Fear and prejudice: Miami’s smoking gun

Charles Kinsey

Charles Kinsey was laying on the ground, as we all can see. With his arms in the air. He had done exactly as the police asked. The therapist had stopped his conversation w/ the young, autistic black man (who apparently had a dangerous toy TRUCK) to obey police. They shot him in the leg anyway.

When Kinsey asked the police why he’d been shot, the shooter responded: I don’t know.

I absolutely believe that. I’m sure the police who shot Kinsey doesn’t know why he shot Kinsey. But there’s a lot of good research out there that helps us understand, even if the shooter doesn’t.

When given psychological tests, by far the majority of whites respond to pictures of blacks w/ fear. White Americans are far more likely to see black Americans as dangerous, as ‘bad.’ As threatening. This is the backdrop for the shooting of Charles Kinsey, a black American who did everything the police told him. And STILL was shot in the leg. And then left to bleed, in handcuffs, for 20 minutes. While the ‘rescue squad’ (certainly not a rescue of Kinsey) came to the scene of the crime. Note: Kinsey committed NO crime. He did EXACTLY as police asked. He was completely unarmed. And he was STILL shot.

If there needed to be, for white America, a ‘smoking gun’ to illustrate the fear of black Americans endemic to white police officers, surely this is it. This is what black Americans — and white police — live with. For those of us with long memories, those of us who have been active for decades in social justice issues (which in America are so often those of race…), this is an old story. But Charles Kinsey’s shooting is an almost perfect confluence of sad vectors: black men, white police, Fear. And film footage. In this age of cell phones, it’s far more difficult to get by w/ overt racial wrongheadedness. Especially when it’s sooo obviously a case of fear.

But here’s the problem we are NOT discussing: fear isn’t rational. You don’t just say, I don’t want to be afraid of the dark anymore. It doesn’t work that way. When we look at the visceral responses of white police to black Americans — and I’m thinking of obviously horrific cases, like Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner — these are, for the even more tragic most part, not conscious racism. They are the product of adrenaline, fear of black Americans, and guns. And (probably) inadequate training.

There is an entire litany of names of wrongful black deaths at the hands of the white police system. The recent deaths of police (not all of whom were white, note) are tragic, yes. But they are a drop in the bucket compared to the murders of black citizens from way back. And until we begin to figure out how we can change the hearts & minds of white America, so that we see our friends and family in the faces of black victims, we don’t have a chance in hell of changing this.

When I heard of the shooting of Charles Kinsey, I thought of two dear friends. Kinsey could just have easily been my friend Ben, or my friend Dewayne. Both have Ph.D.s That, of course, would have made no difference to the police. Each is a kind, funny, brilliant person. That too would never have made police radar. Neither carries weapons — not even pocket knives. But none of that would have mattered, since each one would have been there to help the frightened autistic man. They’re helpful, and would have seen his fear and panic. Each would have done what the police demanded. And almost certainly? Both would have been shot.

What do we do, America? How can we change fear into reason? How can we defuse this poisonous tragedy? If you have ideas, I would love to hear them…


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