The NYPD aren’t the lone culprits. Kendrec McDade, a 19-year-old college student, was gunned down by police officers in Pasedena, Calif., last year after a falsified 911 call was placed. Officers suspected McDade of an armed robbery and shot him seven times, precipitating his death. McDade, in fact, had no weapon and was simply walking down the street before hearing police sirens. No one was charged in his death.
Ta-Nehisi Coates confronts this issue of racial profiling in a recent New York Times op-ed, explaining: “The promise of America is that those who play by the rules, who observe the norms of the ‘middle class,’ will be treated as such. But this injunction is only half-enforced when it comes to black people, in large part because we were never meant to be part of the American story.”
Coates uses the recent stop-and-frisk of Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker at an Upper West Side deli as a prime example that black males are confronted with unreasonable prejudice regardless of their station in life. The arrest of Harvard professor (and editor-in-chief of The Root) Henry Louis Gates Jr. and violent death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin are further examples of innocent African-American males targeted for the color of their skin alone. And as Coates argues, the problem is more than skin-deep.
Kimani Gray’s death is worrisome mostly because of the NYPD’s dark history on matters of racial violence — leaving members of the community to wonder about the veracity of the department’s version of events and to question if a gun was planted on the teenager to justify the shooting. Brooklyn residents, many of whom seek an end to the all-too-common violence experienced by black and brown people at the hands of New York’s law-enforcement officers, have found a new martyr to give voice to an old cause and have taken to the streets to protest.
City Councilman Jumaane Williams addressed the deep-seated resentment at the heart of the demonstrations in a statement: “This action, which some are calling an uprising, was not about the details of one shooting; it spoke to the overwhelming frustration that people are living through day after day.”
Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.