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Friday, March 30, 2012

Not Laws but Mentality

So another unarmed youth was shot and killed over this past weekend, this time by police, after a 911 call about a robbery of a backpack.  (NYTimes Article)  It gets even better (sarcasm) when you hear that the police arrested the 911 caller for claiming that the assailants had shoved a gun in his face and in part contributed to the killing of the unarmed youth.  Once again, as in the case of Trayvon Martin in Florida, the youth was black.   The police officers claimed that they felt their lives were in imminent danger when the youth, 19, reached for his waist where they felt there was probably a gun.  The officers then unloaded their guns, 8 or 10 bullets (their story has changed), and the youth died in the hospital later on.  What makes this even more troubling is that they youth they shot was running away from police when he reached for his waist.  Lives in imminent danger?  Doubtful.  The 911 caller?  He will probably be charged with involuntary manslaughter because he lied to police about the gun.  Yet the caller claims he lied in hopes that the police would get their more quickly.  This is simply another twisted case in which a youth was shot and killed because he was suspected of having a gun, which he didn't.  There seems to be this overwhelming mentality that if you have darker skin, you will be more likely to be armed and dangerous than if you had light skin.  Its not about the gun laws, its about a prejudiced mentality that our country can't seem to shake off and get rid of.   If we want to talk about equality, we must start with the perceptions and prejudices of the majority and seek to alter them dramatically.

Its always something in the United States that stokes feelings of inequality, racism, prejudice, unfairness, etc.  You can be a black man, Muslim, Jew, Hispanic, female, or any other subset and be a victim of inequality, of unfairness.  One month we hear of Christians rallying against the Muslims for fear they are all terrorists.  The next its all about young black men getting shot and killed needlessly.  After that its all about the government impinging upon the rights of Catholics.  It seems that no matter what we do, we can not escape the grip of inequality or prejudice at any level in our society.  With such diversity in the United States, such freedom to be who we are and do what we want, can we ever reach true equality amongst all citizens?  I don't know if we ever will reach that point of true equality.  The only way we can truly be equal to everyone else in our society is if everyone seeks to change their mentality about people who are different than themselves.  Don't get me wrong, this would be a monumental effort and one not likely to succeed in my mind, but one worth pursuing nonetheless.  As humans, we have a proclivity to stay within the realm of whats comfortable.   Most people are skeptical of anything that is different or of anything that challenges their notions of what "should be".  What must happen in order for prejudices and preconceived notions to be torn down is for us to start viewing each other as Americans; nothing more, nothing less.  If we live in this country, regardless of how long we have been here, there is an obvious inclination to desire freedom, a desire to live a life of our own choosing.   Yet too often we can't see each other as simply Americans.  There is always some other indicator we must attach to "American" in order to specify what we are talking about.  We have Black Americans, Muslim Americans, Jewish Americans, Hispanic Americans, etc, etc.  It seems that many people have a problem with simply considering their fellow citizens as "Americans".   All of this plays into our mentality and how we deal with people on a regular basis.  For some, it means demonizing Black Americans and considering them to first and foremost be armed and dangerous.  If we can change our mentality, perhaps we can change how people are treated every day.

So back to the original story of the youth being shot and killed by police officers.  I must be fair and state that the two assailants did in fact rob the 911 caller of his backpack.  That being said, however, there still remains that fact that there were no guns found and that the police shot and killed one of the assailants.  Can they claim they acted because they felt their lives were in imminent danger?  Absolutely, but they wouldn't necessarily be correct in that statement.  It just sounds odd to me that someone who is running away can be a threat to someone's life.  I can understand if he rushed cops while reaching for his waist, especially considering the 911 caller's statement about a gun, but that still doesn't exclude the excessive use of force, of unloading 8 or 10 bullets into this young man's body.  Last time I checked (and I do not want to test this out myself) it usually only takes one well placed bullet to stop a person.  But all we can do now is let it unfold as it will and see how the cards fall.  Besides that, we can all start to adopt a different mentality of the people around us, one that espouses equality instead of working against it.  Until we can view everyone around us as "Americans", we will not be equal and some group or people will feel unwelcome, discriminated against, and not equal to the rest of us.  We have been working at this "equality" thing for way to long.  It is time we stepped up our efforts to be all inclusive without prejudice, and maybe one day we won't have to worry about dealing with "inequality".

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