*While the country is in the midst of a national uproar around the shooting death of Sanford, Florida youth, Trayvon Martin, and the failure to arrest his killer, George Zimmerman, deadly assaults against black men are occurring all over the country, in cities—big and small. Of course, we cannot sweep aside the “black on black” murders that are taking place in cities like Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles. We should be as upset about this as we are outraged about racialized conflicts. It doesn’t make sense to be outraged about one and not the other—but we’ve been socialized to be hypersensitive to interracial conflict and benign to intra-racial conflict.
Some want to suggest that it is “open season” on black males. When has it was not been open season on black males? The problem is that best of black men look like the worst of black men, and the public—and law enforcement—have gotten tired of trying to figure it. Black men are viewed as public menaces, public threats and suspicious characters whether they’re in hoodies or tuxedos, as activist Van Jones queried when suggested how to protect black males. The greater point here is that a new generation of black males don’t recognize race and racialized situations as previous generations once did. That’s what “colorblindness” has done for us. We might think society is colorblind, but they see black people every time. Especially black males.
We once taught our youth how to survive in America, outside of their neighborhoods. We now have to teach them how to survive in their neighborhoods. We once told our youth how to save themselves and save their lives when interacting with law enforcement and hostile racial predicaments. We knew that there were “elements” in our society that didn’t need much of a reason to kill black men, and only needed somebody, or something, to give them a reason. Walking through a white neighborhood was a reason in 1912. It shouldn’t be a reason in 2012, but it is. And not just in Sanford, Florida. We used to teach our boys how to act around trigger happy police. Police have always been trigger happy when it came to black males. There are no more “accidental shootings” and “isolated instances” than those that involve black men. “Death by cop” is right up there with accidental drownings and other casualties black people disproportionately suffer from. Police are an occupational hazard in the black community.
It doesn’t seem like we’d forget such fundamental lessons of cultural survival. Yet, we’ve forgotten a lot of these lessons, and we’ve forgotten many who have gotten caught in these forgotten lessons. In the cause celebre’ aftermath of the Martin killing, a more outrageous killing of a young black male has occurred in the sleepy bedroom community of Pasadena, California. Pasadena, known for its “old money,” rose parades and laid back lifestyles, has had several racialized incidents over the past couple decades. But Pasadena, like Disneyland, is viewed as the “happiest place on earth” and like Teflon—nothing seems to stick to it.
The latest incident involves the Pasadena Police department’s killing of a young black men running from the police, based on a 911 call from an illegal immigrant who claimed he was robbed by a “black man with a gun” who had taken his computer and bookbag. The police comes across a 19 year old named Kendrec Mcdade, who was out running—not necessarily from a crime (that hasn’t been established)—then ends up being chased by the police, one on foot and one in the car. Instead of stopping, he chooses to try to elude the police and ends up getting shot by both police—first by the cop in the car (a former military sniper) and then by the cop on foot who hears his partners gun shots. No gun or computer bag has been found.
The Pasadena Police Department is in intense “cover up” mode, seeking to deflect the attention on the 911 caller versus the actions of its officers. They tried to charge the caller, Oscar Carrillo, with involuntary manslaughter for making what amounts to be a false call. The charge didn’t stick because the caller can’t be held responsible for the outcome of the encounter. He can only be charged with making a false call, which is a misdemeanor. We know everything that Carrillo and McDade did, and nearly nothing that the Pasadena Police did. Of course, the story being told is that McDade reached for his waistband, while running, and the officers feared for their lives…What the community is hearing is that the officer in the car hunted him down like wild game and didn’t have a real reason to use deadly force. Two things are troubling about the McDade killing, the police and the immigration aspect. Like the Martin shooting, nobody is really upset about this except black people—maybe a few others, but that’s it.
While black people go ballistic when white people are involved, they don’t say much about these racialized incidences that occur with relative frequency with Latinos—and its becoming a problem. Latinos have Negrophobia too and somebody needs to talk about it. The concern, of course, that the conversation will fuel a larger more volatile conflict between blacks and Latinos. Many of these conflicts are not with American born Latinos, but foreign born Latinos in the country illegally. McDade is not the first black male to die due to a conflict with an illegal immigrant, thus fueling African American anti-immigrant sentiment. This needs to be discussed at some point. The issue with the police is that they have now defaulted to deadly force encounters because, as Pasadena Police Chief Sanchez communicated to several community groups, “it is within the policy to use deadly force in this situation,” meaning a police chase.
This is not exclusive to one department. This is a nationwide problem. Police discretion has always been questionable when it came to black males. It’s why we used to teach our young boys to never run from the police. You give them an excuse to shoot you in the back. It’s why we used to teach black males to keep their hands in plain view. It wouldn’t be a reach to say that more black men have been shot with wallets and cell phones in their hands than with guns. It certainly is more common than not. Policing has always been a dominant form of social control in African American communities. Discretion has to be used on both sides. But there is something really egregious about the McDade death that the community should be upset about—the absence of control by police officers who never saw a gun. Being told he had a gun is no excuse. That was just the set-up. What did they really see? They just saw a black man running.
Kendrec McDade’s family has filed suit against the City of Pasadena. Fundraisers are being held to pay for the funeral to bury him. While everybody cries for Trayvon Martin, very few even know about Kendrec McDade and even fewer cry for him and his family.
Kendec McDade is the forgotten one—one of many forgotten ones around the country, as the black community have forgotten its many lessons in how to protect black males from the social hazards of race hatred and discriminate law enforcement—sometimes one in the same.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.