I want to use this time to make a brief declaration of solidarity with all of the people in St. Louis, especially the black community there who have been terrorized for decades by the police in that area. Black men are killed by St. Louis police at a rate which is twice that of the overall US murder rate. Put another way, a black man in St. Louis is nearly twice as likely to be killed by police than the average American is of being killed by anyone. It is in this context that the most recent protests and riots have broken out in St. Louis. These protests and riots have erupted in the wake of a judge’s decision to clear yet another white police officer in the murder of a black man.
Officer Jason Stockley was just found innocent of all charges in the 2011 death of Anthony Lamar Smith. Mr. Smith was shot dead by Officer Stockley after a chase in which Mr. Smith was suspected of having drugs in the car. Video of the immediate aftermath of the shooting seems to show Officer Stockley returning to his police vehicle, searching through a duffle bag in his back seat, and returning to Smith’s car to plant a gun in order to justify the murder. The gun that was allegedly planted in the car did not have Mr. Smith’s DNA on it at all; only Officer Stockley’s. Yet, Jason Stockley was found innocent of all charges and walked away a free man. This sparked outrage in the community and was yet another piece in a large, toxic, white supremacist puzzle of police brutality against people of color that stretches back to this country’s founding.
It is no surprise that drugs, and more specifically the War On Drugs, is again and again the premise for many of the altercations between police and citizens of color that all too often ends in bloodshed. After all, the Drug War, as has recently been exposed by a top Nixon Aid, was created in order to give the government a pretext to confront, harass, intimidate, and incarcerate members of the black community all across this country. This has resulted in a situation in which not only do white officers slaughter people of color with absolutely no accountability or consequence, but a situation in which the United States now has more prisoners, most of which are disproportionally people of color, than any other country on Planet Earth, in both overall and per capita terms. This, namely the U.S. carceral state, is just the most recent shape that white supremacy has taken in a society founded on the genocide of Native Americans and the forced enslavement of Africans for free labor.
Martin Luther King Jr., back in the 1960’s, famously said “riots are the language of the unheard”. And from then, through the LA riots of the 90’s, through Ferguson and Baltimore, all the way up to St. Louis this week, his pronouncement has continued to ring true. In fact, right here in Omaha, incidentally a place that Malcolm X was born and subsequently chased out of town by the KKK, we have our own unique history of race riots, segregation, lynchings, and police violence against people of color. Just this summer in fact, Zachary Bearheels, a Native American man from South Dakota who ended up in Omaha during a mental health crisis he was going through, was handcuffed, tazed over 10 times, and brutally beaten over the head to death by the Omaha Police Department. The conclusion of that trial is still yet to be seen, but we wait anxiously to see whether or not the family of Mr. Bearheels will receive the justice they deserve. If they do receive justice, they will be a rare exception to the rule.
So, from Omaha to St. Louis, from New York City to Los Angeles, and everywhere in between, we stand in uncompromising solidarity with all victims of police brutality as well as the families and communities which have been devastated by it, and we look forward, with ever-so-cautious optimism, towards a day in which police no longer live above the law, but are subject to it just like the rest of us are, and a day in which the white supremacy that undergirds this entire so-called justice system is dismantled and gives way to a new era of *true* equality and *true* justice for all.