Young, Black and Unarmed

August 20, 2014

SACRAMENTO – The California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) response to the events in Ferguson, Missouri.

Since Africans were first brought to the Americas as slaves nearly 400 years ago, they have been the target of perpetual discrimination, harassment and institutionalized racism. The recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, including the murder of another unarmed black male only highlight the decades of abuse that blacks—in particular black males— have suffered at the hands of police officers. However, this abuse is not isolated to parts of our country that have historically denied African Americans equal protection under the law. It also exists in California.

While we as a nation tout justice and fairness for all, one could argue that the seemingly callous disregard for young black males signals that our society not only condones, but lawfully supports the killing of unarmed black men. 

Six years into the Obama era, young black men across the state and nation are still being gunned down by police officers, despite being unarmed. In 2009, Oscar Grant, a 20 year father of a young daughter was shot in the back by Bay Area Rapid Transit police while lying face down and motionless on the ground. Just one week ago on Tuesday, Ezell Ford was killed by a Los Angeles Police Department Officer, even after complying with officers’ orders. The very next day, Dante Parker, a pressman at the Victorville Daily Press newspaper in Southern California, was shot with a Taser gun by a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy, and eventually died in the hospital. Again, the common attributes among these young men, they were all unarmed and black.

The causes of these atrocities run far deeper than the interactions with law enforcement-- they stem from poor academic achievement, joblessness and poverty. Due to various factors including an insufficient, inequitable and unaccountable school funding system, black males have the lowest standardized test scores, high school graduation and college matriculation rates of all other genders and ethnicities.

On account of their limited access to business capital, lack of economic opportunities and an overall dearth of good paying middle class jobs, blacks endure an unemployment rate that is almost twice the national average, while also earning the lowest median income of all other races.

Furthermore, between the application of overly harsh sentencing policies stemming from the drug epidemic of the 1980’s and 90’s, racial profiling and an overall lack of cultural competence among law enforcement, African Americans are disproportionately incarcerated across the state. While only accounting for 6 percent of the California’s population, blacks make up 29 percent of the state prison population.

The protesting in Ferguson, Missouri is symbolic of the extreme frustration felt by blacks all across the country. This frustration is the recognition of how law enforcement views the lives of black men—that we are simply not as valuable.

There is one thing that is certain.  Change is absolutely necessary.  We must change this pattern of treatment at the hands of law enforcement throughout our society that actively perpetuates racial injustice in America.  If we can do this, then maybe…just maybe, we can ensure that no more Michael Browns, Oscar Grants, Ezell Fords, Dante Parkers or Trayvon Martins are killed.

The California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) believes that the solution to these problems lie in the creation of tangible policies that benefit young men of color across California. The CLBC has advocated for courses of action to expand early childhood education, boost funding for K-12 public schools and enhance access to rehabilitative services while also increasing the number of Californians who have health insurance. These policies not only improve the outcomes for young black men, but further the development of all people, despite their class, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.