Only a fool would deny that there has been progress in terms of race relations in the United States; however, only a senseless person would argue that there is no longer discrimination against minorities or unequal treatment because of the color of their skin. From the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 proclaimed by a white president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, to the election of Barack Obama, the first black president in the history of the United States, the progress is as evident as it is insufficient.
Today, the debate revolves around the case of Ferguson (Missouri), in which Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, was murdered by Darren Wilson, a white police officer who was exonerated by a grand jury, and its main issues are racial discrimination and police brutality.
For the communities of color in the United States, those are two issues that have been joined together for a long time. In August, Armand Bennet, a 26-year-old young man who was driving around an elegant neighborhood in New Orleans, was murdered by the police; in Tulsa, 19-year-old Jeremy Lake was murdered by a policeman while he was walking down the street with the police officer’s daughter. In November, a 12-year-old black child was murdered by a police officer in a park in Cleveland while he was playing with his toy gun. None of the victims was armed; none of them would have been murdered if they had been white.
The disproportionate number of black and Latino youth murdered by various police officers attests to the existence of a serious problem that is not always recognized by different racial groups in the country. Between 2000 and 2014, 27 percent of people killed by law enforcement agents in the county of Los Angeles were black, while a little more than 50 percent were Latino. Black people only constitute 10 percent of the residents of the county.
Part of the problem, wrote Professor Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown University, is that Americans have very different perceptions about race relations in the country, so different that there is not a common starting point to begin to try to resolve the racial conflicts that affect them. A survey from the Huffington Post shows that 64 percent of African-Americans believe that the officer that killed the young black man in Ferguson should have been punished, while only 22 percent of white people share this opinion.
The same professor, Dyson, recently starred in a national television debate with the ex-mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, that clearly shows this dichotomy.
To Giuliani, the real victimizers of African-Americans are black people: “93 percent of blacks in America are killed by other blacks,” he said. The figures are correct, but what Giuliani did not say and Dyson did not remind him is that 84 percent of murdered white people are victimized by white people. In other words, the main victimizers of a racial community are of the same race in all cases.
However, that is not what Giuliani or those who think like him wanted to say. What he meant to say is that people of color are a problem in their community and for white people. Not that the economic and educational gap between black and white people is growing every day, because not everyone receives the same opportunities. Not that police brutality against minorities is an irrefutable fact. Not that in the vast majority of cases, police officers who kill unarmed people do not receive punishment.
The events of Ferguson must lead the country to a deep reflection that shows that, despite all efforts made, racism continues to highlight the vulnerability of its principles and values.