This article was originally published by The Mennonite

The terror African-American men face in America

Miscellany: Items of interest from the broader church and world

In less than a month, from July 17 to Aug. 11, in separate incidents—in Staten Island, N.Y., Beavercreek, Ohio, Ferguson, Mo., and Los Angeles—four unarmed African-American men were killed by police (www.motherjones.com).

In his blog at sojo.net, Ryan Herring writes, “To be young and black in the United States means to live under constant pressure, something most non-black American citizens know nothing about” (“When Terror Wears a Badge,” Aug. 14).

While our government fights a war on terrorism, many African Americans experience terror everyday. As Cornel West has said, ”To be black in America for 400 years is to be unsafe, unprotected, subject to random violence and hated.”

Herring notes that “more Americans have lost their lives at the hands of police since 9/11 than in acts officially classified as terrorism. A recent study showed that one black man was killed every 28 hours by police, security guards or self-appointed vigilantes in 2012.”

Beyond the threat of lethal violence is the daily grind of being constantly watched by police, suspected of wrongdoing simply because of the color of one’s skin.

A further threat from police is being arrested and falsely accused. In The New Yorker (Aug. 4), Nicholas Schmidle writes about Tyrone Hood, who has been in prison for 21 years for a murder he likely did not commit.

The article goes into great detail, with many interviews, to trace the course of events that led to Hood’s arrest and conviction.

Those events included witnesses who told the reporter that Chicago police threatened them with a gun until they said they saw Hood kill Marshal Morgan, a 20-year-old basketball star. Turns out, they didn’t witness that.

A series of articles ran in 2001 in the Chicago Tribune titled “Cops and Confessions.”

The reporters described how Chicago police had relied on “coercive and illegal tactics” to solicit dubious confessions. Among the articles was a profile of Kenneth Boudreau, one of the officers in Hood’s case who had obtained incriminating statements from several witnesses.

The article pointed out that Boudreau “had targeted suspects especially vulnerable to intimidation, including teenagers and the mentally retarded, and stood accused of ‘punching, slapping or kicking’ them.” He had helped elicit at least five confessions from suspects who were later acquitted.

Schmidle interviews him, and Boudreau doesn’t budge from his belief that Hood is guilty, despite much evidence to the contrary.

The man who most likely did the murder later murdered several other people. Meanwhile, Hood remains in prison.

In the Aug. 11 and 18 New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the book On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman, who for six years lived in a low-income neighborhood of Philadelphia and documented the lives of two young African-American men.

“They tried to get an education and legitimate jobs, only to find themselves thwarted,” Gladwell writes. “Selling crack was a business they entered only because they believed that all other doors were closed to them.”

Gladwell compares the climb of Italian crime families in the 1950s and ’60s into legitimacy with that of African Americans today. Back then, cops were paid to overlook crime and focused more on hunting Communists.

Today’s law enforcement is different. “Between 1960 and 2000, the ratio of police officers to Philadelphia residents rose by almost 70 percent,” Gladwell writes.

A black man in America faces many systemic barriers. Whatever we can do to help change those barriers will help make God’s justice for all more visible.

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!