In the wake of the outrageous murder of Sean Bell by the NYPD, I’m beginning to notice a disturbing trend in the media. As we know, Bell was not the first unarmed Black men to be shot and killed by New York’s finest. Anouther was Patrick Dorismond. Dorismond was shot during a fight with several plain-clothes officers, after one of them asked if he knew where they could buy some weed. Al Sharpton, who led a 250 person demonstration condemning the murder, was outraged,
“I can’t see how an unarmed man rejecting a drug deal ended up dead,” (read entire article here)
After the incident, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the New York police force immediately released the victim’s criminal record, which included robbery, attempted robbery, some drug charges and a juvenile arrest. New York’s police commissioner, Howard Safir defended the release of the Dorismond’s record, arguing that “the public has a right to know,” about the victim’s criminal history and other “relevant background information.” But how relevant is his criminal history, to this particular incident? An innocent, unarmed Black man was killed for refusing to take part in a drug transaction-what’s that got to do with his juvenile record? Everything.
Branding Dorismond as a criminal is the first step towards absolving the NYPD of committing a heinous crime. Rodney King’s assailants were acquitted (by a jury with no Black people in it), on the grounds that he was a drug addict. More recently in Durham, NC, Crystal Gail Mangum is suffering from a similar branding. She is consistently protrayed as a prostitute/exotic dancer, rather than a woman who was raped. This is a tactic, which the media (one of the many institutions of white, male hegemony) uses to mold public opinion-transforming Black women and men, from victims of murder, police brutality and rape, into sinister criminals, feens and whores who, perhaps, “had it coming.”
These distortions of Black image can be directly linked to the to the murders of Sean Bell, Patrick Dorismond, and Kathryn Johnston-the 92 year old woman slain by plain clothes officers at her home in Atlanta last week. As people of color, we have already been “branded” as criminals. That is why a young black man and an old black woman can meet the same violent fate, at the hands of the same violent institution. So where do we go from here? Franz Fanon, Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, M.K. Asante Jr., would suggest that we must defend ourselves, utilizing the same measures which are inflicted upon us. They would applaud 92 year old Mrs. Johnson for going out shooting, taking some pigs down with her. Others, such as King and Sharpton would suggest a more non-violent approach. But where do we draw the line? Three more innocent, unarmed Blacks killed? A dozen? This time last year, the police were in Louisiana shooting at Black people from helicopters, (what Sean Carter called, “fly-by’s”). At what point do we bust back?