On Fear: Black Males & The Police

by Ebonie Johnson Cooper, Chief Millennial Officer

Protest against racism and the fear that Ferguson police have about young black men. Photo by Michael B. Thomas. AFP/Getty Images


People and animals respond in two ways: out of love and out of fear. Tigers protect their cubs from eagles out of love. Mothers wrap their children in warm clothes in the winter out of love. A deer caught crossing a busy highway stalls out of fear. A man apologetically holds up a gas station for money to feed his children out of love and fear.  And apparently, police officers and white men shoot unarmed black men (and women) out of fear.

Zimmerman said he feared for his life as he saw 16-year-old Trayvon walking in a hoodie. The 200-lb man said the skinny, lanky Trayvon tried to beat him up so he shot him to save his own life. Zimmerman walked free. Dunn said 17-year old Jordan Davis’ music was so loud that after the young man and his friends ignored his request to turn it down, he was afraid they had a gun so he shot into the car killing Jordan. Dunn sits behind bars. Six feet four-inch, 210-pound, Police Officer Darren Wilson described feeling “like a five-year-old holding on to Hulk Hogan” during his confrontation 18-year-old-Michael Brown. While Brown was indeed a big boy, the feeling of fear Wilson described from an unarmed, gentle giant were unsubstantiated. Officer Wilson will not be charged at all.

What is this “deathly fear” white men have of unarmed teenage black boys who are doing normal things in life like walking, and listening to loud music? It’s called ignorance. In turn, what is the fear black men and boys have towards armed white men? It’s called being black in America.

The history of race relations in America is no secret. We know the face of the oppressor and the face of the oppressed. If we based present day interactions on that of the past, people of color, particularly blacks and American Indians, have a justifiable right to fear every white person they see. But we don’t. We have evolved as a nation. We have evolved as communities of color. While we don’t live in a post-racial society, we aren’t where we used to be. Yet if we aren’t where we used to be and black boys are still getting killed without cause, where exactly are we as a nation?

We are a visual society. We believe what we see. We believe what we hear. We believe what popular culture tells us people are. When all of what we see and hear borders on the negative it creates a bias. Then when we don’t explore the truth behind what we see, we are beholden to what could potentially be a misrepresentation or just one subset of an entire group of people- i.e. ignorance. If confronted by that we have a bias towards and what we are ignorant to, we act out of fear. Take a Muslim person for example. If all you’ve ever heard and or seen about Muslims is based on Isis, then you quite possibly have a bias towards an entire group of people you’ve never met. If you see a Muslim man, who dresses like those you’ve seen in the news, your fear of him doesn’t give you the right to kill him and cry self-defense. Unfortunately, this is what happens time and again to black men and boys in America.

Society sees rappers dressed like hood-rich thugs, and hears them touting explicit lyrics. We then see some black men and boys intimidating what they see and what they hear. If you don’t know any black males, you might assume they are all this way. This is not a blame rap, blame pop-culture or the media justification. It’s an acknowledgement that the images and portrayal of black males aren’t diverse enough. It’s a statement that our pop-that, smurder this, body him, culture is being celebrated without enough alternative imagery to counter-balance it. It’s the truth that America is fearful of black men and boys and there isn’t enough being done about the deeply-seated fear. Trayvon and Jordan weren’t in urban areas when they were killed. They were just black boys at the right place at the wrong time. People are fearful of what they don’t know. Fear of the unknown creates bias. Bias propels ignorance. Ignorance is the springboard to life-altering choices.

The white men who are responsible for the deaths of black boys from Chicago to St. Louis, to Los Angles to New York to Miami and all cities in between all did it based on the same defense: fear. This fear is evidence that there needs to be more education on not only race relations but human interaction. There needs to be more honest community engagement with between blacks and whites. It would serve the nation well if Congress implemented a mandatory educational training for all law enforcement on how to engage with black men- young and old. Perhaps it’s time the My Brother’s Keeper initiative create a special project on fear, black boys and the police. It could educate both black boys and law enforcement on how to interact with one another. It would be a groundbreaking project and surely a step in the right direction.

Ironically, Tupac said it best in this 1988 interview on education and what we really need. “We got so caught up in school being a tradition, we stopped using it as a learning tool. That’s why the streets taught me….We’re not being taught to deal with the world as it is. We’re being taught to live in a fairy land. …Don’t they understand more kids are being handed crack than diplomas?”

If we all continue to live in fear of one another we’ll never get any further than we are right now.

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