On July 17th 2014 Eric Garner, a 43 year old African-American, was put into an illegal choke-hold by NYPD officers and died as a result of a heart attack caused from a compression of the neck. In August, the college-bound unarmed African-American Michael Brown, who had no previous criminal convictions, was shot dead by a white police officer in Ferguson. Last month a Cleveland police officer shot Tamir Rice, a 12 year old who whilst playing in the snow was brandishing a fake gun. Three cases that have added fuel to an already burning American issue: the continued discrimination and unfair treatment of African-Americans and minorities in US society.
To say these three deaths have shaken America would be wrong. It has for many just highlighted an underlying problem in American society that has been present for decades. Racial discrimination, especially with African-Americans, has been an invariable in American history. There have been centuries of discrimination and with the clear resistance of many towards adopting affirmative action policies, it looks set to continue with the recent shootings and then the grand jury’s decisions. For example a CBS news poll found four in five white people surveyed said their police department made them feel safe. This statistic dropped to 52% among black people and continued cases of African-American’s being wrongly killed will allow this figure to decrease even more. Problems do not only lie in the police system but the media also allows discriminatory feelings to breed especially those with an extreme conservative agenda. Despite its disgusting nature, Fox news is the highest-rated news network with Fox standing as the third largest media company in the US. Their star man, Bill O’Reilly presenter ‘The O’Reilly factor’, said to Marc Lamont Hill, a black Distinguished Professor of African American Studies at Morehouse College in Atlanta, “Say you’re a cocaine dealer—and you kind of look like one a little bit.” The problem also lies in some politicians with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting, saying on an NBC debate “White police officers wouldn’t be there if you (black people) weren’t killing each other,” after arguing that black on black shootings are not getting the coverage the Brown killing had.
DoSomething.org is an organisation that fights for the young people of America and for social change. Its website brandishes figures that for example, African-Americans comprise 13% of the U.S. population and 14% of the monthly drug users, but 37% of the people arrested for drug-related offences. In New York the percentage of non-whites receiving life sentences is 83% and in New York City, 80% of the stops made by police were black or Latino, with 85% of those people being frisked, compared to a mere 8% of the white people stopped. It’s not just the legal system that has its problems with racial discrimination but also the job market as according to Christine Owens, National Employment Law Projects’ executive director, unemployed African Americans are more likely to be victims of jobless discrimination because their unemployment rate is 16.7 per cent—more than twice that of whites. According to Duke University’s public policy expert William Darity, blacks are “the last to be hired in a good economy, and when there’s a downturn, the first to be released.”
The question is where to go from here to make a change? President Obama by executive order will protect around 4.3 million illegal aliens with the expansion of the DACA programme put in place in 2012. The issue of immigrants in American society will obviously not be solved straight away but nonetheless it is significant legislation. It would appear no such programmes will be passed any time soon in terms of reversing racial discrimination in America. One suggested solution is reparations. Some argue the problems faced by the African-American population are the legacy of slavery and compensation is needed for the forced free labour blacks endured during 250 years of enslavement. In 1942 shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbour Roosevelt authorised the deportation and incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry who lived on the Pacific coast in camps in the interior of the country. In 1988 Ronald Reagan passed the Civil Liberties Act in which $1.2 billion was committed to the reparations of those affected but the same was never done to those forced into slavery in the US. The other option for change is Affirmative Action legislation. Law Professor Charles Ogletree Jr said that ‘Affirmative Action admissions policies seek to realign the balance of power and opportunity by doing what is, at heart, quite simple: affirmatively including the formerly excluded.’
The longer no clear path is taken to combat racial discrimination in America the more and more cases like that of Eric Garner will arise. What is needed is the likes of the ‘I can’t breathe’ campaign, the name deriving from the final words of Eric Garner as police put him in a choke-hold, to create the same ripples in the political establishment that the Civil Rights movements did to end segregation in the 1960’s. The more the problem is brought to the world’s attention hopefully Congress and any future President will be put under enough pressure to make a change. The only viable option is to introduce more Affirmative Action acts that give black people in America a more levelled platform to gain a better education leading to a higher paid job and a life away from crime. Affirmative Action and positive discrimination is needed to ensure African-Americas aren’t pushed to the margins of society.