*Sporadic aftershocks can still be felt after explosive verbal wars and protests that spanned from New York to Los Angeles to the small Midwestern city of Ferguson, Missouri shook and divided the country along racial lines. And for those of us who are familiar with America’s brutal treatment of African Americans, it should be no surprise as to why another killing of an unarmed Black man by a white police officer ignited immediate outrage and intense emotional reactions.
It’s hard for us to imagine that race doesn’t play a factor in cases that bear such a striking resemblance in detail and outcome. For example, an unarmed Black man is targeted by white police officers; white police officers decide that he’s either a suspect or poses a threat, then shoot him multiple times; a black corpse ends up in a body bag while an unapologetic police officer attempts to justify his violent reaction.
Unfortunately, in these cases, history has proven that the pendulum of justice rarely swings in our favor, deepening distrust in law enforcement and lack of confidence in the criminal justice system. And yet non-Blacks can’t seem to understand why.
Perhaps it’s because we have always bore the brunt of police brutality, and the Blue Code of Silence practiced inside a well-constructed culture of cover-ups legitimizes the abuse of power against those who are at a socio-economic disadvantage.
Wrongdoing persists among individuals in authority because they believe that their authority makes them untouchable and exempt from accountability. The lack of transparency and accountability creates a pattern of misconduct that is concealed more often than revealed, permitting people in authority to operate with impunity. Thus, protecting the reputation of an institution, an organization or an individual becomes more important than providing the public with the truth.
For decades, Catholic priests were able to cover-up thousands of claims of child sexual abuse while accused priests were merely reassigned to new parishes as children and families suffered in silence.
Only in recent years has the public been made aware of sexual assault and sexual harassment pervading in the armed forces. Military personnel who had been victimized were either ignored or faced retaliation for coming forward with allegations, especially with claims against higher ranking personnel.
Corporations are constantly settling class action suits once their fraudulent business practices are uncovered. And as far as government is concerned, very few people actually trust the government as a result of widespread corruption among politicians elected to serve the public.
In essence, a person doesn’t have to be Black to understand the kind of indignation an individual experiences when people in authority abuse their power and conspire to cover-up wrongdoing with delay and avoidance tactics. Adding insult to injury, people most vulnerable to the abuse of power are typically low-income minorities, whose concerns, questions and claims get easily dismissed.
Perhaps the greatest misfortune, or what I consider to be an offense, is when good people within the ranks of these institutions and organizations remain silent out of fear of alienation, retribution or job termination. It takes courage and personal conviction for an individual to overcome the mounting pressure to conform without feeling disloyal or a sense of betrayal. Unfortunately, this rarely occurs because the overall image of the institution or organization seems to take priority over justice and public interest.
It’s perfectly natural to hold individuals in authority to a higher standard. We expect them to operate without bias and prejudice. We expect them to lead by example by acknowledging mistakes and misconduct. We expect them to accept full responsibility for their actions.
The abuse of power is a grave injustice to anyone regardless of race. We have a right to expect fair and equal treatment as well as transparency and accountability. It may not necessarily heal all of the open wounds in this country but it’s certainly essential for rebuilding trust, respect and confidence in authority.
Dana L. Stringer is the author of “In Between Faith.” She is a writer, playwright, poet and screenwriter based in Atlanta, Georgia. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter: @danalstringer. You may email her at [email protected]