The Roots of a Tragedy

Last night, a plainclothes officer in NYC was shot down by his colleagues. Why? He was chasing a man with a gun drawn, they say.

I say it’s because he was African-American, running after a man with a gun drawn.

Racial profiling is not a policy, it is a deeply ingrained reality of our society. Black man + gun = bad. The officers who shot him never knew he was a cop until they were trying to revive him and saw his Police Academy tee shirt. The officer was in plain clothes, as were the cops who shot him. Call me crazy but shouldn’t a “Stop, police!” be shouted before the trigger gets pulled?

Call me crazy, but when I see a man running down the street with a gun pulled, chasing another guy, I’m thinking cops. Mostly because I live in a very cushy suburb where there is no crime. I am not afraid of black men, I am afraid of guns. To me, guns equal authority. But that’s not where this happened. In a housing project in East Harlem, clearly black man + gun = bad. At least to the guy who shot him, who was white, young and only on duty for a couple years. Where did he come from? What experiences had he had in his life with African-American men?

Bloomberg has promised a full investigation, so this will never happen again. In order for this not to happen again,  you have to go to the roots of the racism baked into our society to understand what happened. And to change it, you must identify police recruits and understand their social context for every minority. Not just a check mark on a test, but full psychological profiling before we hand them a gun. A man who was sexually abused by a male adult as a child might react differently when confronted with a gay man, or transwoman suspect.  It doesn’t make him a bad cop, or someone who shouldn’t be a cop, just someone who needs to understand his own fears, reactions, and core prejudices. A white cop who has never had any black friends may not understand some of the assumptions ingrained by media images.

And in that moment of a split second, life or death decision, it may be the difference between “Stop, Police!” and pulling the trigger.

Prejudice runs deep in all people, good and bad. Until we begin to truly understand the core roots, this tragedy will happen again and again.


  1. I know you’re right, Sara, but with budget cuts, combined with the salary cops that are paid, I don’t think any municipal system will make the effort to get to know a new recruit. They probably feel like they just need a warm body in a uniform at this point.

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