The African American Leadership Forum (AALF) wishes to express its grief on behalf of the Michael Brown family and African American citizens both locally and throughout the United States on the continuing failure of our system to bring law enforcement officers to justice who shoot our children and men. While we agree with our President Barack Obama that America is a nation of laws, those laws are more aspirational than real as they apply to the African American community. When it comes to implementing our nation of laws, our system of justice is sorely lacking.
Once again, we are faced with the shooting of an unarmed Black teen who was attempting to run away from harm. Several less than fatal alternatives were readily available to Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson, including letting Michael Brown flee to be arrested later or using other non-lethal methods to stop Brown. There was absolutely no reason, however threatened he may have once felt, for Officer Wilson to get out of his squad car to chase an unarmed Michael Brown down the street and shoot him as he ran away. As citizens, we are taught that the amount of force we use in self-defense must be commensurate with the amount of force used against us.
A little more than a year after a predominately white jury acquitted George Zimmerman of shooting and killing a fleeing unarmed Black teen, we are once again faced with a predominately white jury failing to indict a white police officer for shooting a fleeing unarmed teen.
This most recent high profile shooting of Michael Brown is emblematic of shootings of Black men that take place throughout the United States on a regular and recurring basis. Here in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul African American community we have our own history of police shooting of unarmed African American men. The names of Tycel Nelson (17 year old Black teen killed by Minneapolis Police officer, who received a police department commendation for the shooting); Lawrence Myles (15 year old shot in the back with a sawed-off shotgun by Minneapolis Police officer. The same officer later shot and severely injured Minneapolis undercover police officer Duy Ngo, who subsequently took his own life); Charles Craighead (shot and killed by St. Paul Police after having his car hijacked, when police thought he was the hijacker) readily come to mind.
Shootings of black men are the most extreme form of attack that they face. But, Black men are also under attack in every other socio-economic category here in Minnesota and nationwide, including the lowest rates of high school graduation, the highest levels of unemployment, highest rates of arrest, conviction and incarceration, and highest rates of mortality.
The continuing series of events in Ferguson, Missouri, Sanford, Florida and nationwide, and the subsequent anger and outrage expressed by the African American community, are reflective of a community under continuing siege, and raises several very disturbing and ongoing questions that we as a community must address, among which are the following:
- How is it that in communities that are overwhelmingly African American (Ferguson is 67% African American), white police officers comprise the overwhelming majority of the police force (94% – 50 out of 53 – police officers in Ferguson are White)?
- Why is it that in communities that are overwhelmingly African American, white citizens regularly comprise the overwhelming majority of the juries? (In St. Louis County the grand jury was 75% white – 9 of 12; and, in Sanford, Florida 5 of the 6 jurors were white)
- Why is it that here in Minnesota, where we have one of the highest levels of educational attainment for White children, we have a corresponding lowest level of educational attainment for African American children, and Black boys in particular?
- Why is it that the Twin Cities of Minnesota, which has one of the lowest levels of unemployment nationwide, we have the highest Black/White employment gap in the United States?
The list of racial disparities could go on and on; but, we hope the point is made. More importantly, the African American Leadership Forum would posit the following question for our community:
What can be done to address these obvious disparities?
In law enforcement, we have some ready examples from which to draw. St. Paul, while not a Utopia, has made successful inroads into resolving law enforcement issues by appointing three African American Chiefs of Police over the past two decades. Minneapolis, by contrast, has had none. St. Paul regularly deploys African American police officers who live in and are known in the African American community. African American police officers in St. Paul are not seen as an occupying force. Once again, by contrast, Minneapolis police officers deployed in the African American community, where most of the police shootings and killings have taken place, are overwhelmingly white and viewed by the community as an occupying force.
In the areas of education, Minneapolis and St. Paul school boards are beginning to make inroads in closing the educational achievement gap, by having the funding that comes from the State of Minnesota follow the children versus the past system in which funding earmarked for children in need went to other schools. Additional progress can and should be made by having a teaching and administrative work force that is reflective of the student population. While children of color comprise upwards of 70% of school age children in Minneapolis and St. Paul, more than 90% of the teachers and workforce is White. This ethnic and cultural disconnect is reflected in suspension rates for Black children which is 6 to 10 times the rate of White children.
In the area of employment, housing, construction and transportation, federal and state funding comes into Minneapolis and St. Paul communities, built on the backs of statistical disparities in the African American and other communities of color; yet we find very few African Americans or persons of color sitting at the tables at which decisions are made on how the funds are to be spent. Funds which are intended to address disparities in communities of color are siphoned off through employment and contracts with White people before they reach the intended sources, and the Twin Cities African American community is left to chase the proverbial cart down the street as it races away with funds intended to address these disparities.
The AALF is a committed group of more than 800 Twin Cities African American leaders in business, philanthropy, government, religion, and community action who are actively engaged in convening and collaborating with leaders in government, business/philanthropy, religion, and community action to champion for changes to eliminate the underlying socio-economic disparities that give rise to the horrific killing of Black men. We call upon leaders in government, business, philanthropy, and community action to join with us and other like-minded community leaders to see that these horrible killings never happen again under our watch.