Devaluation of black lives infects America to its core

It wasn’t really a surprise. Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray laid out a careful case for why his office, following an investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation, decided not to charge Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Brentley Vinson in the shooting death of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott, who is African-American. Murray said he found no legal wrongdoing. Scott had a gun, Murray said the evidence showed that Scott didn’t drop it when officers shouted at him to do just that, and Vinson said he felt he had no choice, that he and his “buddies” were threatened.

Darren Wilson saw ‘a demon.’ What do you see?

“He looked up at me and had the most intense aggressive face.” That’s how police officer Darren Wilsondescribed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown. “The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon.”

Wilson’s testimony convinced the grand jurors and others that the officer was justified in shooting and killing Brown last summer in Ferguson, Mo. Yes, the citizens did a tough job admirably when confronted with mountains of material. But could they also have been affected by research that says black boys as young as 10 are seen as older and guiltier than their white peers?

In an August column “So, black teens who aren’t angels deserve whatever they get?” I wrote, “The shelf life for innocence is short when you are a black male — and there is no room for error.” You don’t get the second chance others might have after an incident of teenage rebellion, such as mouthing off to an authority figure or a more serious scrape. See any number of car-overturning, fire-burning melees after a big sports victory or loss for proof of a double standard.

The answer to the question I posed then has consequences for all Americans because Ferguson, Mo., is about more than one shooting in one town in Middle America. Whatever anyone thinks of the grand jury’s findings, “it” was not a “demon.” Michael Brown was a very human being.


When white friends don’t believe what blacks go through, they’re not friends

I still remember it perfectly, more than 10 years later. It’s terrifying to be stopped in your car and approached by first one and then two more white police officers with their hands resting on their holstered guns. I kept my hands in plain sight on the wheel while they inspected my license and registration. On second thought, I recall thinking during the 15-minute stop, perhaps the scruffy sweats and baseball cap that were perfect for my spin class weren’t the best choices when you’re African American and you’ve just bought a red car. (Why didn’t I pick the gray Camry?) I was given a written warning about running a stop sign that I’d actually stopped at, but I knew better than to argue.

“Forty-five percent of blacks say they have experienced racial discrimination by the police at some point in their lives; virtually no whites say they have,” according to a recent New York Times/CBS News nationwide poll. (I’m shocked the 45 percent figure isn’t higher, considering the stories African Americans tell each other all the time.) So when I share the trauma of that particular incident and so many like it – fraught interactions that may have involved a son (stopped driving a nice car in our nice neighborhood), nephew or friend – I expect, first of all, that I will be believed.

So, black teens who aren’t angels deserve whatever they get?

CHARLOTTE — While playing with my 2½ -year-old great-nephew was a joyous distraction from the events of Ferguson, Mo., this past week, it was also a reminder that the shelf life for innocence is short when you are a black male — and there is no room for error.

Everywhere the family went with my adorable toddling guest — touring a transportation museum and riding the train there, playing in the kiddie pool at the Y, taking a walk down the street — we were greeted with smiles. Even when he tried to plunge into the fountain reserved for pennies and wishes, his indiscretion elicited smiles, not stern glances.

I wondered how long he would get the benefit of the doubt and not the side eye. It was a question on my mind when I raised my now-grown son – a good man but no saint. He played by the rules and still had his unwarranted traffic stop that resulted in a ticket he fought because he was just that angry. He thankfully controlled his frustration in his interaction with official authority, a lesson I taught reluctantly, figuring a bit of damage to his spirit was preferable to any other sort.