The statistic is chilling. According to The Washington Post’s figures from the beginning of the year, when they find themselves in a tense situation with police and are not carrying a weapon, African-Americans in the United States are seven times more likely to be killed than whites.
In other words, for a year, the national indignation aroused by the death of the young African-American Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri , has changed nothing, or nearly nothing. The protests that it provoked sought to condemn both the ease with which the police resorted to lethal weapons against young blacks and the impunity guaranteed by the local grand juries toward the police responsible for these homicides. The latter persuaded President Barack Obama to request that Attorney General Eric Holder open an investigation parallel to that of the investigation by the county, which was considered biased. The perpetrator who fired the gunshots was cleared in Ferguson after these two investigations, and other grand juries have, subsequently, maintained this impression of tragic inequality.
The ubiquitousness of firearms, access to which the president has tried unsuccessfully to regulate, and the autonomy of the municipal and county police forces from the federal level are likewise obstacles against which the Obama administration has struggled for seven years.
The administration, however, made its ambitions clear by appointing an African-American as U.S. attorney general for the first time. Holder was then replaced by Loretta Lynch, a prosecutor who is also African-American. In New York, she was known for the cases she investigated against police officers. But these symbolic nominations have had no effect on the deviant culture largely inherited from the violence that marked some major American cities more than two decades ago.
For all that, it would be an exaggeration to conclude that this year of controversy and polemics has been completely pointless and in vain. There is no doubt that the police are increasingly required to be accountable, especially since video recordings of incidents, when they exist, have become weapons against silence and biased investigations. Transmitted immediately through social networks, they sustain a citizen watch, of which the Black Lives Matter movement, created after the acquittal of a security guard responsible for the death of a teenager in Florida in 2013, is one of the shining lights. The increased use of on-board cameras by police, if not a panacea, can help restore trust and encourage greater discipline.
This unequal treatment by police is only the most brutal expression of other discrimination, however. The latter discrimination is rooted in a troubled history, including another tragedy — the June massacre at the church in Charleston, South Carolina, during which a young white supremacist killed nine blacks — which highlighted the most shocking legacy. It is feared that many more marches and demonstrations will be required before American society can finally free itself from it.