The killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, last year by a white police officer in which a grand jury decided that there was "not enough probable cause to indict police officer Darren Wilson" was not the first time that an unarmed black man got killed by a white police officer and the justice system failed to redress. As the case of Eric Garner soon showed, it won't be the last time, either.
Protests Are About Institutional Racism Not About Single Incidents
The protests for "Ferguson" and Staten Island have not been about single incidents of one black man getting killed by one (white) police officer. They are about institutional racism in the United States, and about excessive use of police force that ends only in its most visible and extreme form with the killing of a black man by the "defender" of our very system, but remains invisible from the national eye a majority of the time.
Effort To Separate Protests From Race
There is much effort to separate the protests from race as racism understandably remains a very uncomfortable topic in the United States. Understandably, as an open discussion about the issue also leads to the questioning of the status-quo. We have to remember that the construct of racism in its very essence is economic. It was historically constructed to justify exploitation of arbitrary determined groups. Changes to racist structures, therefore, would threaten the existences of many of its profiteers. It would also lead to the questioning of tales about the extent of upward mobility in the USA, or about life being all about choices that one makes, that good choices generally lead to good things and bad choices lead to bad things, etc. Such tales allow people who "have it good" to feel better about themselves as they can claim that they owe the status-quo to their achievements based on the good choices that they made, instead of a system that has set them up to succeed in the first place.
In the realm of the painful truth behind such facades, it is understandable why one would choose not to talk about race.
Civil Rights: Overt Racism Replaced By Covert Racism
Racism today is easy to hide because after the civil rights era, it became not only legally, but also culturally less acceptable to be and act openly racist. In support of the status-quo, a new, highly "sophisticated" and powerful form of racism emerged. Today's racism is very difficult, in many cases, practically impossible to detect. However, careful analyses of an array of data help us illustrate that we still live in a highly racially segregated society.
The protests against the grand jury decisions in the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner may have triggered the much needed debate beyond the use of excessive police force, about institutional racism and economic inequalities in the USA. It is too bad that it had to take so many deaths before we were even willing to admit that there may be something wrong with the system.
Only history will tell, if we are heading toward the change that many Americans have been waiting for. However, we should not be too optimistic as history also shows that even if changes occur, they are usually very nominal, particularly since a man-made construct such as racism that has taken centuries to build and preserve is not going to turn into equal access, social justice and alike overnight.
What is more likely is that in the near future, we may see changes to the excessive use of police force, which is unfortunately, only a symptom, not the cause of the actual problem. The underlying causes such as structural racism and social stratification will be too difficult to fix, even if the political will to do so should present itself.
On the other hand, sustainable changes, some may argue, come in small doses and no matter how small, any step in the right direction is a gain.