Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Color vs. Black & White

Let's get something out of the way before I write anything else. I am a Caucasian. That will immediately render anything I say mostly meaningless to the non-Caucasian portion of any audience that might read this. That's too bad, because I'd like to think I can see an issue without my own color clouding the picture. Maybe not.

We've all seen the arrest on TV by now. Of course, I'm talking about the apprehension, in St. Louis, of a fellow named Edmon Burns. Four police officers punched, kicked and stomped the guy until they could get cuffs on him. Here's where I will begin working with second hand facts...and not what I've seen with my own eyes. Reports indicate that this guy had filled up his tank in Maplewood and took off without paying....I think they're calling it a "gas and go". Well, he proceeds to lead the Maplewood cops on a high-speed chase into St. Louis city before they get him cornered. The police ram his car. He rams the cop car. He gets out of the car. The 3 cops from Maplewood are joined by a fourth cop from St. Louis city. The beat down begins. They cuff him. It's all caught on video tape by news choppers. It turns into one of those "flash point" stories on which everyone has an opinion.

Unfortunately, the opinions, and those offering them, are all too predictable. Noone seems to need to wait for the stories of all parties to come out. Everyone thinks they know exactly what happened, why it happened, and what should, or shouldn't, be done about it. They can be judge and jury based on the TV news video.

The local African-American community says it's another piece of evidence as to why they should totally mistrust the cops. They say there was no justification for the way this "poor little guy" was treated. They say the cops had no reason to wallop this guy senseless before cuffing him and leading him away. They say the cops should be punished, fired, or both. They say this guy should be justified in suing somebody. The protests are loud and stereotypical of many we have seen before in St. Louis and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, there are several media types and others who've appeared on the news reports following the incident who jump to the defense of the cops...also without waiting to know exactly what the details are. They make up excuses for why the cops did what they did. They say "maybe the guy was trying to spit on them"..."The guy had tried to ram their vehicle"..."The guy was a bad guy because of his record" " He was running from the law so he deserves what he gets"....and other such notions.

I'm here to's not all black and white. At least not yet. First, let's remember that one of the cops was an African-American. Doesn't that change the way those who are so terribly offended by this incident should view it? Or does any person, no matter their color represent the white community if they put on a police uniform? Maybe that's something I didn't know. What if the guy had run into a school bus full of minority kids and run it off the road killing a bunch of them? Would they feel the same way about him then?

Secondly, did the people who are apologizing for the cops not see the same video I did? Once they got this guy on the ground, was there really a need to kick, stomp and punch the buh-Jesus out of him? Can any reasonable, non-biased person believe that four police officers couldn't have subdued the guy with less force than what was used. The guy was not Shaquille O'Neal...or anyone who looked like he was capable of overpowering more than one person. He was obviously not armed.

It appeared to me...(can I be wrong about this?)... that the guy was going to be punished by these cops in some way for doing what he did before he got to the police station. I'm sorry...but that's not their job. Their job is to subdue and arrest, not punish. That's what the sorry and frustrating as they tend to be...are for. Now, if you want to forgive the police officers for a bit of over-reaction to the situation, I could be convinced to do that. This perpetrator, Mr. Burns, was not cooperating. He was obviously in a bad place with his mind-set. And the cops had a right to fear what he might do. Police officers are charged with a tough, and largely thankless, job. And making the right decision 100 percent of the time is not easy.

So, if there are good guys and bad guys in this story, I tend to lean in the direction of the law enforcers...and not the law breakers. But then, nobody should have to feel threatened by the mere presence of a cop either. And that brings us back to color.

Would there be any protests...or calls for punishment...or outraged cries of foul... if this culprit had been a white guy? Of course not. Because justified or not, the black community is fearful of, and threatened by, the presence of police officers. The non-minority population tends not to be.

Color. We all have one. (Some more obviously than others) We are still learning to live in the color of our skin. We still tend to have pre-set minds based on it. But please, why can't we wait for more of the facts of the story to emerge before writing our own ending? Hopefully, the local media will supply the rest of the story and not just fan flames in their ratings game.

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