Several weeks ago I wrote about the death of Aaron Bailey, who was shot by police following their attempt to make a “routine traffic stop.” The incident started at around 1 a.m. June 29, 2017. I wrote about how Bailey suddenly drove away after he and his companion were stopped. I wrote about how his car hit a tree shortly thereafter. I wrote about how two officers approached Bailey’s car. I wrote about how, 18 seconds later, Bailey was dead from multiple gunshots.
It is important to note that Bailey was unarmed. It is also important to note that he did not fight or even argue with the officers who stopped him. Finally, it is important to note that he was shot in the back as he was (arguably) complying with the officers’ instructions to show them his hands. Aaron Bailey was Black.
Contrast that with a “routine travel stop” involving Matthew R. Myers. On July 3 of this year, Myers was driving 62 miles per hour in a 35 mile-per-hour zone in Crown Point. A Crown Point police officer attempted to stop Myers at around 12:30 a.m. However, Myers led the officer on a chase.
Myers eventually parked his car, after which the officer approached him and asked for his driver’s license. Myers proceeded to rummage through a box in the back seat, at which point the officer ordered him to stop. Not only did Myers refuse; he said to the officer, “Why don’t you (expletive) off.” (Obviously, all of this took much longer than 18 seconds.)
Myers decided to get out of his car and proceeded to grab the officer’s arm while she was holding pepper spray — not her gun. Myers declared, “I’m not going to jail,” knocked the pepper spray from the officer and began repeatedly punching her in the face while calling her “crazy.” It was only then that the officer drew her gun. More officers arrived on the scene and took Myers into custody. Matthew Myers is white.
For many (if not most) African-Americans, the unfolding of this drama is frustrating on many levels. While I would never wish grievous harm or death on anyone, incidents like this beg the question regarding how — and why — Myers survived an actual altercation with police without them resorting to deadly force. Out of the relatives and friends that I have, and even among the thousands of African-Americans I know or have met, it is inconceivable to me that more than a handful of them would argue that Myers would have escaped with his life if he were Black.
According to The Washington Post, 519 people have been shot by police as of June 20of this year. More white people have been shot (211) than Black people (102). However, while it is true that more white people are shot by police than Black people (mostly men in both cases), that’s primarily a function both of white’s substantially larger portion of the overall population (61% white vs. 13% Black). However, when we look at percentages of white people vs. Black people shot by police relative to our respective populations, a different picture emerges.
Dara Lind, a reporter for Vox, reviewed FBI statistics on police shootings by race. She found that 52% of the people police shoot are white, while 31% are Black. In other words, police shoot whites at a percentage that is lower than their overall population, while they shoot Blacks at nearly three times our percentage of the overall population. Implicit bias is real. It is rampant. It has deadly consequences.
It looks like Black parents having “the talk” with our children is not going to end any time soon.