Smile Politely

What does Justice have to do with it?

With Obama being the first black U.S. president and Sonia Sotomayor becoming the first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee there is a lingering question n the air: does race still matter?

Emphatically, Yes! The country has witness first hand how much race still matters, and not only by the arrest of Professor Henry L. Gates, but also through the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor.

Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” comment received endless TV and radio airplay. Conservatives painted her as a racist that would bring racial biases to the “blind” judicial system even though she has a judicial philosophy and record of not advocating from the bench and following court precedents.

Then the following week, along came this 58-year-old black male — a tenured Harvard professor who walks with a cane and poses no threat. He is in the comforts of his home and because he is irate, upset and may have shouted obscenities to police officer James Crowley, he is arrested.

Now is Officer Crowley a racist? I don’t know.

Historically speaking and still today, the court system and police have targeted minorities — black males, people of color, gays, transgendered people, women and poor whites. This fact has taught us — especially in the black community — to fear the police.

In early February 2009, the police stopped me. I was walking on Lincoln St. heading north of University Ave. around 2 a.m. The police lady, with her partner standing beside her, explained that there was a robbery around Sixth St. and she asked if she could search my backpack. As she was searching my backpack another cop pulled up behind me and got out of his car.

Now there were three cops armed with guns, tasers, mace, nightsticks, and badges surrounding me, and who have authority over me, as well. I was armed with notebooks, pens, a pencil and an iPod. Needless to say I was scared as hell.

I quickly took off my headphones and exposed my hands and iPod. I didn’t want them to mistake my iPod for a gun. In 1999, the police thought Amadou Diallo, 23, of New York had a gun and he was shot 41 times. Recently, in 2006, Sean Bell, 23, also of New York, was also shot multiple times and killed by the police on the day of his wedding. They both were completely unarmed.

I handed over my backpack immediately. I did not want to appear to be resisting the officer­ — even though I knew they were abusing the Fourh Amendment and did not have probable cause to search me. Once again I was thinking — I don’t want to get shot.

In January 2009 Oscar Grant, 22, of Oakland was shot and killed. About four police officers forced him to the ground and supposedly he was “resisting” arrest and transit police officer Johannes Mehserle took out his gun and shot him in the back. He died the following morning. The video was played on and that image was still fresh in my head at the time I was being pulled over. Grant was completely unarmed.

These stories play in my head like an endless loop. This is why I am afraid of the police — as are so many other black males. Since that day I have tried to avoid walking by any cop cars and walking late at night alone.

When Henry L. Gates says that all black men are “vulnerable” dealing with law enforcement he is talking about people like Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell and Oscar Grant.

What do they all have in common? They are all young black males. The police in these cases, except for Johannes Mehserle, were acquitted. There was no president to speak on their behalf. There was no race forum. There was no media frenzy over these deaths. These people are the real victims. They were innocent.

And the list goes on and on: Troy Davis, who sits on death row even though 7 of the 9 witness recanted their story, for the beating death of Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Penn. Ramirez was murdered and two of the four teenagers — Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak — got off with a simple assault charge. Where is the justice for these people?

The problem is the whole justice system. Approximately 70 percent of the imprisoned population are people of color. In this country more blacks and Latinos go to prison for drug related charges then their white counterparts. Black males are an estimated six times and Hispanic males two times more likely to be held in custody than white males. People of color generally have higher rates of being targeted by the police. But yet we, as a society, are supposed to believe that justice is blind and that people of color are treated equally under the eyes of the law?

As for white people, they know the police and the judicial system is repressive. They may not see the race factor, but there are other cases that reinforce this point.

In 2008 a friend of mine — a white male — was given a ticket­ for jaywalking on Sixth St, which he disputed and won. From his side of the story the police officer verbal assaulted him.

In June 2009 the Rainbow Lounge­ — a popular gay bar in Forth Worth, TX — was raided by the police. A candle light vigil was held for Charles Gibson, who was injured in the raid.

What about the people of Libby, Montana? In May 2009 the executives from W.R. Grace were acquitted on charges of intentionally allowing the workers to be exposed to asbestos, which causes cancer.

Then there is the Exxon Valdez oil spill. 20 years later, the fishing waters of Prince William Sound are still contaminated. The people of this community lost their jobs and livelihood.

These people too have also suffered under the hands of a corrupt judicial system. Where was the press conference for them? They received no beer invite to the White House. There is no national dialogue about the judicial system and corporate greed, or police brutality against LGBT people. Where is the justice for them?

Our judicial system is not blind; it has 20/20 vision and the scale is tipped toward upper middle-class mainstream whites.

Sotomayor and Gates have opened up a national dialogue about race and the judicial system, which is seriously needed. We need to take this dialogue way further then just race. Yes — the prisons are packed and full of people of color, but the same system that oppresses people of color oppresses other people as well.

What about, gender, sexuality and class? We cannot afford to look at just race. I cannot separate being racially profiled from Charles Gibson, Luis Ramirez, or the people of Libby, Montana, as we are all victims of a corrupt judicial system. The same judicial system and police force that oppresses me is the same that oppresses them. If we want to end racial profiling we — people of all colors and minority — must unite and put the power back into the hands of the people.

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