Once a year, every year of my elementary school life, a police officer from the local precinct would be a special guest at our assembly. Clad in his starched uniform, the officer – always white and male, in those days – would tell an auditorium filled with fidgety kids about all the good things cops do to make our communities safe. They were, we were told, our guardians, our bulwark against those who would do us harm.
During the question-and-answer period, when some student inevitably would ask the officer whether he had ever used his gun to shoot someone, the cop would always say no. Then gently, but emphatically, he’d assert that the primary goal of the police department is to help people, not hurt them. Whether it was “Officer Mike” or “Officer Steve,” they were collectively known as “Officer Friendly,” and the overt message was always the same: a police officer is your buddy, your trusted ally in a time of need.
In America today, few African-American children likely view cops as their friends.
Not after the death last July of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old unarmed black man and father of six, whose dying words, “I can’t breathe,” were ignored by Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City police officer who wrestled Garner to the ground in a maneuver banned more than two decades ago by the NYPD. The city’s medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide caused, in part, by the cop’s illegal chokehold. (A New York grand jury will soon decide whether to bring charges against Pantaleo.)
Not after the death less than a month later of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Mo., who was shot multiple times by a police officer and left facedown and uncovered on a sweltering street for hours. Not after the frightening militaristic response of local authorities who helped escalate a citizens’ protest into a siege of tanks and tear gas. Not after a St. Louis County grand jury, in a grimly predictable outcome, chose not to indict now-former Ferguson cop Darren Wilson in Brown’s death.
Source: Boston Globe | Renee Graham