Is this what African American freedom looks like?

By Dawn Marie Dow

A couple of weeks ago Jesse Williams, an actor most known for his role as Avery Jackson on the hit television show Grey’s Anatomy, delivered an incisive speech at the Black Entertainment Television network awards.  Williams critiqued law enforcement, calling it out as a system that may have changed in form and application but has consistently oppressed black and brown Americans. Though some accused him of attacking white people, his speech was directed at a system, and systems are not the same thing as people! Williams called out a system of beliefs, policies and practices that privilege white bodies over black (and other non-white) bodies in many arenas of life. This system views black bodies, particularly black male bodies, as automatically guilty and worthy of death and thus requiring overwhelming proof of innocence.  In everyday interactions, blacks in America feel they are viewed as guilty and must constantly prove themselves innocent if given an opportunity to do so. As the recent shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile illustrate, such an opportunity is not guaranteed.  While the critique may be systemic, the beliefs, policies and practices that give rise to a systemic state of affairs are enacted by individuals, and are instilled in the minds and hearts of individuals in obvious and subtle ways, and dramatically influence how one acts towards different groups of people.  These beliefs, policies and practices have institutional effects in areas like policing that play out in how police officers criminalize those they should ordinarily protect and serve.

Just days after Williams’ speech, over the course of 48 hours two more African American men were violently gunned down by police officers. Continue reading “Is this what African American freedom looks like?”

Race, Rape, and the Vagaries of the US Criminal Justice System

By Kali Nicole Gross

Zeba Blay’s blog post illustrates how the specter of rape hangs over the harrowing video of an African American girl, Dajerria Becton, 15, being violently forced to the ground by former police officer Cpl. Eric Casebolt in McKinney, Texas. This and other indignant opinion pieces draw attention to a critical issue facing black women in the criminal justice system—sexual assault by law enforcement officers.

It’s a timely subject given last month’s horrific massacre in the Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina, when avowed white supremacist Dylann Storm Roof fatally shot nine African Americans. One reason, according to him, is that blacks rape white women. There is a tragic irony to that claim. Roof invoked a tired tool of white supremacy—the myth of the black male rapist—to justify his own extralegal violence against African Americans, the majority of whom (six in total) were black women.

Like his southern racist forerunners, Roof’s claim and actions all but ignore the litany of violent sexual assault against black women committed by white men, those in and out of uniform. Continue reading “Race, Rape, and the Vagaries of the US Criminal Justice System”