On the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 24, the Florham Campus hosted a Hot Topics discussion about the police and the African American community, using the “I Can’t Breathe” movement as a point of reference. It involved three panelists: an African American professor who co-edited an anthology on the subject, an author who had done several years of field studies with the police and an FDU student whose father is a police officer.
I imagine that it must have been extremely difficult for the FDU student to stand alone in front of such a large audience, supporting a clearly unpopular opinion, so I commend him for his bravery. I almost felt sorry for him, watching two much older, more educated men and other students rip his arguments to shreds. I almost feel sorry for him, but not quite. It’s very hard to feel sympathy for an argument that ignores such blatant cases of racial injustice, even in the face of seasoned professionals who have real data and evidence that totally dwarf that perspective.
This isn’t about any particular person. I am simply against people in general looking at the events with biased perspectives.
Everyone on both sides of the issue has chosen to magnify details that fit with their existing opinions and close their eyes to the details that contradict them. This explains why many in the black community immediately believed that Michael Brown was innocent, and why those who supported the police quickly worked to make him guilty.
At the Hot Topics panel, a student in the audience cited the case of a black man who murdered two police officers. This, she claims, justifies cops’ heightened aggression around black men.
This begs the question: if the murderer had been white, would the police officers have started fearing all white men?
The answer, of course, is very obvious because in our society, it is much easier for people to believe that any black man is a potential murderer than to believe the same of a white man.
The question now for a lot of people is, what do African Americans want out of protesting and calling attention to these issues?
Well, for starters, nobody is asking for special treatment from the police. What we want is to be treated as equals, just as the U.S. Constitution promises. We want to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, rather than guilty, even when proven innocent. And we want the right to a grand jury procedure that works to offer us justice, rather than to offer our victimizers immunity.
But most importantly, we want people to open their eyes. The most egregious aspect of the race issue in the United States is the fact that so many people continue to claim with absolute conviction that race is not an issue, even when their claims are negated by conclusive data.
For example, one of the panelists stated that there was previously a law that allowed police officers to shoot fugitives while the fugitives were fleeing; that law was overturned. He said that, while the law was in effect, African American fugitives were shot more often than white fugitives.
Yet, many in our community would argue that race has nothing to do with the police’s treatment of African Americans. Those people who think this has nothing to do with race are as foolish as the people who claim that the Holocaust never occurred.
As far as I am concerned, this Hot Topics panel did not yield much new information. It was mainly just a handful of students asking the same questions over and over again.
But the wonderful thing about the panel was that it offered students an opportunity to express their opinions, many of which were extremely ignorant, but valid nonetheless.