Was This Teen’s Death At Hands Of Cop Overlooked Because He’s White?

by
Indrani Sengupta
Do we not care about police brutality unless there's a racial element to it? Are we afraid that bringing attention to the police violence inflicted on white people will detract from the #BlackLivesMatter movement?

Zachary Hammond, a 19-year-old South Carolina resident, was shot dead during a drug bust on July 26th. He was on a first date with a woman who was arrested and charged with pot possession (because what warrants deadly violence more than pot possession, am I right?). The police officer, who was trying to stop their car, fired two shots when (he claims) he saw Hammond driving it toward him.

But an autopsy showed that Hammond was shot in the back, not the front.

The Hammond family’s lawyer, Eric Bland, made the following statement:

“Unfortunately, the media and our government officials have treated the death of an unarmed white teenager differently than they would have if this were a death of an unarmed black teen. The hypocrisy that has been shown toward this is really disconcerting.”

Is it as simple as that? Does the media simply care more about black lives? Are they relatively silent about Hammond's tragic death because there's no "race card" to play? 

No. And here's why.

 

1.There is an epidemic of racially-charged police brutality.

There’s a narrative around the execution of black people at the hands of cops, and the media/the government recognizes that it is just the most violent manifestation of a vast spectrum of discrimination that Black people endure. It’s not just about the tragedy that is their deaths; it’s everything leading up to that moment, too.

And yes, police brutality does affect black people at a disproportionate level.

 

2. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has been galvanized by those who say black victims “deserved it.”

No one (we hope) would say that Hammond “had it coming.” When people remember him, they’ll all mourn the loss of such a young life. You won’t hear the usual excuses and apologies that some people make for cop-on-Black assault. The knowledge that some Black people are being maligned and attacked even after their deaths is the kind of thing that spurs people to take a stand.

 

3. What’s more, the outrage over the loss of black lives has never been just about race. It’s about police brutality, too.

As Meredith Clark, assistant professor of Journalism at the University of Texas, puts it:

“The thing that I’m hearing from people is not just a narrative of racial justice. It is accountability for police forces. It is transparency. It is understanding how communities are being policed and what the average citizen has a right to do, or not to do, in those interactions,” Clark told the LA Times.

What’s more, Clark believes Hammond’s case will gain traction with the media in time.

“It’ll just be a matter of time, but we haven’t heard of prior complaints about the police force where he was.”

 

Recommended: Crime After Crime, But No Cop Doing Time: Why Police Brutality Endures

 

Well that explains why the the #BlackLivesMovement has clout, but doesn't excuse the silence over Hammond's tragic death.

And here's what we have to say to that:

 

4. Black people on Twitter have taken an active role in ensuring Hammond’s name and story are heard.

The Black Lives Matter movement, and similarly minded people, have never tried to detract from conversations about police brutality outside racial factors. In fact, they’ve been saying for a while now that anyone can be impacted by police brutality. And the fact that anyone can be impacted by police brutality doesn’t undermine the argument that there is a race/drug war problem in the US. 

 

5. On the other hand, there's hardly been a peep out of the #AllLivesMatter crew on Hammond’s death

 

 

6. And, truthfully, it is a disgrace that some are speaking of Hammond’s death only in order to point out the “hypocrisy” of those who call attention to the value of black lives.

Yes, we need to talk about Hammond’s death, which is as tragic as any other. And we need to talk about the wider issues of police brutality, racism, and the demonization of non-violent crime. 

Read more: US Police Have Killed More People in 2015 Than Iceland Has In 71 Years

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