by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
November 29, 2014
FERGUSON, AND THE FIRE THIS TIME
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The Civil War hasn't yet ended in America.
Jim Crow and segregation haven't yet ended in America.
The color line hasn't yet been erased in America.
Suppressing the votes of people of color hasn't yet ended in America.
Unequal treatment for people of color in education, in the workplace, in health care, in the courts, and in almost every aspect of public life hasn't yet ended in America.
Police brutality directed at people of color hasn't yet ended in America.
And a nation whose citizens own more than 300 million firearms and is steeped in white male privilege makes sure that this litany of discrimination and disenfranchisement stays locked in place, nearly 150 years after Gen. Robert E. Lee meant to end the Civil War with his surrender at Appomattox.
Police are killing Americans, mostly people of color, at the rate of about nine per week, according to 2013 figures compiled by USA Today, and one in five black people killed by police are under age 21, compared to one in 11 whites.
These numbers may be undercounted, for USA Today also found that only 750 of the nation's 17,000 police departments file information with the FBI about fatal shootings of civilians by police.
And, in almost every instance, a police officer who shoots a civilian avoids prosecution.
That's why it was not a shock that a Missouri grand jury found no probable cause to prosecute white police officer Darren Wilson for gunning down 18-year-old Michael Brown, a unarmed black man, on the streets of Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9, 2014.
The death of Michael Brown was appalling, as was the decision not to prosecute his killer. But so was the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Of Oscar Grant in Oakland. Of Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo in New York. Or the countless other people of color whose deaths at the hands of police were out of the public eye, but who are no less dead.
The message is undeniably clear: If you are a person of color, your life doesn't matter. Your life is not as important as those of white people. Whether you are killed by a cop or a trigger-happy gun-fetishist exercising his "Second Amendment rights," your murderer will receive, at most, a slap on the wrist, or more likely, no punishment at all.
This is the result when a nation has adopted an increasingly militarized approach to policing.
This is how, even in a "safe" state such as Utah, the Salt Lake Tribune recently found police shootings trailed only domestic violence as the leading cause of homicides in Utah.
And it shouldn't be surprising that the Tribune found that of the 45 people who were killed by police since 2010 in Utah, only one was deemed unjustified by a grand jury - and that case was thrown out of court.
There are no easy solutions, but as Terrance Heath of the Campaign for America's Future recently wrote, there are three ideas that could be adopted.
The first is changing how communities are policed - having a police force that looks like the community it is policing; promoting diversity in hiring; and making sure police personnel are fully accountable to the public for their actions.
The second is ending racial profiling, and the reflexive treatment of people of color as crime suspects first and innocent citizens second.
The third is undoing the decades of public policy at every level of government that created segregated cities and towns where people of color can't get any kind of break to succeed in life. This means more investment in education, just for starters.
But even if all those remedies happened, which in an increasingly polarized nation seem very unlikely to happen, everything circles back to the same thing - white privilege and the fear of "the other."
If we fall to treat every human being as someone entitled to dignity and who is valued as a member of the human family, the America we will end up with is a nation ruled by fear, prejudice, and ignorance.
Is this where we want to be in the America of 2014?
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.