On August 9, 18-year-old Michael Brown was stopped by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson. His alleged offense was trivial: walking in the middle of the street. His punishment -- summarily delivered by Officer Wilson -- was anything but minor. Michael Brown was shot from 6 to 8 times in the head and chest and died of his wounds on that Ferguson street. He was unarmed.
The death of Michael Brown is heartbreaking. Yet the fact that Michael Brown is dead while Officer Wilson has gotten off scot-free is hardly surprising. Unfortunately, this latest killing fits neatly into an appalling yet resilient pattern of police brutality and deadly violence against men of color in America. It's a pernicious but predictable process: When police officers racially profile black and Latino men and are subsequently held unaccountable for the unjustifiable killings of these men, another senseless death is mere weeks or days away from happening.
Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Timothy Thomas, Amadou Diallo -- these names represent only a few of the unarmed black men killed by police officers in the past two decades. It's true that our police men and women go out to work dangerous and stressful jobs each day, and it's true that most of our law enforcement officers serve their communities with a commitment to fairness and safety. But even if most officers are not at fault, the trend of police violence being disproportionately inflicted on men of color is too widespread to be ignored. As Melissa Harris-Perry observed, in the six years from 2006 to 2012 a black person died at the hands of a white police officer at least twice every week.
Latinos, too, are profoundly affected by this enduring plague of police brutality.
In July of 2012, Anaheim police shot and killed Manuel Diaz as he fled from officers who approached him in the street. He was 24 and unarmed. The next day Anaheim resident Joel Acevedo was shot and killed in police custody. Acevedo's mother Donna filed a lawsuit, claiming that police shot her son while he was handcuffed and unarmed. These were hardly the first killings of unarmed Latino men in Anaheim. In 2009 Anaheim police shot Cesar Cruz, a father of five, dead in a Wal-Mart parking lot. One of the five officers involved later admitted he didn't know "as to whether he shot at us... We shot him." These cases are not isolated incidents. As recently as this March, an unarmed Latino father in Oklahoma died while in police custody. And, only a couple of weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times reports that L.A. police detained and beat a Latino man to death.
The American dream is grounded on the promise that anyone who is willing to work hard and play by the rules can make a better life for their self and their family. This can only happen when all Americans enjoy equal opportunity and equal protection under the law -- and, in the case of men of color, equal protection from those who we trust to enforce the law.
With each killing in which a police officer is held unaccountable, with each instance of brutality where justice is delayed and perhaps never served, American men of color are reminded that for them, institutional racism is no mere abstraction. For black and Latino men, institutional racism may very well lead to their suffering violence, and death, at the hands of those we trust to protect and serve our communities. Police accountability cannot wait. The NCLR Action Fund demands justice for Michael Brown.