See if you can spot the common denominators.
Stephon Clark, 22, was fatally shot by Sacramento police in his grandmother’s backyard on March 18; police officers involved in the incident claim to have confused Clark’s cell phone for a gun.
Philando Castile, 32, was fatally shot by a Minnesota police officer on July 6, 2016 while reaching for his driver’s license after informing the police officer that he had a licensed gun in the car.
Alton Sterling, 37, was selling CDs outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on July 5, 2016 when he was fatally shot by police after having been wrestled to the ground.
Nineteen-year-old Tony Robinson of Madison, Wisconsin was unarmed and fatally shot by a police officer on March 6, 2015, as was 34-year-old Rumain Brisbon of Phoenix, Arizona while reaching for a pill bottle in his pocket on Dec. 2, 2014.
Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice of Cleveland, Ohio had been holding a BB gun outside a recreational center when he was shot and killed by a police officer on Nov. 23, 2014.
Seventeen-year-old Laquan McDonald had been holding a knife and walking away from Chicago police when he was fatally shot 16 times on Oct. 20, 2014.
Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, was fatally shot by police on August 9, 2014.
As you may have guessed, all of the aforementioned fatalities were African Americans.
Walter Scott, age 50, had been initially stopped by police officer Michael Slager for a broken tail light in North Charleston, South Carolina, on April 4, 2015. Nevertheless, when Scott attempted to flee the scene, Slager fatally shot him five times in the back from more than 17 feet away. On Dec. 7, 2017, Slager was sentenced in federal court to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder and obstruction of justice, one of the rare instances in which a police officer has been convicted or pleaded guilty in such an incident.
Eric Garner, 43, from Staten Island, New York, was also unarmed on July 17, 2014 when he was confronted by police for selling untaxed cigarettes. However, unlike most of the other killings of unarmed African Americans by police, Garner had not been shot. Instead, a police officer placed Garner, an asthmatic, in a chokehold, a maneuver banned by the New York Police Department more than 20 years ago. Eleven times Garner cried out that he could not breathe. Eleven times his cries were ignored. Garner died en route to a nearby hospital.
In watching the news coverage of this tragedy, I found it rather disturbing to listen to so-called experts pointing out that if Garner was able to utter the words “I can’t breathe” eleven times, it meant that he was still breathing. Not one of these experts was asked by the interviewer about the twelfth time, the time that never came.
The list goes on, the debate goes on. What is missing is the leadership needed to address this epidemic.
At a recent White House press briefing April Ryan, bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks and fellow White House correspondent, asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about the president’s reaction to the news that the two Baton Rouge police officers would not be charged in the shooting of Sterling, in the aftermath of the Stephon Clark shooting.
The response was revealing and disturbing at the very same time. The response from Huckabee Sanders was “it’s a local issue.”
Think about that.
Think about that response in the name of the president. Think about that response coming from a president who condemned the NFL players who took a knee for the sole purpose of bringing attention to this very issue of police shootings of black men across the country. (No, the silent protest had absolutely nothing to do with the American flag. Not anything.)
Think about this response coming from a president who said quite clearly “there are some very fine people on both sides” when referring to the white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia. Think about this coming on behalf of a president who found some “very fine people” among the marchers who chanted on those streets of Charlottesville: “The Jews will not replace us.”
Now think about this: in the aftermath of the horrific killings of four patrons at a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee by an individual identified as a white supremacist, the President of the United States has said nothing to date. Now, he has tweeted that he is considering granting a pardon to the first black heavyweight champion of the world, Jack Johnson, who, by the way, died more than 70 years ago.
Granted, it is important for the president to remind those under investigation for “the Russia thing” or for anything else for that matter that he does possess pardon power. However, the choosing of Jack Johnson for a long-awaited and much deserved pardon does serve to undo an injustice to a black man. Johnson was convicted of taking a white woman across state lines.
What would do more, so much more, to honor the heroism of a black man, or any man for that matter, would be for this president to formally recognize the heroism of James Shaw, Jr., who is by all measures one of the bravest men I have ever heard about.
For those who have not kept up with the Waffle House story, Shaw was a patron in that restaurant in Nashville who, though unarmed, sprang into action at the right moment and disarmed the shooter, who fled and was later captured by police.
James Shaw, Jr. is a true American hero no matter how you arrive at a definition for “hero.”
What is most baffling about the president’s silence to date is that he and Mr. Shaw have so much in common. The president fantasized about going into a school to take on an active shooter, while Mr. Shaw actually faced an active shooter. One is a true American hero; the other is a president with bone spurs.