‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’: Comments on the Historical Implications of the Recent Deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Others

A more serious, if quickly put together, article for my comments on some of today’s big issues. My heart goes out to the families involved in any stories like the ones being repeated continually in the United States in recent times.

The shootings of teenager Michael Brown in August and child Tamir Rice in the last week have sent ripples of racial tension through America this year, provoking fear from some that we should be prepared to see race riots. This is especially true of when we will see either the sentencing or absolution of officer Wilson over the death of Michael Brown. Whether these cases are a result of white supremacy, we have yet to receive confirmation. However, there exists a strong wave of the American public (as well as worldwide interest) that believe race was at least a contributing factor. Many more are, contrasting both groups, rising against the fact that those suffering at the end of a policeman’s pistol are so young – their motto being ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ in a mockery of the police force.

As I discussed in a recent essay on the concept of ‘race’ and its implications, we can see the lingering traces of the disadvantages of being black even in what is supposedly a modern time. It is these disadvantages ‘that result in incarceration at nearly six times the rate of whites and the disparity in employment rates with only 5.7% of whites unemployed in January 2014 compared to 12.1% of black or African Americans.[1][2] One has to ask the question, ‘If these had been white youths, would the police have asked the questions before pulling the trigger?’ – but, perhaps my Britishness jades my perspective on anyone carrying a gun.

From a historical perspective, we can see a devastating pattern emerging in today’s US that is possibly a continuation of what some historians are calling the ‘long Civil Rights Movement’. My current studies are focussing on whether or not we have yet seen a definite end of the Civil Rights Movement, though we are half a century ahead of its classical phase. The issues and implications surrounding events such as the tragic deaths of these young men amongst many others suggest that we are well and truly still inside the constraints of the movement, though with slightly shifted goals.

Are we still in this period of revolution?

[1] ‘Criminal Justice Factsheet’, NAACP, <http://www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet&gt; [accessed 30 October 2014].

[2] ‘Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey’, Bureau of Labor Statistics, <http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/surveymost&gt; [accessed 30 October 2014].

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