(FinalCall.com) – The uprising that occurred in Benton Harbor, Mich., for several days following the June 16 death of 28-year-old Terrance Shurn should not have surprised the political leaders who flocked to the small town to decry the conditions of the people and pledge support–like they always do.
The fact is, there are many Benton Harbors across the country that can go up in flames at any moment, given the right set of circumstances.
If policy makers don’t address the problems now, there’ll be more Benton Harbors in the not too distant future.
In the Benton Harbor case, the circumstances were a Black man speeding on a motorcycle and being chased by a White cop. Reportedly, the man lost control of his bike and crashed into an abandoned building, one of many abandoned buildings in the city.
Why the young man was fleeing, nobody seems to know. Why the cop was chasing him–despite a national movement and a local law to disengage from high speed chases that could threaten innocent bystanders–most folks can’t understand.
Even though no one knows for sure why Shurn was fleeing police, if you ask most Black men–young and old–they’d be able to give you any number of legitimate reasons.
If there is not a hate-hate relationship between Black men and police, there certainly exists deeply entrenched feelings of distrust and fear.
A Black man is more apt to be pulled over by police for no reason than a White man, especially if the Black man is driving a nice car and in the wrong neighborhood.
There are any number of horror stories about Black men who ended up dying at the hands of police during such pull-overs; the Rodney King video vindicated a nation of Black men who could finally convince their relatives that their fears were justified.
On the other hand, cops, especially White cops, fear Black men and also feel a need to be overly assertive when confronting them.
“African Americans and people from different Caribbean islands, Haiti for instance, culturally have a collective memory of years of abuse, years of violation of civil rights. They run because they don’t think they’ll get a fair shake. It is not an uncommon thing,” said Howard Finkelstein, a Broward County, Fla., public defender, in a recent Florida Sun Sentinel article titled, “Deep-rooted fears, distrust spur some Black men to flee police.”
That story recounted the history of local Florida Black men who died while fleeing police, some who fled for no reason. The most recent incident was the death of Raymond Sterling Jr., several months ago, who was driving on a suspended license when police signaled him to pull over. He fought with police, who pepper-sprayed him because he resisted arrest, according to the report. His red blood cells “sickled” after physical exertion–and the pepper spray–preventing oxygen flow, according to the local medical examiner.
The fear of law officials perhaps goes as far back as slavery, when law officials or slave owners chased down and beat or killed Black men who were fleeing for their lives. Most recently, it was flight from Klansmen or other racist White supremacist groups that tortured Blacks.
What made Benton Harbor a volatile mix was not only the mistreatment by cops from other communities on the Black population in Benton Harbor, but the extreme poverty and sense of hopelessness that exists.
And just as politicians and other high ranking officials in government and business knew that White cops were disrespectful of the Benton Harbor community, they also knew the disastrous economic conditions of the community and the substandard educational and job opportunities.
Yet, they did nothing about it then, and they’ll probably only put a band-aid solution on the situation now.
Even worse, however, is that the Black community did nothing about their condition themselves.