Let me preface this article with full disclosure—I am white.
As a white American, I am extremely fortunate that I will, most likely, never be disadvantaged because of my race. I and my family will never experience the issues that many black Americans have to face because of their ethnicity. I don't feel like I have to fear the police.
But, unfortunately, issues such as race-related police misconduct do affect my peers and my community. As a resident of Durham, I am obligated to speak up and advocate for policy changes that will guarantee accountability and oversight of our police, locally and nationally.
This issue has become especially relevant in recent weeks. In Ferguson, Missouri, unrest continues since Michael Brown, a young black male, was fatally shot in an altercation with a police officer August 9.
These events have brought several issues to national attention. First, it seems that outrage over Michael Brown’s death was not a result of a single tragic event, but of a long string of violations that have built a deep distrust between Ferguson’s police force and its minority residents.
Secondly, the way Michael Brown was killed raises many questions about Officer Darren Wilson’s conduct. Witness testimonies differ greatly from the official story given by the Ferguson police department, but gunshot wounds to the hands and the top of the head may suggest that the victim was shot on his knees with his hands up.
Michael Brown was unarmed.
But the third and perhaps most troubling issue has been the unnecessary and excessive force used in the police response to protests following Brown's killing. Although protests have for the most part aimed to be peaceful, police actions have been heavy-handed, with the use of force and tactics of intimidation. Protesters have been arrested and held without charges, and members of the press and organizations such as Amnesty International have been arrested or threatened. Reports allege that police have given little to no warning before using tear gas or rubber bullets and officers have removed the name tags and identification badges from their uniforms.
To me, this shows an egregious lack of accountability and total disregard for the safety of residents.
We should all be very concerned about the fact that the rights of American citizens have been violated here on our own soil. Not in Syria. Not in Iraq. In Missouri.
Unfortunately, many Americans really don’t care. According to a Pew Research survey, only 37 percent of white Americans think the events in Ferguson raise important issues about race. Thirty-seven percent!
How is it not obvious that this is a racial issue? This is a widespread problem in the U.S.—black Americans make up a disproportionally large segment of those killed by police. As of Friday, Brown was the fifth unarmed black man to be shot by the police this month. Unarmed black men have been killed by police for transgressions such as pulling out a wallet or driving to their own wedding.
For some reason, the nonviolent presence of a black person is considered a sufficient threat to justify the use of lethal force.
As members of the Durham community, we should care about racial profiling and police misconduct. In many ways, Durham is not all that different from Ferguson. There are stark racial disparities in both cities, which are 38.7 and 67 percent black, respectively—both higher than the national average. And in both cities, the police departments have had issues with allegations of racial profiling. Here in Durham, black motorists are twice as likely to be searched during routine traffic stops than their white counterparts. This, and many other issues, has led to a deep distrust of the police department that threatens to undermine the safety of our community.
The University should be aware of and not separate from the issues affecting the surrounding community. As members of this community, we must do everything we can to prevent another tragedy from happening here in Durham. There are several things that we can do in order to ensure accountability and oversight within Durham’s law enforcement.
First, I urge you to support organizations like the Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International. These groups can act as watchdogs and can help victims get the legal help they need.
Secondly, there are certain policy changes that must occur in Durham in order to keep the city safe. First, the local and state governments must remove incentives to increase the overall number of drug arrests, which disproportionally target African-Americans.
Additionally, we must advocate for the demilitarization of police and no longer provide police forces with surplus supplies and dangerous weapons used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And finally, we must support the “Mike Brown Law,” which will require all state, county and local police to wear cameras on the front of their uniforms. These measures will decrease police misconduct, questionable behavior and abuse of power on the part of our police officers.McKenna Ganz is a Trinity junior. This is her first column in a semester-long series.