Imagine you are me. I’m a fun, loving, energetic, and imaginative young man. I’m full of promise and possibilities. I can be the one to cure Alzheimer’s by creating a new neurological technique that removes damaged brain cells and allows them to regenerate. Now imagine that I may never get to give these gifts to the world. Why, you ask? Because I AM A BLACK MALE child. According to researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Black Americans are 3.23 times more likely than white Americans to be killed by police. Even more concerning is that black children are six times more likely to encounter police brutality. Many have speculated on the cause behind this, such as the American Psychological Association, whose study reports, “Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime.” So — you see — you may never get to know if I can cure Alzheimer’s. I may never get to know my full potential because police brutality stops a lot of people like me before we even get started.
Police Brutality, as defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica, is “the unwarranted or excessive and often illegal use of force against civilians by police officers.” But an easier way to say it is that police brutality occurs when an officer uses more force than is needed. Police Brutality is even more wrong than citizen violence because officers are in a position of great power over us and they are supposed to use that to protect and help us, not hurt and kill us. There are numerous situations like this that have occurred, and many possible ways violence could have been avoided.
Let’s take Darrien Hunt, a 22-year-old black male in Utah. He was shot by two white officers for holding a decorative Samurai Sword while cosplaying, which means dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or play. They followed Mr. Hunt out of a store and around a block and then proceeded to shoot him when he ran. Worse, it appears the officers did not receive punishment for the taking of an innocent life. In short, they were not held accountable for their actions.
A way this violence could have been prevented is if the officers had been fully trained to not overreact, but instead to assess and de-escalate. If they had asked Mr. Hunt to throw down his weapon, it is likely that as they retrieved it, they would have immediately recognized that the sword was not real. They might also have noticed that Darrien was dressed in cosplay. This whole situation affects me deeply because I can imagine a loved one in a situation where they were involved in cosplay. If this were to happen to them, I would feel very mad and powerless because I would not be able to do anything to try to stop the officers.
Let’s also look at 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a black boy in Cleveland, Ohio. Police officers gunned him down because he was playing with a toy gun (CBSnews.com). Again, as with Darrien Hunt, had the officer been better trained and not overreacted, he would have noticed that Tamir was playing with a toy gun on the playground and maybe even laughed about his mistake afterward. I am 11 and also happen to be black. I can imagine my friends and me playing with toy guns on our playground. What if an officer with a trigger-happy finger shot at me or my friends? We’d just be little kids playing. Officers should be able to reason that a little kid might be using a toy gun and then use that observation to keep from shooting kids. In any case, there is no reason police should shoot a kid in the back. Tamir was running away, probably scared like I would be.
In study after study, it is proven that police brutality is a problem. More alarming is that studies show that “the young shooting victims are disproportionately Black and Hispanic – 37% and 25% of these fatalities, respectively, compared with 13% and 18% of the U.S. population.” However, these numbers are not needed to emphasize risks for black and brown people, because we already know the fear. It makes our neighborhood edgy, our homes sad, and the people depressed. This also destabilizes us as kids because we can never really just be kids and dream, and play, and maybe make kids mistakes. We, black boys, have to learn to grow up and be aware too fast to try to avoid being one of the numbers.
In an article and video published by the Brookings Institution, observers described flaws in the policing system using terms like saying “bad apples come from rotten trees.” The video then proceeds to show where an officer (the so-called bad apple) does an illegal thing and is not criminally charged; rather, he is protected by the rotten trees–the “thin blue line,” or the police organization that he belongs to. It seems that in such cases officers are rarely fired, but rather, are put on leave or desk duty. The result makes zero sense and provides no justice to the affected family or anybody within the community at large. Imagine if an officer in your community killed your neighbor for no just reason but was not fired or put in jail or punished. You might feel unprotected, angry, or powerless because the police officer got away with murder. I would feel that way.
In conclusion, I believe that police brutality is a serious problem and should be addressed with more training, mental health, and bias evaluations. I want to grow up and be a neurosurgeon one day (or change my mind and be a game developer). But I may have a hard time getting to my dreams if I come across the wrong officer at the wrong time. Can you help us change this trend? I hope so.