I want to thank the demonstrators -- in Ferguson, Mo., New York, and nationwide -- for exposing a deep problem of justice that has plagued our nation for too long. For years, I had heard stories of police misconduct in African-American communities, and I believed them. But nothing brought home the gravity of the problem like these protests. To those who have marched for months: Thank you!
What has been happening as a result of the Michael Brown case in Ferguson is a sustained, organized campaign over months, almost all of it nonviolent. It has taken a lot of hard work. I have not seen a quest for racial justice as powerful since the days of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
So now, I, like many others, heard with disbelief the announcement that a Staten Island, N.Y., grand jury had decided not to indict a white police officer whose chokehold killed a black man, Eric Garner. The coroner's office had previously ruled Garner's death a homicide.
The New York Times reports that the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, said he meant no harm to Garner. He reported that he heard Eric Garner's desperate plea, "I can't breathe." If so, why did he continue? I've seen that video. There were several others holding Garner down. His chokehold was clearly not necessary for an arrest.
Here, just as in the case of Michael Brown of Ferguson, the issue is justice, especially justice in police actions in the African-American community.
What we do not know, and may never know, is the way in which on-the-spot emotions and attitudes that grow from our race-laced culture played a role in these, and other, cases. For example, was there an "I'm gonna show him" attitude? A fear of African-American men ingrained over years? If so, police training has to work to overcome these attitudes, which can fester for a long time, especially when there are very few African-American police on a force (as in Ferguson).
This case, as we know, is symptomatic of the justice problem we face with police nationwide. Soon, a grand jury will probably deal with the killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African-American boy in a park in Cleveland. Let's hope that is not the third in a series.
We're in the season of Advent, which is supposed to be a season of hope and new life. Hope and new life in the African-American community means reforming the police and the public attitudes that support the police practices that have led to too many unnecessary deaths.
Join the Conversation
Send your thoughts and reactions to our online Letters to the Editor column. Learn more here