Even as riots in Ferguson, Missouri continue despite a curfew imposed by the governor, it is becoming apparent that they aren’t the only ones riled up by the shooting of Michael Brown.

Whatever is decided about this case, one thing is certain—race is always brought up.

Does race even matter? It SHOULDN’T matter under the law. Yes, innocent people of all races (and animals) are unjustly killed or injured by cops. However, that doesn’t answer the question: Is police brutality actually just a race problem?

Information reporting police brutality cases by race is sparse or not existent, but the Cato Institute does keep a database of police brutality. USA Today also reported that there is some information available, however it may not be useful:

While the racial analysis is striking, the database it’s based on has been long considered flawed and largely incomplete. The killings are self-reported by law enforcement and not all police departments participate so the database undercounts the actual number of deaths. Plus, the numbers are not audited after they are submitted to the FBI and the statistics on “justifiable” homicides have conflicted with independent measures of fatalities at the hands of police.

About 750 agencies contribute to the database, a fraction of the 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States.

University of South Carolina criminologist Geoff Alpert, who has long studied police use of deadly force, said the FBI’s limited database underscores a gaping hole in the nation’s understanding of how often local police take a life on America’s streets — and under what circumstances.

”There is no national database for this type of information, and that is so crazy,” said Alpert. “We’ve been trying for years, but nobody wanted to fund it and the (police) departments didn’t want it. They were concerned with their image and liability. They don’t want to bother with it.’’

The media is quick to tell us about incidents in which police officers use excessive force on unarmed blacks. But whether or not there is a high incidence of race-based police brutality, there is one thing I’m certain about—any sort of injustice by the government or some other authority towards its citizens is something that everyone should be worried about. Consider the frequency of dogs killed and remember that it’s not just blacks who are injured, unjustly prisoned and or killed by police officers.

It shouldn’t be an “us versus them” issue. Compare it to other issues where you might not fit into the demographic being oppressed, but still might be subjugated to something that could end up violating your rights. “I’m not a terrorist,” you say. Yet, the National Security Agency might be listening in on your phone calls or reading your emails. Or, “I’m not gay,” but next time it might be your civil rights voted away.

Consider the difference between the heated riots and looting in Ferguson with the diverse and peaceful protests that occurred in Kansas City, Missouri last week.

A succession of speakers told stories of police brutality from New York to Los Angeles. People were encouraged to sign a petition to make the shooting of unarmed people in retreat by law enforcement officers a federal offense, and to require all police officers to wear body cameras.

Others argued against the militarization of police departments in general.

People in the crowd bore signs bearing the names of some who have been killed by law enforcement. One attendee was Narene Stokes of Kansas City, whose 24-year-old son, Ryan Stokes, was fatally shot by police in July 2013 near the Power & Light District. Police said he ignored orders to stop and show his hands.

Kansas City is demanding change through peaceful protests. And hopefully more people get on the bandwagon to demand change to laws which will hold police officers to higher standards. This, instead of people throwing racial insults or oversimplifying a poorly understood issue and grossly blaming true, innocent victims whose rights are violated.

The only way to overcome injustices committed by those with power is to stand together—not divided—against overzealous agents of the state who have no respect for us. Kansas City is a good example of how people can start from the ground up showing their frustration with nothing being done to stop senseless deaths. Just like movements of the past, such as the civil rights movement or women’s movement, it takes individuals coming together to produce change.

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  • eClaire

    I can only speak of my own impressions here, but I do not have the impression that the African American community sees police brutality as JUST a race issue. And I don’t really know that the police are quick to tell us about police brutality on unarmed blacks versus unarmed whites. If you watch the news, it is evident that police brutality is a concern for all Americans.

    In light of that–that police brutality is not just a race issue–, you have to wonder why white people like myself do not get upset when African Americans bring up race in relation to police brutality (versus the white Americans who would capitalize on that and yell “race card” and turn it into a political issue). I’ll tell you why: While there may not be many statistics on police brutality, there are plenty of statistics on how the American justice system disproportionally arrests and imprisons African Americans and Hispanics. And then there’s the evidence of profiling.

    In other words, African Americans are being provided as a group more opportunity to have encounters with the police. This is bound to increase the chances of police brutality. Whether true or not, it’s a rational assumption.

    And while I agree that police brutality is of concern for everyone, which is why no doubt there were white people marching in Ferguson too, I don’t understand how anyone could not get that the issue might actually be hitting the African American community with particular force. In that way, it overlaps with race and that too–that possibility–should be a concern for everyone.

    So yes, we should all come together to fight injustice anywhere and the hurling of insults does no one any good, but it does us no good to be afraid of recognizing or discussing the disproportionate impact the justice system has on the African American community. And in the face of insult or anger, it does no good to circle the wagons white or well off America, and moralize people who are righteously angry.

    I think if you were to survey the majority of people who protested in Ferguson they would tell you that they too are upset at the people who chose to loot and otherwise direct attention away from the protests. I don’t know that for certain, of course. I just have faith in my fellow human beings to be decent people for the most part… even in the face of ongoing injustice.

    If you look at how the police in Kansas City handled the protest versus the police in Ferguson handled the protest, setting aside for a moment that the killing happened in Ferguson and the unique conditions of Ferguson, you’d see quite a bit of difference. There’s a reason Amnesty International has sent observers to Ferguson: Police action can escalate a tense situation, and AI is there to bare witness to civil rights violations regardless of color.

    So what am I trying to say here? While I like your call to come together and think that people of all races should do just that, I find your appeal unappealing. It fails to recognize that we are not living in a post racial America. It fails to acknowledge righteous anger. In essence, in part, it is a put down piece to the people of Ferguson.

    I think we need to open our arms as a people despite the anger, despite the insults, and because of the reality of race in America. I think we need to understand context and show compassion and personal restraint and call for order and reasoned response rather than add insult to injury as I believe your essay did.

    Yes, you are right. We need to come together. However, in our effort to achieve solidarity, let’s not use put downs to members of the African American community (or anyone else) when they bring up the issue of race (the idea that there just might be disproportionate impact) or demand that people ignore race when there is obvious bias within the American justice system.