Racism and Power

"Why can't we roam this open country? Oh, why can't we be what we wanna be? We want to be free." -- Bob Marley, Rebel Music (3 O'clock Roadblock)

George Zimmerman is back in the news. A Texas Highway Patrol trooper pulled him over for speeding yesterday on US Highway 80.

It's hard to believe this is actually news; the media's insatiable appetite for this man is quite shameless. Meanwhile scandals, wars and domestic spy programs fade into insignificance...But I digress.

After walking up to Zimmerman's car, the Highway Patrolman asked him where he was going. Zimmerman replied, "Nowhere in particular," which prompted a further question from the officer: "Nowhere in particular, why is that?"

I've got a question: How was it any of this officer's business where Zimmerman might have been going? And once given an answer, how was it any of this officer's business to inquire further into Zimmerman's private affairs?

The Trooper asked Zimmerman if he had any weapons in the car, and Zimmerman replied that he did -- a loaded, concealed handgun. Under Texas law this is perfectly legal. (Given the threats on Zimmerman's life, it's also understandable.)

Another question: If it's perfectly legal to own and carry a loaded weapon in your car in Texas, what business was it of the police?

The answer to all three of these questions, of course, is that it's none of anyone's business where we might be traveling, why we might be traveling there, and if we are carrying a weapon for self-defense. Yet intrusive inquiries into our personal affairs are quite common in our interactions with the police.

Some people saw this coming. In the early part of the twentieth century, when the concept of a government-built, government-owned, government-maintained, and, perhaps most importantly, government-policed highway system was first being discussed, concern was expressed that it would lead to such frequent "arrests" of citizens by officers of the law that we would become immune to the shear enormity of that experience. In other words, being regularly stopped by the police would make us passively accept their intrusions into our lives. It's safe to say those warnings were prescient.

And such power is particularly dangerous when focused on particular members of our society. The same day Zimmerman was stopped, Ralph De La Cruz asked on the Dallas Morning News opinion page, "What if [Zimmerman] had been a black teen who had been caught speeding while carrying a gun in the glove compartment."

Having grown up poor in a large city, I can say that it isn't just black teens who need to be concerned in such situations. My brothers and I were routinely harassed by the police when we were young. They bullied and intimidated us, and used aggressive questioning and highly questionable procedures to justify violating our privacy. We never thought that it was race-based; we just thought that it was unjust.

There is no doubt in my mind, however, that in some communities the police can and do single out non-white motorists for...let's call it "special treatment". Mr. Cruz therefore asks an excellent question.

But I'd have to answer him with three more questions of my own: Why have we given the police so much power? And, if we're so concerned about how the police treat non-whites in these and other situations, how about we strip them of their ability to do that? Wouldn't everyone be better off?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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