By Dr. Wilmer J. Leon, III, Special to Acumen Magazine
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities” 1859
Americans, especially African Americans stand shocked but not surprised in the wake of the acquittal on all charges of officer Jeronimo Yanez in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile in Minnesota. Castile, armed but licensed to carry, is dead after informing Yanez that he was armed and licensed. Castile appeared to follow Yanez’s directions. Officer Yanez’s defense? He was “in fear for his life”. Yanez was afraid that Mr. Castile was grabbing for the gun, telling the jury, “I thought I was going to die” and that he (Officer Yanez) had visions of his wife and “baby girl”. This is ironic testimony from Yanez since his shooting of Mr. Castile took place with Castile’s fiancé and her young daughter in the car.
In Tulsa, OK a jury found Officer Betty Jo Shelby not guilty in the death of Terence Crutcher. Shelby fired a single bullet into the chest of an unarmed Terrence Crutcher as he stood next to his car on a tree-lined street. Her defense? She was in fear for her life. She testified that she had a reasonable fear that Mr. Crutcher was reaching for a gun and that she simply reacted based upon her training.
A jury deadlocked in the murder trial of former University of Cincinnati police officer Raymond Tensing. Tensing shot and killed an unarmed Samuel DuBose during a routine traffic stop in July 2015. The traffic stop took pace off campus. Judge Leslie E. Ghiz declared a mistrial for the second time in this case.
How is it that in these recent cases and countless others; families are left looking for indictments or guilty verdicts while juries see justified shootings? In spite of body cameras and independent video, juries view what the public sees but are unable to indict or convict the officers. They can’t believe their lying eyes. They believe the police accounts of “I feared for my life” even when it is proven that the officer’s account of the event wasn’t true or the unarmed victim was trying to comply with the directives given by the officer. In America, it’s the tale of two realities.
For the sake of making my point I am going to make some generalizations here. I know that not all people fall into these categories and I am painting with a broad brush, but I believe the premise is valid. It starts with how the police are viewed by different segments of society. Many people in the dominant culture, White people, see the police as a force that is there to serve – them, and protect their property against threats and attacks by people of color. Many people in communities of color, especially African Americans and Latinos have a different experience and historical perspective. They see the police as an occupying and oppressive force. A police officer telling a jury, “I was in fear for my life”; or “he made a furtive move”, resonates with some white jurist’s fears and perceptions. Enabling them to ignore the reality projected in the video and nullifying the common-sense conclusion drawn by those with a different reality. Jurors have said, yes, I saw the video but I could not bring myself to convict that officer of man-slaughter or murder.
This reality is not as simple as Black and White. African American police officers have been acquitted of killing African American people as in the case of Milwaukee police officer, Dominique Heaggan-Brown. Officer Brown, shot Sylville K. Smith in his chest even after Smith had thrown his weapon over a fence. Juries with African Americans on them have acquitted African American officers for killing people of color as in the Smith case. Four of the twelve jurors were African American.
I believe the most dominant factor in these cases can be attributed to racism (white supremacy) and the misperceptions and emotions conjured up by issues involving the artificial construct of race. Dr. Francis Cress Welsing defines racism (white supremacy) as the local and global power system structured and maintained by persons who classify themselves as White, whether consciously or subconsciously determined. This system consists of patterns of perception, logic, symbol formation, thought, speech, action and emotional response, as conducted simultaneously in all areas of activity (economics, education, law, etc.). Even though some of the officers or jurors involved are African-American, the analysis still applies. African Americans can and have fallen victim to the same conditioning as White people.
These white supremacist perceptions and actions not only play themselves out on the streets of America but are articulated on the world stage as well. They are clearly expressed by representatives of the local and global power system such as American members of Congress and President Donald Trump.
As anti-immigrant and Islamophobic rhetoric gains traction in many corners of European society, Iowa Congressman Steven King praised the far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who has espoused anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric and recently called Moroccans “scum”. While in Europe, King said, “You cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else’s babies…You’ve got to keep your birth rate up, and you need to teach your children your values. In doing so, you can grow your population, you can strengthen your culture, and you can strengthen your way of life.”
While in Poland President Trump gave a not so subtle nod of approval to Poland’s authoritarian and anti-immigrant President Duda. Trump, the patron saint of the “birther movement” spoke about defending “Western civilization” and “Western values”. He also said, “We must work together to confront forces…that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith, and tradition that make us who we are…” How were these sentiments interpreted by leaders from Asia, Africa and Saudi Arabia?
To the average American these are innocuous words, standard American rhetoric. To those with another reality who understand settler colonialism, American racism and hegemony, this is White Nationalist code language. As Dr. Ronald Walter’s wrote in “White Nationalism Black Interests”, “if a race is dominant to the extent that it controls the government of the state…most policy actions appear to take on an objective quality, where policy makers argue they are acting on the basis of “national interests” rather than racial ones.” In short, they don’t have to articulate racist narratives; it’s baked into the policy.
If one truly understands the pervasive impact of racism (white supremacy) and White Nationalism it is easy to understand how juries can rationalize and dismiss the murderous behavior of police officers. It is important to understand that the members of these juries may not be consciously racist. They have been raised, taught and indoctrinated in and by a system that creates, supports and perpetuates this mindset. These precepts play themselves out on the streets of America and its courtrooms. They are articulated by American presidents and members of Congress on the world stage even today.
If you are a beneficiary of the American Dream, it is best of times. If you are oppressed by the American nightmare, it is the worst of times. Are we living in an age of wisdom or an age of foolishness where “fake news” and “alternative facts” rule the day? It’s America and tale of two realities.
Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Leon,” on SiriusXM Satellite radio channel 126. Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. www.twitter.com/drwleon and Dr. Leon’s Prescription at Facebook.com
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