Shootings of black men by police

“The police shot, we believe, because they feared a black man with a gun.” – Ben Crump, the lawyer for the Bradford family.

The Gifford Gun Law rankings are out. Of the 50 states, Alabama has the 37th more lenient gun laws. It also has the second highest gun death rate per capita. Thank heaven for Alaska!

The Gifford report shows conclusively that states with tougher firearm laws have fewer gun deaths. My NRA buddies always reply: “what about Chicago?” Well, Illinois deaths are 12.1 per 100,000 residents. Alabama is almost double that number, 22.9!

On a related issue, unjustifiable police shootings of African-American men and boys are common occurrences everywhere in the USA. But Alabama is one of the worst offenders.

The latest incident is the shooting at the Riverchase Galleria in Hoover, AL of 21-year-old Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford Jr., an African-American whose father reportedly worked for the Birmingham Police Department as a jailer.

Bradford had a pistol, which he was licensed to carry, at the time of the shooting but was shot in the back three times by a Hoover policeman. Contrary to earlier reports, Bradford had nothing to do with the original shots fired at the mall which wounded two others. Still,Alabama General Steve Marshall’s office decided not to charge the policeman.

Questionable police shootings of Black men, often when they have no weapon, are nothing new in many states. However, of the 50 states Alabama had the fourth highest rate of African American deaths (7.35 per million) by law enforcement, almost 50% higher than white shootings (per “Mapping Police Violence”).

From 2013-2016, 303 unarmed African-Americans were shot and killed by police. Women accounted for just 25 of these deaths. These shootings of black men by police are often unjustifiable, as the many videos over the last few years have shown us. The underlying questions is “why”?

Lancet is a respected British academic medical journal.  A research study regarding police shootings was published in Lancet (6-21-18), based on a survey of nearly 39,000 African-Americans.

Per Lancet: “Police killing black Americans is one of the oldest forms of structural racism in the USA. The act traces its roots to slavery.” Further, researchers found: “Police killings of unarmed black Americans have a meaningful … impact on the mental health of black Americans”; and: “Mental health impacts were not observed among white respondents and resulted only (in the black community) from police killings of unarmed black Americans.”

Furthermore, based on their review of past studies, these researchers found: “There is strong evidence of systematic targeting of black Americans by police in the identification of criminal suspects, as well as in their prosecution, conviction, and sentencing in the criminal justice system.” And: “Police officers who have killed unarmed black Americans are rarely charged, indicted, or successfully prosecuted.”

I am from a law enforcement family with relatives who have been with the FBI, NYPD and corrections departments. I have friends in law enforcement and own guns. I fully support the appropriate use of reasonable force against criminals, regardless of race. I also believe these officers should be treated with respect.

However, respect goes both ways. We cannot simply assume a police officer is in the right if all the evidence shows him/her to be wrong.

There are two interrelated but separate problems here which need to be addressed by Alabama (and many other states, especially in the South): (A) police violence against black citizens as described above, and (B) guns in the hands of people who should not have them, permitting them to commit crimes as they did at the Riverchase Galleria. On the broader issue of gun control, multiple gun injuries/fatalities are nothing new to Alabama. According to a recent report (VOX), Alabama has had 40 mass shootings since 2013.

Contrary to what some would have you believe, we can take actions to improve upon both situations, if not prevent each occurrence of gun related violence.

Police must receive basic training to understand the history of minorities in the USA and their interactions with police. Bad apples must be weeded out at the Police Academy level.  Training for experienced law enforcement officers must occur on a recurring basis. Targeting of black residents via profiling must be stopped. There is a reason why only 35% of black respondents believe that police are doing a good job compared to 75% of whites (Pew poll, 2016). Confidential reporting instances of police racial bias should be facilitated. Finally, when instances of police brutality are discovered, appropriate punishment must be netted out.

On the broader issue of gun control, State legislation is needed to: prohibit anyone who cannot buy beer from buying a weapon; strengthen background checks; restrict where Alabamians can carry guns; increase funding for community mental health programs; outlaw same day sales with no background checks at gun clubs; and outlaw bumper stocks, excessively large magazines and automatic rifles.

If Alabama residents want to lessen unjustifiable police brutality and the use of guns by criminal elements, they will vote for elected officials who endorse the above. The alternative is to do nothing, permitting discrimination and violence to increase.

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Image Credit: Chromed handgun on black background with smoke © dimjul licensed at 123RF Stock Photo using the generous contribution of readers like you.

Jack Bernard

Jack Bernard

Jack A Bernard is a retired SVP with a national healthcare corporation. He was Chair of the Jasper County, Ga Board of Commissioners and Republican Party. He was also on the Board of Health for Jasper County and is currently on the Fayette County BOH. Bernard has over 100 columns published annually, primarily in the South.