blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
A few months ago, while listening to Democracy Now!, I heard the tragic story of Kenneth Chamberlain who was shot by police while in his home in White Plains, NY. It was March and the tragic story of Trayvon Martin was just starting to gain lots of attention in the mainstream media. Although Trayvon Martin was much closer to home (I live in Tampa, FL just two hours away), the story of Kenneth Chamberlain was even more troubling to me. The very brief synopsis of the story is this: Kenneth Chamberlain, a 68 year old man who served our country in the marine core, was shot multiple times while in his own home after accidentally setting off his medical alert system during sleep. The police arrived at his home and after being told multiple times by Mr. Chamberlain that he did not need their services (and Mr. Chamberlain opening the door enough to verify this)- they took his front door off the hinges and barged it forcefully. After that, officers shot him with a taser, a beanbag shotgun, and lastly- live ammunition which caused Mr. Chamberlain’s demise.
One of the only positives in this case is that because of the medical alert system all the events that transpired are recorded on tape. Officers were heard using profanities and racial slurs towards Chamberlain. In fact, the only officer to be punished in any way related to this shooting thus far was punished not for opening fire, but for using the n word. Not only that, but the police officers involved in this case were already involved in separate federal cases of police brutality. What should terrify everybody in the United States of America is that the ultimate human right- the right to be left alone- can be taken away so easily by forces more powerful than yourself, especially if you are a minority. The idea that the government or state does not have the right to come into your home without justification is something that crosses political lines. Without diminishing the seriousness and sadness of the Trayvon Martin case- Kenneth Chamberlain was not even outside of his home when he was murdered in the name of some bizarre sense of justice. This case sheds to light that police brutality is a reality for many Americans, especially those in minority groups, even twenty years after Rodney King was beaten by Los Angeles police officers. Rodney King ignited a fire storm of controversy and put a spotlight shame upon the United States which needs to be rekindled. During the summer of 2012 Global Youth Connect delegation visited organizations that deal with some of the aspects of life that may ease cases of police brutality- such as the Children Defense Fund’s work on stopping the cradle to prison pipeline that plagues African-American men. The importance on stopping the inequality between minorities and white America cannot be underestimated. Youth Policy discussed the fact that minorities are over represented in legal systems all over the world in addition to having more contact with police. However, the real cause of police brutality is that we live in a society that accepts it. The real cause is that police can be brutal, it is just as unfair to create stereotypes based around the types of people that deal with with police brutality just as it is wrong for a rape victim to be blamed for a crime committed onto them.
I’ve been wondering to myself why this case has not been receiving the national attention that the Trayvon Martin case has been getting, because it is just as tragic and perhaps even more terrifying. Maybe Americans are just numb to this kind of abuse by authority figures. Maybe those of us who are white and don’t deal with this on a daily basis just don’t care. Maybe it’s because a young, innocent victim (like Trayvon) is always going to be more appealing to people’s sensitivities then a older victim. It is easy for mothers, especially black mothers, to identify with Trayvon’s mom. Their own kids play in the streets, walk to the corner stores, and face the realities of being hassled by police unwarranted on a daily basis. However, it is much more difficult for those some mother’s to envision that their husbands, or even their fathers, could also be victims of a senseless, brutal tragedy like this one- but unfortunately in the United States- any one of us can be victims of police brutality.
EDITOR’s NOTE: It is also interesting to compare what is happening in England at the youthpolicy blog