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MCM Editorial: The Fault is Not in Our Police But in Ourselves

On the evening of November 3, 2014, officers from the Montgomery County Park Police pulled over a large SUV near the Good Hope Recreation Center in Silver Spring. The driver of the vehicle was a 70-year-old African-American man, and as he stepped out of his SUV, he was confronted by one of the Park Police. Yelling, screaming and cursing at the driver, the police officer lashed out “in a harsh, negative, unprofessional tone” that stunned the elderly man. It wasn’t until another female park police officer, recognizing who the man actually was, moved in and quickly diffused the growing confrontation.

The driver turned out to be Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, who had been in the area pulling up campaign signs the night before the general election… an election which returned Leggett to another term as the county’s highest elected official.

The use of racial profiling is endemic in law enforcement programs across the country, whether those agencies admit it or not. As Leggett described, he was “just another black face”, leaving him wondering what might have happened if it had been an African-American teenager that was pulled over who didn’t have the maturity to react calmly… or wasn’t a very recognizable public official.

The events over the past week are just the latest in a long line of incomprehensible acts by law enforcement against young African-Americans. Ferguson, New York City, Minneapolis… the list of deadly incidents stretches back years. But now a raging, revenge-filled sniper assault on Dallas police has finally woken up the country to the fact that racial profiling is alive and well here in 21st Century America.

If law enforcement organizations are reflections of the communities they serve, then the issue of aggressive tactics against African-Americans comes from within our own cities, perhaps even ourselves. We are confronted with the question: deep down, are most White Americans racist? And has something occurred to drive that racism to the surface, resulting in the rise in these deadly incidents?
If we truly value the historical diversity of our country, as well as the fundamental human rights of equal treatment and opportunity for all Americans, then there’s something seriously wrong with the direction our country is heading (with the Trump campaign simply riding that wave). While Black America should rightly be outraged and scream for change, it is the moral obligation of White America to stand up and demand the end of racial profiling: not only within our police departments but inside each of us as well. That’s the only way this targeting of an entire group of Americans will end.

At the height of the Dallas news coverage the other night, an African-American mom in Germantown was watching the horror unfold on TV alongside her 7-year-old son. The child turned and asked, “Mommy, are we safe?” How can we truly believe in the freedoms of our country if we stand by and let violence and mistreatment permanently scar this generation?

To glibly paraphrase Shakespeare: the fault is not in our police but in ourselves. The freedoms we enjoy are at risk if we do not ALL enjoy them equally. We get the police and the politicians we deserve unless those who are NOT oppressed stand up for those who are.

Are we ready to make that change?

Merlyn Reineke

About Merlyn Reineke

Merlyn Reineke is Executive Director of Montgomery Community Media, which provides media training and community-based content by-and-for the residents of Montgomery County.

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