Hands Up; Don’t Shoot!

(7-Year Anniversary Edition)

It’s time to Break It Down!

Michael Brown’s funeral was Monday at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis. Yesterday Kajieme Powell‘s funeral was held at the William C Harris Mortuary in the same City. In the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting, protestors in Ferguson, Missouri (where Brown was shot), and across the country, have popularized the meme “Hands up; don’t shoot.” The words, when uttered, are typically accompanied by raising one’s hands in the familiar position assumed when ordered to do so by officers of the law.

This combination vocal/visible action is intended to symbolize the state of siege with which young black men frequently find themselves. A vociferous debate, probably the most robust since Trayvon Martin was killed, has ensued. While there are a number of elements that serve to stoke the flames of discontent, most if not all of them stem from or lead to race. Spike Lee argues “There is a war on the black male in America.”

At first blush, one might be inclined to discount Lee’s position as part of a rant. Spike and a number of African Americans associated with issues revolving around race and ethnicity are dismissively referred to as race baiters. Their points, no matter how valid, are frequently lost in the resulting din. The point of this post is to say, “Pump the brakes; not so fast.”

Marc Lamont Hill is a Distinguished Professor of African American Studies at Morehouse College. He has previously served as an Associate Professor of Education at Columbia University, and as an Assistant Professor of Urban Education in American Studies at Temple University, one of his alma maters. He is the author of the book ”Beats, Rhymes and Classroom Life: Hip-Hop Pedagogy and the Politics of Identity,” and the co-author of two other books. In his spare time, Hill is a journalist and television personality. He hosts Our World with Black Enterprise, and online HuffPost Live, and is a BET News correspondent and a CNN political commentator.

Dr. Hill calls the frequent shooting of black men “Domestic Terrorism.” He has claimed several times during the recent discourse that police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes extrajudicially killed at least 313 African Americans in 2012. To frame that in a different way, according to a recent study, every 28 hours in 2012, a police officer or law enforcement surrogate killed an African American.

With those statistics as a foundation for the discussion, can anyone really argue with Spike Lee’s depiction, or with Dr. Hill’s characterization? I would say both men fairly accurately describe the situation. When Hill spoke of domestic terrorism, he was contrasting the rioting that ensued after Michael Brown’s death to the hyper-frequent instances of “Black Death” by law enforcement. Spike Lee was making a similar point.

Somewhere along the line, in order for this discussion to be on point, the question of accurate depictions must be raised. In short, PolitiFact.com rates Dr. Hill’s assertion as false. But, not due to a discrepancy with the number of people the study alleges were killed. Rather, because not all of them were unarmed. In fact, only 136 were unarmed. Nevertheless, that’s one unarmed African American killed every 64 hours, and still an African American every 28 hours. By my reckoning, that qualifies as an epidemic. PolitiFact that!

In addition to the killings, other methods of oppression include:

  • Mass incarcerationof nonwhites
  • Disproportionate arrests for like crimes
  • Longer sentences for the same offenses

African Americans make up 13% of the general population, but 40% of the prison population. African Americans use drugs at the same rate or less than whites, yet they are 3 to 5 times more likely to be arrested for drugs. In New York, 80% of drug stops were of blacks. When whites were stopped, 8% were frisked; 85% of blacks were frisked.

All things considered, I leave you with this note of caution. During the TV show, “Hill Street Blues, the character known as Sgt. Phil Esterhaus sent his shift off to their daily duties with the departing words, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.” Unfortunately, the contemporary parallel for African American males is, “Hands Up; Don’t Shoot!”

I’m done; holla back!

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