Racism and privilege, the problems of white authority

I recently re-read this editorial that WaPo’s Colbert King wrote while the Michael Brown protests were raging. He told a story about his mother-in-law who once taught on a Mississippi school farm. One of her fellow employees shot a dog that had been taking the farm animals.

…the white farmer who owned the dog retaliated, turning up at the school to shoot the employee to death and threaten the school’s president. The school’s president was forced to flee, my mother-in-law said, but nothing happened to the white farmer.

Back then in Mississippi, a farmer could kill a black man for shooting his dog. White men were entitled to ‘justifiable’ homicide for all sorts of reasons. Anyway for King, re: Michael Brown…

It reminds many of the way in which authority is exercised, especially in communities where the central relationship between blacks and whites is the police.

In places like Ferguson, police represent white authority. Authority empowered to enter the community backed by the extralegal support of white sentiment. Authority whose word is taken against the word of an accused African American. Authority that not only arrests, but punishes, too.

That’s the problem: White authority. That’s the phrase that keeps rolling around in my head. Racial privilege imbued with legal power. For most of American history it meant that white people could do whatever they liked to black people without consequence, or justification. In the current endless series of shootings, maulings and neck-breakings of black men at the hands of white policemen, we’re seeing it in all its modern glory. Watch this, if you can:

20 year-old Dontrelle Stephens is riding his bike down a street in Palm Beach when he notices a police car following him. He stops to ask what the problem is, and the cop shoots him four times. No reason, and no warnings. What would make a policeman think that’s okay? And this confrontation:

Levar Jones pulls into a South Carolina gas station when trooper Sean Grouber pulls alongside, then asks for his license. Jones turns to retrieve it, and Grouber shoots him four times. Or rather he shoots Jones once and misses three times because he’s a crappy cop. The unarmed victim took a bullet to the hip less than five seconds after the officer initiated the stop – how can this have happened? What in the world was the policeman thinking?

And what were the consequences for these officers? In the second case, surprisingly the trooper ended up getting fired. In the first case, although the video clearly shows Dontrelle wasn’t armed and only tried to run away, the shooting was ‘justified’ and the policeman returned to duty. Dontrelle is now paralyzed.

I don’t know how else to discern this madness other than to point out that racial privilege has been embedded in American authority from the country’s beginning. And though the Civil Rights Era was way back in the nineteen-sixties, unarmed black men continue to be shot and killed without justification right up to today. The truth is that white cops are even now entitled to lie in court and in police inquiries because they’re better than their black victims. It’s only been the recent development of the smartphone that brought this problem finally to the country’s attention.

Feel free to dispute this. But if white authority isn’t the lingering mix of racism and privilege that’s responsible for our problems, how do you explain this?

Voters in Parma, Missouri voted in their first African-American female mayor.

Tyrus Byrd will be sworn in as mayor on Tuesday evening, April 14 at the Parma Community Building.

According to Mayor Randall Ramsey, five out of six police officers resigned this week, effectively immediately.

Mayor Ramsey said the city’s attorney, the clerk and the waste water treatment plant supervisor also turned in resignation letters citing “safety concerns.”

All but one of Parma’s white policemen and much of the city’s leadership walked off their cushy jobs. Because, for some reason, their own town wasn’t good enough for them any more.

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