Ferguson reveals US police's true colors

Updated: 2014-08-27 06:59

By Darnell Gardner Jr(China Daily)

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I was 9 when I began inheriting the wariness toward law enforcement that is ubiquitous within the black community. My mother gifted it to me in a ritual that's likely been repeated between mother and son since the first black foot pressed into American soil.

"You have to be careful around the police," she said. "Be so polite it hurts, never make any sudden movements, and always do whatever they tell you. If they stop you, do not ask questions, and certainly don't argue with them."

"Why are you telling me this?" I asked her.

"Because you're a black boy, and one day you'll be a black man. In this country, the color of your skin is reason enough for the police to mistreat you."

She repeated it many times, and for years I remained skeptical - blind to a painful truth: The American criminal justice system is inherently racist.

My attitude toward law enforcement hardened in high school. At 17, a friend was wrongfully arrested. Police said he fitted the description of a man wanted for robbery, but my friend said the only similarity between him and the alleged robber was the color of their skin. My friend was walking home from school when police picked him up, and he spent the night behind bars. The real culprit was arrested by morning and my friend was released, but without so much as an apology.

When he told me this story, I immediately thought about what my mother had said to me. I could feel myself walking in my friend's shoes, cast in the same swarthy skin, and suddenly racialized policing was real to me. Since then I have experienced deep discomfort in the presence of police, and rightfully so.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, with a mere 5 percent of the world's population, the US has 25 percent of the world's prisoners. One in 99 adult Americans is currently serving time behind bars. That's 2.1 million prisoners, most of whom did not commit a violent crime.

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