THE BLOG

They Shoot Black Men, Don't They?

05/09/2012 10:16 pm ET | Updated Jul 09, 2012
  • Janet Langhart Cohen Author, 'Anne and Emmett,' a one-act play; Co-founder, Race and Reconciliation In America

Let me see if I have this right. Emmett Till was murdered for whistling at a white woman. Trayvon Martin was allegedly stalked and shot to death while walking on the street with a can of tea and Skittles. From just these two events (not to mention those involving Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo and untold others), we know that a black man is not safe on the public streets of America. But surely, they must be safe in their own homes? No luck. Castles are still restricted for "whites only."

Consider the facts. Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., a 68-year-old former Marine who suffered from a heart ailment, accidentally triggered a medical alert device, which resulted in sending members of the White Plains police department to his apartment. When the police arrived, Mr. Chamberlain, who was visibly upset, made it very clear that he was fine and asked that the police go away. He didn't want or need any assistance. He was afraid that the police would kill him.

The police continued to demand that he open the door. Chamberlain became agitated, and again, told them to leave. The police could see through a partially opened door that Chamberlain was standing on his feet unaided.

Over his protest, the police forced their way into his apartment. They claimed that he had a knife in his hand and they felt threatened.

No "stand your ground" for this Marine. One of the officers called him a "Nigger." How fitting an epithet for a man who had worn this country's uniform. Just another Nigger!

So terrified were the men in blue, that they allegedly tasered Chamberlain not once, but twice. A really sensitive technique to administer to a man with a heart condition. Then they turned a shotgun on him and fired beanbags at his body. Not satisfied that he was incapacitated, they turned off the taser gun and its recording camera and shot him dead. All of this happened while Chamberlain's niece was standing in the hallway and was in a position to help calm her uncle and the police. She was, however, totally ignored. They were determined to enter Chamberlain's apartment to save him, but they ended up killing him.

The local grand jury decided that the police had engaged in no wrongdoing. It was just another "tragic" case involving law enforcement and a black man. A little misunderstanding.

Perhaps the police, who were wearing body armor and were armed with taser guns, shotguns and semi-automatic weapons, will take a page from the pathetic apology offered by Trayvon's killer: "We're sorry for your loss."

It's all reminiscent of a case that occurred in New Orleans a few years ago. Thirteen members of the police force who were armed with semi-automatic weapons, had surrounded a black man who was holding a hunting knife. The police claimed that they feared for their lives, and so, all 13 proceeded to shoot the man to death. After all, what more could they have done?

The question was answered several weeks later by an incident in a different state. A moose had gotten loose in the streets of a small town and posed something of a threat by wandering around the neighborhood. The police decided to shoot the moose, not with a bullet, but with a tranquilizing dart. Once they rendered the moose harmless, they constructed a large sling and had a helicopter airlift it safely, and humanely, back to its natural habitat.

All of which reminds me of what Dick Gregory said to me many years ago. "Animals have more rights in America than black people because there are restrictions on when and how you can kill them. But it's always open season on us."

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