to U.S. territory in the early 17th century; the U.S. Constitution, known as America’s “supreme law,” was comprised in 1789-this framework for our government and its laws established freedoms for the white men that were being set up to run the country. While the Emancipation Proclamation, written almost 100 years later, abolished slavery amongst the confederacy in 1863, it wasn’t until the 13th amendment of the constitution was added in 1865 that slavery was abolished throughout the entire United States. Although the formerly enslaved were now considered “free,” it took several amendments to allow them some of the same freedoms as their former slave masters. Given the history in this country, along with issues that still arise, some would argue that African Americans are not truly liberated today. Although no longer physically enslaved, systematic inequalities exist and some may never view African Americans as their equal. The superiority complex has been embedded into the minds of many white Americans for generations and it is evident in how blacks have been and continue to be treated, particularly within the justice system. From the Detroit riots of 1943, to the murder of Breonna Taylor in 2020, it’s hard not to reflect on the fact that African Americans fight to seek justice in a system that was never designed by us, for us or to protect us.
In thinking of the countless, senseless killings of African Americans in the United States of America, specifically at the hands of police officers, there are many examples of police brutality against blacks throughout American history-the Detroit riots in 1943 is a testament to this notion. With Detroit being a powerhouse for the car industry, the conversion to military production during World War II attracted many people to the city, both black and white. White supremacy groups like Black Legion and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) were already very prominent in cities like Detroit; with more blacks migrating to the city, this angered such groups as there became an increasing fight for jobs and housing. The Detroit police department was a predominantly white force and there was complicity amongst the police department and white supremacy groups. When the riots broke out on June 20, 1943, blacks and whites were fighting for their place within the city, resulting in at least 34 people being killed. Of those killed, 25 were black and 17 of those black deaths were at the hands of police officers. During a time when the police were supposed to serve and protect all, they in turn slaughtered people, most of which were black.
Conventional media outlets allowed us to learn about the Detroit riots in 1943 through TV news shows and newspapers. It’s very likely that there are examples of police brutality against blacks that have gone undocumented. However, the development of social media has allowed more light to be shed on discriminatory actions involving the police. Outrage spread across the nation as the murders of numerous black men and women at the hands of police officers are videotaped and released. The world looked on as news broke of the suspicious deaths of Eric Garner, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in America.
Police officers are taught to disarm and disable suspects when they are being apprehended for a crime. There have been multiple occasions where a black person has been accused of a crime and before, during or without an arrest, the utilization of unneeded force and violence has resulted in death. Even if Eric Garner was selling single cigarettes illegally or George Floyd attempted to use counterfeit money, are those actions worth their life? Or, take Breonna Taylor, for example: she was asleep in her bed, when her life was taken by police as a result of a botched warrant. She had committed no crime, yet still she died unnecessarily.
What is equally as painful as the executions of blacks in America by police is the lack of accountability within our justice system for those officers. A police officer can simply say that they feared for their life and be pardoned for taking someone else’s, even when there is no proof of an initial threat or resistance. To take away a police officer’s right to “serve and protect” when they have failed to do so is a miniscule start, but it is not nearly enough.
The Pledge of Allegiance, written in 1892, echoes the words “…with liberty and justice for all;” by this time, slavery had been abolished and it was documented that blacks and whites were to have some of the same rights, but that was not being carried out. Many whites were angered by slaves being “freed” and segregation was rampant in the U.S. White Americans still felt superior to blacks and that theory was implanted into the minds of generations. This premise has reared its ugly head in every aspect of American history, including our “justice” system-our police forces. Amendments have been and continue to be added to the constitution to protect and provide rights to those who are often victimized, however, until the mindset of people changes, we will continue to have an unfair system that devalues the lives of black people; so much so, that they will have no problem killing us.