A man is approached by four plain-clothed officers on the streets of New York City and is told to stop what he is doing and to put his hands up. The officers briefly question this young man, who is 23-years-old and a recent immigrant to America. The young man is confused and reaches for his wallet to show his identification. As soon as the young man makes this move, one of the officers shouts “Gun!” and the officers quickly fire 41 fatal shots into his body.
This man, Amadou Diallo, was viciously murdered by police officers on Feb. 4, 1999. Diallo was approached because he was mistaken for a rapist, as he supposedly fit the description. Diallo came to America from West Africa with the hope of furthering his education and living a more successful life. Sadly, his ambitions did not come true because he was brutally murdered by the police.
A few months back, in late October of 2008, a young man of just 20 years stepped outside his house because he heard suspicious noises. He was recently married, and his wife was expecting. He wanted to make sure that his household was safe, so he grabbed a broom and stepped out to his front lawn to see what was causing the commotion. Soon after, he was shot twice and fell to the floor dead. One bullet struck his heart. This young man was Julian Alexander. Today he is dead because police officers mistook him for a burglar they were chasing. This occurred in Anaheim, California, not too far from Irvine.
On New Year’s Eve, Oscar Grant was taken out of a subway train by police officers. He was unarmed and lying face down on the ground when an officer pulled out his gun and shot him in the back. Just before he died, Grant pleaded with the cops not to shoot him, telling them that he had a 4-year-old daughter at home. I could go on about how many innocent lives were taken by bullets fired by police officers; but the point is that police brutality happens all the time, and overwhelmingly, black and brown men are the victims.
The cops just get away with it.
Police officers are human like everyone else. But this also means that they may hold racist views that anyone may hold. The only difference is they have a badge and a gun. If they see a black man walking down the street, they can act on their racist thinking, can legally shoot and kill that man and label him as a threat to justify their actions. Police officers have the law on their side, while a man on the street does not. Judges rarely, if ever, sentence cops for their discriminatory acts toward innocent people. They are legally allowed to racially profile and murder black and brown people.
Diallo was shot because he “fit the description” of a rapist. What was the description? Diallo was black, and therefore a threat. Julian Alexander was black, 6-feet-5-inches and 240 pounds. Does his appearance mean that he should be dead? Time and time again, police officers use their guns and weapons before asking questions. Unfortunately, the murders of innocent people continue because the police can get away with it. The police have a job to “serve and protect,” but the question is, serve and protect who?
In the case of Grant, brave witnesses recorded the horrendous actions of the police and put it on YouTube, despite officer’s demands that they turn in their cell phones and cameras. This time, America witnessed inequality and racism in action. The video on YouTube that broadcasted Oscar Grant’s death led to protests in Oakland and around the country. People were not angry over this isolated incident that happened at the Bay Area Rapid Transit Station. People were angry because they have seen men like Oscar Grant murdered too many times before. Demonstrations against police brutality erupted because of the unjust killings of numerous innocent victims, who for many were sons, husbands, brothers, friends and neighbors. Grant was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.
On Monday, Jan. 26, concerned students around the UC system gathered together to stand up against police brutality. UC Berkeley, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, UCLA and UC Irvine walked out of class and held a march and rally in honor of those who died from police brutality. Students expressed the need to be aware of this critical issue. They will not tolerate police brutality.
Clearly, the stories of Grant, Alexander, Diallo and countless others demonstrate that racist ideologies still permeate America, even though our president is black. People still die every day because of the color of their skin. We must be aware of what is going on, in order to make this society a better place. In a fair society, no one is above the law.
Hui-Ling Malone is a third-year international studies major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.