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Who Should They Call? Police Need to Stop Aiming at Young Black Men So We Can Trust Them

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By Kyler Sumter, a 17-year-old senior at Lindblom Math & Science Academy. She is a participant in the Op-Ed Project's Youth Narrating Our World.

The world is watching what happens in Ferguson, Mo. The past week of protests, violence, resistance and military style police action make us question what is necessary to maintain civil justice. President Barack Obama, the FBI, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, churches, politicians, individuals and organizations have all weighed in.

In the wake of the recent deaths of Mike Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner earlier in New York, both due to alleged police brutality, you would think police everywhere would start to calm down and try to avoid such deadly confrontation. Unfortunately the problem is only worsening.

Thousands and thousands of people have taken to the streets in different cities to protest the deaths of these unarmed black men. And the police have been fighting back. In Ferguson, they fought with automatic weapons, tear gas, arrests of journalists and bystanders -- all with steep intimidation.

In the case of Garner, a black man who died following an improper chokehold by a police officer, police insist no charges should be filed.

During the recent Ferguson protests, following the shooting of teenager Brown, protesters walked with their hands up, saying, "Don't shoot!" to symbolize how they feel police take innocent lives. In response, local police arrived in riot gear, hurled tear gas and some protesters were harmed as they were hit by rubber and wooden bullets. Violence erupted again when the curfew was not maintained.

But the use of force is not unique, as recent statistics show that since 9/11, police in this country have shot and killed more than 5,000 citizens.

Certainly, tensions have been rising, as the early failure to release the name of the officer in Ferguson and the heavy turnout of police in military anti-terrorist heavy gear, all incite anger and outrage. And near an initial peaceful protest in Ferguson, shootings and violence continued unrelated to the protest of the death of Brown. And police are called to intervene.

But the trend of police aggression against young black man is not isolated. In Seattle recently, Raymond Wilford was wrongfully handcuffed and pepper sprayed. Demonstrators in Seattle were protesting the violence in Gaza when a pro-Israel white man started harassing protesters. He apparently was yelling obscenities and racial slurs in people's faces. As Wilford walks by on his way to the mall, the man says something to him too. When Wilford turns around they 'square off' and a Westlake security guard immediately steps in and pepper sprays Wilford and tries to wrestle him to the ground.


This video at the scene
shows all the protesters telling the security guard, "He did nothing wrong," and "You've got the wrong guy."

But the guard handcuffs him and does not allow the protesters to give him water for his burning eyes.

Wilford is still being respectful, saying, "Sir, can you please help with my eyes?"

And, yes, tragically police are shot and killed in altercations in cities across the country. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks police officer deaths around the country, 64 officers nationally have been killed in the line of duty so far in 2014. Fewer than half, or 27 officers have been killed by gunfire. Their losses are worthy of our mourning.

But the recent incidents in Missouri, New York and Seattle show that no matter how far we think society has grown to become civil and just, we seem to take several steps back. Where will an incident of police aggression against a young black man erupt next? In what city?

It's bad enough that we have so much youth violence of young men shooting other other young men, we can't afford to have the people who are meant to serve and protect causing violence too.

Since the cases of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1992 and the 2009 Oscar Grant shooting in Oakland, Cal. that was the subject of the movie, Fruitvale Station, what have we learned?

It appears the police aren't getting punished, but are allowed to make excuses. And American citizens mistrust the people whom they should feel protect them.

As a black girl I'm constantly worried that my male cousins and friends will have to deal with gang violence. Now I'm worried they'll have to deal with police brutality too. I shouldn't have to worry about if they'll get pulled over or harassed because of stereotypes. I shouldn't have to worry about the possibility of them getting hurt and there being no consequences only because it was a cop who "had his reasons."

If the police everywhere are automatically against young black men, who will protect them? Who are they supposed to call?

So please remember the names of Rodney King, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Raymond Wilford and the others who were treated so unfairly.

I imagine with this legacy of violence and the feeling of injustice at the hands of police, it's going to be a lot harder for police to do their jobs in a country where the people they're supposed to protect don't trust them.