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Saturday 26 November 2022
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Fear Factor: Police Tactics that Endanger the Lives of African Americans

Op/Ed By Kofi Quaye

 

kofi_quayeOne thing most African Americans want to avoid is a police car behind them while they are driving.

This is because, to most African Americans, the sight of a police car now has the effect of creating a sense of being stalked.

They know it’s likely they will be asked to “pull over,” and, quite often, that is precisely what happens, regardless of whether they have done anything wrong.

It has been referred to as racial profiling, widely debated and hyped in the media in terms of its implications for law enforcement, the administration of criminal justice, and race relations as a whole.

It has also emerged as one of the ugly facts of life for African-Americans in the streets, and on highways.

If you are African American, you are aware of that feeling when you get into your car, pull out into the street, and head to the office, grocery store, or to the mall.

You know the police may be out there somewhere watching, and ready to pounce, no matter how carefully you are driving.

In fact, the feeling is sometimes so pervasive that some of us drive not only with the usual concern of driving safely and avoiding accidents, but with the simple fear of running into a policeman in a patrol car.

We’re always thinking about it, and in the back of our minds is the feeling that all the police need, as a reason to pull us over, is to see that an African American is behind the wheels of a vehicle.

It is this fear factor that has played a key role in the manner in which African Americans have reacted when they have been stopped by police.

Just the thought that policemen and women with guns may have the power to stop you, and possibly arrest you for no justifiable reason, can be enough to rattle any brave soul.

And, it is basically this same fear factor that has given the police the authority and rationale to act in ways which have endangered the lives of African Americans, which is why, consequently, we have ended up with dead African Americans in the streets, and on highways.

Such an encounter can happen anywhere, and it can happen to any African American, regardless of who they are, and how much education, or money they have.

Recent media reports also appear to indicate that it has happened to prominent, affluent African-Americans in rich residential or commercial areas, as well as the poor and middle class, in predominantly African-American, or mixed neighborhoods.

It’s hard to believe that African-American congressmen, police chiefs, chief executives, and prominent ministers have not been spared.

A few have even recounted their nasty experiences with police who have attitudes on national television.

The possibility of being pulled over is real, and it increases if the driver happens to be an African-American male, in an expensive looking, late-model type of vehicle; more so, if the vehicle has any kind of defect, regardless of what, or how minor it may be.

What happens after such a stop is unpredictable, and almost always has the potential to escalate, for reasons that are now being debated, and discussed in the media, in the wake of recent tragic incidents involving African Americans, and police in different parts of the country.

A busted taillight has been described as the cause of the traffic stop of Philando Castile in Minnesota, an African American who was fatally shot by police on July 6.

The incident was live-streamed by the girlfriend of the victim who was in the vehicle with her four-year-old daughter at the time.

Sandra Bland also died mysteriously in prison, after she was stopped, and arrested for a minor traffic infraction.

Most notably, the circumstances which led to the Minnesota incident, and others, have demonstrated problems when it comes to interaction between law enforcement, and African Americans who know they are likely to be stopped by police who may or may not be operating with assumptions about them which may influence their judgement, and impact the way they handle such situations.

It is this factor of fear that has been playing out recently, with deadly consequences for African-Americans when things go wrong.

The search for solutions continues.

Politicians have focused on it as a key issue, which has demanded immediate attention.

In addition, President Obama has called for restraint on all sides.

Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have also alluded to it in major speeches, and joined the call in the search for solutions.

However, in the meantime, nothing much has changed in terms of the danger the streets may pose for African Americans.

Stories of police beating up African American motorists have continued to surface.

On Friday, July 22, network news and social media showed footage of an African-American woman in Austin being slammed to the ground twice by a police officer after she was stopped.

One thing is for sure; the issue of police conduct in cases involving African Americans has moved to center stage, as a result of nationwide demonstrations led by the Black Lives Matter movement, and the media hype in the wake of these tragic incidents.

But, if and when it can be resolved still remains a major subject of debate.

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