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Is Eric Garner Video Sparking A Civil Rights Awakening In America?

Something is happening in America and in Las Vegas.

People are angry and, versus years past, they are voicing that anger to a wider audience of people via social media.

There are two trending topics on Twitter: #crimingwhilewhite, which white people are using to tell stories of their preferential treatment by police officers or #alivewhileblack, which minorities are using to tell stories of mistreatment by police.

They both show that people are up in arms about how police in this country treat Americans.

The Death Of Eric Garner Caught On Camera

The whole thing started after a grand jury in New York did not indict a white police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

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Garner died in July after a confrontation with Officer Daniel Pantaleo over whether he was selling loose cigarettes.  The whole confrontation was caught on camera. 

CLICK HERE: To Watch the Video

Despite that shocking video and the fact that the New York medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide, the grand jury did not indict, which is baffling to Delores Jones-Brown, a professor of law and police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

“At the very least the officer is engaged in criminally neglect behavior or he is engaged in extremely reckless behavior,” Jones-Brown told KNPR’s State of Nevada. 

She believes some people think it was okay for police to kill Eric Garner because he was resisting arrest.

“There is a mindset among some Americans who make their way on to grand juries that black men with a criminal record deserve what they get" Jones-Brown said.

Capt. Will Scott with Las Vegas Metro Police agrees that the confrontation went too far.

"The video was very disturbing. Is it worth someone losing their life over some non-taxed cigarettes?" Scott said. 

He said Metro works to de-escalate situations like the one seen in Staten Island, valuing human life above an arrest over property which can be replaced.

Jones-Brown said there are no good government statistics on officer-involved shootings from around the country.

Jones-Brown did quote a statistic from the Malcolm X Grass Roots Movement, however, which stated in the first six months of 2012 a black man, woman or child was killed by a police officer, security guard or self-appointed vigilante every 36 hours. 

The American Conversation On Race

The incident and aftermath, which included a “die-in” on the Las Vegas Strip, has people across the country talking about race in America. Many are questioning if there are two Americas: one for whites and one for people of color.

Las Vegas pastor Robert Fowler with Victory Missionary Baptist Church told KNPR’s State of Nevada he isn’t calling the questions that have arisen another civil rights movement, but rather an awakening.

“Although we have made strides when it comes to civil rights and racial relations in our country, we still have a divide we need to cross over,” Fowler said.  

He adds that it is not just white Americans who are waking up to the racial lines that still exist, but also African-Americans who have “slumbered” on some issues. He says it shows more discussions need to be had and more actions need to be taken.

“Racial relationships are not where we want them to be and certainly not where they should be in America for such a civilized society that we are,” Fowler said.   

Jones-Brown said that in places like New York City, police procedures have allowed officers to overtly criminalize minority neighborhoods because of a few bad people in those neighborhoods.

She said officers who work in those neighborhoods have been allowed to view all young black men as being armed and dangerous and, thus being allowed to target black men and Hispanic men as a whole.

Scott said Metro Police addressed that problem after the riots following the Rodney King verdict in the 90s. He does acknowledge it’s something that is still being worked on.

"It takes a long time to change the mindset of police officers who are out there on the beat. It takes strong leadership to push that message down to the officers with boots on the ground," Scott said.

He said other police departments around the country don’t want to embrace what Metro has when it comes to community policing.

“It is not the whole stick-and-whistle police force anymore,” Scott said. 

Despite the progress, he thinks there is a lack of insight into other cultures.

“There needs to be some training where we as police officers understand each other’s race, because we all have different mannerisms,” Scott said.

He said when he talks about race to people under his command at Bolden Area Command, which takes in most of downtown, he focuses on: Respect, accountability courage and excellence. He said it can be as simple as “treating others as you want to be treated.”

#Crimingwhilewhite and #alivewhileblack are both highlighting the vastly different ways people are treated by police in this country. Jones-Brown believes it is a way for the conversation about race in this country to continue.

“We are arriving at a place where there is a consensus across races that policing is not being performed in an equal and a just way and it matters to all of us,” Jones-Brown said. 

She believes the discussion will help those who hold Eric Garner and Michael Brown accountable for their deaths to think about it differently.

More Work To Be Done

Numbers from the Pew Research Center which were published in USA Today show that 70 percent of black people surveyed did not believe police officers were being held accountable when misconduct happens. That is compared with 27 percent of white people who don’t think they are.  

Scott said he believes Metro Police is doing a much better job of making sure officers are held accountable.

“We do hold our folks accountable,” Scott said.

He said that complaints by citizens are followed up on by internal affairs and people who complain get a letter explaining what actions were taken in their case.

Scott believes the message of respect is getting through. He points to the lack of rioting in Las Vegas following the recent grand jury decisions as an example.

Fowler said that the recent incidents, including the Trayvon Martin case where an unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by a member of a neighborhood watch, are fueling the idea that black lives do not matter.

“There is a perception in this country that black life is not valuable,” Fowler said, “We have to look at whether not we are behaving in such a way that black life is valuable.” 

Fowler said he questions whether Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin would still be alive if they had been white, and believes that is a question the country needs to ask its self as well.

Will Scott, captain, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Bolden Area Command
Pastor Robert Fowler Sr., Victory Missionary Baptist Church
Delores Jones-Brown, professor of law and police science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice 
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