Few dispute the fact that the election of Barack Obama as the first African American U.S. President represents a historic milestone for race relations in America. What is disputed, however, is the degree to which America is a post-racial society in the “Age of Obama.”
Six months ago in August 2014, the murder of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri incited protests that shook the area for weeks. In November 2014, when Wilson was not indicted for Brown’s murder, another wave of protests began and appalling images of rioting, looting and armored police vehicles with cops in full riot gear shocked many American television viewers in ways not seen since the turbulent 1960s.
The riots resulted from the boiling over of rage not only concerning the murder of Michael Brown, but also from what appears to be a pattern of the killing of young black males at the hands of white police officers – a term some label ‘modern-day lynching.’ Referred to as the “new civil rights movement,” and with the purpose of demanding recognition and valuation of black lives, the Black Lives Matter Movement was established as an effort to protest the murder of unarmed people of color by law enforcement.
With salient and emotive Die-ins, and the now-popular memoriam chants, “I Can’t Breathe” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” the Black Lives Matter Movement currently has 23 chapters in the U.S., Canada and Ghana.
Although Officer Darren Wilson was acquitted of all charges in the death of Michael Brown, after a six month investigation the Department of Justice released a scathing report on March 4 unveiling a pattern of systemic racial bias against African Americans within the Ferguson Police Department.
“Ferguson’s approach to law enforcement both reflects and reinforces racial bias, including stereotyping. The harms of Ferguson’s police and court practices are borne disproportionately by African Americans, and there is evidence that this is due in part to intentional discrimination on the basis of race,” the report stated.
The findings found that from 2012 to 2014, African Americans accounted for 85 percent of vehicle stops, 90 percent of citations, and 93 percent of arrests made by FDP officers and almost 90 percent of documented force used by FDP officers was used against African Americans.
The report also stated statistics like African Americans are at least 50 percent more likely to have their cases lead to an arrest warrant, and accounted for 92 percent of cases in which an arrest warrant was issued by the Ferguson Municipal Court in 2013. Of those actually arrested by FPD only because of an outstanding warrant, 96 percent are African Americans.
“I’m not surprised at all,” said Manuel Jimenez, a sophomore at the Boyer College of Music and Dance. “History shows that for years people of color have been targeted and exploited. The Ferguson incidents are very similar to the vagrancy laws enacted during the Jim Crow era that criminalized people of color and sent them back to the institutions, which at the time were former slave plantations.”
According to National Public Radio, the fallout of the DOJ’s report includes the resignation of key Ferguson, Missouri officials – the powerful city manager, municipal judge, police chief and two Ferguson police officers. In addition, the Missouri Supreme Court assigned all local municipal cases to an appellate judge to assist in restoring public trust and confidence in the Ferguson municipal court system. Following the DOJs report however, unrest and violence in Ferguson continued as two police officers were shot during subsequent protests.
“The unjust treatment of people of color really hits home and clarifies that racism and discrimination against people of color still exist,” Jimenez added.
The DOJ’s report serves as evidence of the degree to which America is not a post-racial society in the Age of Obama.
“For the Black citizens of Ferguson, the department’s report of wanton racial prejudice and outright racism perpetrated by the police and other local officials was not a revelation,” said Tamika Covington, a 1996 Temple alumna and Afrocentric scholar at Rutgers. “I believe the DOJ had no intention on indicting Officer Darren Wilson, yet in return offered the admonishing report as a political or social pacifier. There is a clear divide on how this case is viewed, mostly along ethnic lines. What we are witnessing is very far from post-racial America.”
While America reached a racial milestone with the election of its first black commander-in-chief, and while it may be true that race relations advanced with the end of legalized segregation, it is clear that America still has a long way to go in its quest to become a “post-racial” society.
Sharron Scott can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.