Wibecan: The silence of the law
What is there about this brown skin we wear that frightens some police officers so much that it causes them to draw and discharge their weapons? Should I fear for my life if I happen to be stopped for something as mundane as a traffic violation?
I must admit that these days I drive frightened. Philander Castillo, driving on a St. Paul, Minnesota street, recently was stopped allegedly for a broken taillight; something that usually gets one a warning and a request to get it fixed. Yet Castile is dead from four bullets fired by a frightened officer who reportedly drew his gun for no reason at all.
Alton "Big Boy" Sterling was shot dead in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by an officer who was lying on top of his upper body while another officer covered the lower half.
During the ensuing protests five policemen were murdered by a deranged sniper with an automatic weapon that had no business being in civilian hands. It is not "payback" to take revenge on anybody wearing a blue uniform. It is simply murder, a senseless act of urban terrorism.
In the course of one night seven men will not return home to their families and thousands of friends and supporters will mourn their untimely deaths. I grieve for all of the lives, unlike the men in blue who seemingly only weep for their own.
There is no doubt that most police officers are hard-working, fair-minded people. It may be difficult to live in America without becoming prejudiced, but I don't believe that all police men and women let it affect their work, and that most draw their weapons only as a last recourse.
Even in peaceful, liberal Vermont, where few people of color reside, a recent study showed that drivers of color are stopped for traffic offenses more frequently than white drivers. And when they are stopped, they are three times as likely to be searched even though the probability of finding contraband is significantly higher in the white-owned vehicles.
It is abundantly clear that in cities across the nation black consumers of police services are treated differently from their white counterparts.
Unfortunately, when one of these police shootings takes place we don't hear from the good cops, the ones who believe that the offending officers may have acted precipitously. Their silence looms loud in the face of continuing atrocities of brown-skinned people being shot by police. Just the other day a brown therapist was shot in the leg while lying on his back with his hands high in the air. Perhaps if the one of the officers had told the shooter to put his gun away the therapist might have been spared a hospital visit.
Lately we view endless cellphone videos and have them explained by television pundits. But we should also hear from those fellow officers who witnessed the shootings. That Blue Wall of Silence must come down because it is not useful except to serve as cover for someone who may have committed a crime.
There is no reason why police cannot participate in policing themselves. Racist statements in the locker room and station house, for example, must not be tolerated, and should be reported to superiors like they are in other professions. Confederate flags, which have become a symbol of racism and intolerance, should not be allowed in police buildings or parking lots.
In remarks for the U.S. Holocaust Museum observance in 2009, Holocaust survivor and man of peace, Elie Wiesel, who died on July 2, shared the following: "I know and I speak from experience, that even in the midst of darkness, it is possible to create light and share warmth with one another; that even on the edge of the abyss, it is possible to dream exalted dreams of compassion; that it is possible to be free and strengthen the ideals of freedom. . . . In the final analysis, I believe in man in spite of men. I still believe in his or her future in spite of what human beings have done to the principle of human dignity and human life."
That principle must be preserved and the law keepers of the land need to go about their business with equal regard for all citizens. We cannot expect less.
Ken Wibecan lives in Plattsburgh, N.Y. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.
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