Shot by the Sheriff: a Poem on the Destructive Symbiosis between Racism and Police Brutality

Microcosm: an unarmed protester in Ferguson, Missouri confronts a heavily armed police force in the wake of Michael Brown's shooting. "Hands up. Don't shoot." (Scott Olson: Getty)

Microcosm: an unarmed protester in Ferguson, Missouri confronts a heavily armed police force in the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting. “Hands up. Don’t shoot.” (Scott Olson: Getty)

Shot by the Sheriff 

“Racism is dead”

they confidently declare

as their bullets batter Mike Brown’s head.

Sow discord

Sow despair.

 

“But Jim Crow is gone”

they continue to ramble on,

as they handcuff hands behind a beaten back

for the crime of possession: skin that is black.

 

“These deaths are in isolation-

surely we have moved on”

continues their denial incantation.

Have they forgotten Trayvon?

 

So they descend like a deafening chorus

in the mindless melody of war

to inflict upon innocence horrors,

stoke crucibles to riotous roar.

 

Sworn, solemn, to serve and protect,

but rather the image our minds infect

as their strangling hands cull the herds.

Eric Garner’s gasping last words:

 

“I can’t breathe”

 

Raees Noorbhai

 

In 1954, a case was brought before the Supreme Court of the United States in what would become a momentous victory for the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. The unanimous verdict in ‘Brown vs the Topeka Board of Education’ ruled that segregation in schools violated the equality before the law enshrined within the 14th Amendment and was therefore unconstitutional. The ruling was a declaration that America had yet to fulfill its founding principle-the self-evident truth that all are created equal. 

In the six decades since that landmark case, progress has been made in eroding the blatantly vulgar manifestations of racism. The era of ‘whites only’ signposts looming above drinking fountains is now a chapter of history. However, the fact that an African American now sits in the Oval Office does not mean that racism has vanished. It has morphed to become more subtle. It is the paling knuckles of the woman clutching her purse because she believes that the man with whom she shares the sidewalk may mug her, simply because of the colour of his skin. It is the seemingly never-ending tear stream that flows down the faces of mourning families who were robbed of a loved one by police brutality against unarmed minorities. It is the college application that Trayvon Martin was never able to send, because he was profiled as “suspicious” on account of his race and subsequently murdered for it. It is the void left in the lives of Eric Garner’s six children because their father was strangled by those who were sworn to serve and protect them.

The recent killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri, has brought this interplay between marginalisation and police militarisation into the spotlight once again. However, the scope of this trend is highlighted by more than the tragic accounts that have humanized them. Statistics from the US Justice Department show that black Americans are four times as likely to be killed by law enforcement than their white counterparts. Black Americans are also far more likely to be arrested (often under the premise of counter-productive drug laws) and subsequently incarcerated-manifesting itself in the fact that approximately 1 million black men are imprisoned within the United States today-40% of the total prison population. 

The reality illustrated by this is disconcerting and is evidence that 60 years after that landmark Supreme Court ruling, the Dream that resonated from the vocal cords of a King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial is yet to be fulfilled. This dream is not served by denialism and failure to acknowledge racism where it truly exists only allows it to fester. If the hopes for a truly post-racial society are to materialise, then it is necessary to recognize and remedy the destructive symbiosis between lingering racial prejudice and a militarised police force that all too often serves to perpetuate it.

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