Police Abuse

From Being Judged by the Content of Your Character to Seeing a Cop Shoot an Unarmed White Teenager in the Back: A New Vision of a Post-Racial Society

Setting the table for more police violence as a solution to racist police violence


Angela Radulescu/via Wikipedia

In an interview with The Telegraph, Pulitzer- and Nobel-winning author Toni Morrison, now 84, was asked, as elderly black cultural figures generally are by young white reporters, her thoughts on racism and when it might end. Via The Telegraph:

"People keep saying, 'We need to have a conversation about race,'" she says now. "This [the shooting of black people by white cops] is the conversation. I want to see a cop shoot a white unarmed teenager in the back," Morrison says finally. "And I want to see a white man convicted for raping a black woman. Then when you ask me, 'Is it over?', I will say yes."

It's unclear which police killing of a black person by a white cop Morrison is referring to—Michael Brown, it turned out, wasn't shot in the back, and Walter Scott is not a teenager. There are other recent cases of controversial police shootings but none that I know of involve a teenager getting shot in the back, unarmed or otherwise. Wishing for the death of anyone as proof that racism is over is borderline sociopathic.

You could chalk it up to Morrison choosing her words poorly, but the idea that if more white people were victimized by the criminal justice system the way black people are that would signal racial progress is not a new one—a Bronx councilman admitted as much to me while trying to protest the killing of Ramarley Graham at the same time as he supported the drug war policies that contributed to his killing.

There are some statistics that might warm Toni Morrison's blood-thirsty heart. Based on data reported to the FBI, in 2009 41.7 percent of people killed by cops were white. At 1,000 police killings a year—as fair an estimate as is possible to make with incomplete data—even assuming white deaths in police custody are over-reported to the FBI, that's at least 200 white people killed by cops a year. For maximum racial retribution, Morrison can take comfort in the realization that, statistically speaking, at least one of those people was killed by a black cop.

The killing of white people by police generally doesn't get the same attention in the media and the community as the killing of black people. A big part of that is that "white communities" aren't sensitive to police violence in the first place, whether its directed at black people or at other white people. But from Seth Adams, shot by an undercover cop while checking on a suspicious car on his parents' business property, to Chris Roupe, shot in the chest after opening his door holding a Wii controller, white people are shot by cops in controversial situations too. If she's looking for a teenager shot an inordinate amount of time—18-year-old Joseph Jennings was shot by cops 16 times. He was suicidal and cops prevented his father from intervening. In Utah, a state that's 88 percent white, you're more likely to be shot by a cop than by a gang member or drug dealer. White privilege isn't bulletproof. Even the teenage daughter of a judge can be killed by a cop. Would it be too much to wish Morrison and others judged victims of police violence by the content of their character* and not just the color of their skin?

*not that poor character warrants an extrajudicial death penalty, as some supporters of police violence seem to suggest