The fatal shooting of Justine Damond has created shock both in her homeland of Australia and across the U.S. While some members of the far-right have insisted that anti-racism groups have been silent since the shooting of the Australian white woman, diverse rallies including prominent black activists and families/friends of police brutality victims have proven that anti-racism groups are not only showing up for Justine Damond – they’re setting race aside to do it. Shaun King, an avid police brutality and Black Lives Matter writer for New York Daily News implied that it doesn’t surprise him that black activists protested in Minneapolis, “because people are bothered by injustice and when they see this, it wasn’t racial.” Cathy Jones, who organized a vigil near the crime scene the day after Damond’s death, claimed that “it’s never been about race. It’s been about police accountability.” Even John Thompson, best friend of Philando Castille, said at a solidarity gathering, “It’s not about race. It’s not about white. It’s not about black. It’s about the police chief killing us.” As uncertainty continues and rage builds, people have put race on the back burner to justify their support for Damond and to get more people to acknowledge police brutality. This is courteous, and fighting for Justine is vital – but race shouldn’t have to be excluded from the picture for people to rally.
Though many have factored race out of the reasons behind the shooting of Justine Damond, this doesn’t mean race can automatically be eliminated as a factor in previous police shootings of people of color. Damond’s case showed people that police brutality can affect both blacks and whites, but it doesn’t erase the fact that police brutality impacts blacks disproportionately: black Americans are nearly 2.5 times likelier than white Americans to be fatally shot by police officers. There are more white victims of police shootings than black victims, but this is due to the largeness of the white population in the U.S. There are almost 160 million more white people than black people in the United States (2016). White people make up 62% of the population in the U.S., but only 49% of the population of those fatally shot by police officers. Meanwhile, black people make up 13% of the U.S. population, but 24% of the population fatally shot by police officers. These ratios, according to the Washington Post, prove that black people are 2.5 times likelier than white Americans to be shot. Does this mean that cases like the shooting of Justine Damond aren’t a problem? Of course not. We need to highlight any case where someone is unfairly killed by police. Still, the racial disparity in the likeliness of being killed by police is a sign of racial bias.
People have set race aside out of respect for the Damond family, but reiterating police brutality’s disproportionate impact on black lives is not disrespectful. It’s just telling the truth. Police brutality against all needs to end, and a large part of ending this brutality means focusing on the black communities that are the likeliest subjects of it. Ending police brutality for whites means encouraging officers not to be so “trigger-happy.” Ending police brutality for blacks takes an added level of consideration. It means ending a predetermined view of black people as criminals. By setting race aside, we are limiting our room for improvement. When we consider police brutality just a “human issue,” we allow law enforcement to ignore the data that has proven that police brutality and profiling has horribly impacted black communities – and we allow officers to not improve their relationship with those communities. We leave room for police departments to approach improving their tactics in a shallow sense that won’t adhere to the specific needs of communities of color.
The traffic stop has become an example of a cop encounter that has increasingly turned deadly for black Americans. According to a 2011 Bureau of Justice study, 13% of black drivers were stopped by police in 2011 compared to 10% of white drivers. The same study states that 84% of white drivers stopped by police believed they were stopped for a legitimate reason compared to the mere 68% of black drivers stopped by police that believed this. Black drivers stopped by police are also more likely to be searched by police than white drivers. Studies over the next five years within large cities have only confirmed these racial disparities. A San Francisco report showed that in 2015, 13.3 percent of black people were searched following traffic stops, compared to just 1.7 percent of white people. The report also documents that SFPD officers exhibit racial bias in their arrests, citing instances of officers “using racial slurs, acting in a sexually inappropriate manner towards Black women, and committing acts of violence against Black people.” The Department of Justice’s investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, released in 2015, proved, among other violations, that FPD repeatedly engages in unconstitutional stops and arrests in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and that this misconduct “disproportionately impacts African-Americans.” Data from other big cities only falls in line with this disproportionate policing: a 2015 New York Times analysis found that since 2010, Greensboro officers searched black drivers more than twice as much as whites, and a 2016 report found that in Chicago, black and Hispanic drivers are four times as likely to be searched than white drivers. With so many high-profile fatal police shootings occurring after traffic stops, the racial aspect of traffic stop demeanor among officers can’t just be swept under the rug.
Police brutality has various causes and racial effects. These may make police brutality difficult to describe but this doesn’t mean that they can be disregarded. Fighting against police brutality is about ensuring the safety of all races, but it’s also about ensuring that no one race is brutalized more than another.