Las Vegas Sun

September 24, 2018

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In shootings, police often protected more than those killed

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

We all remember placing our right hands over our hearts, and taking that pledge to our great nation every morning during our school years. But did we ever really think about what it meant? Do we truly live up to that last part of the pledge: “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”? We live in a greatly divided nation, where those tasked with upholding the law often seem to do so with great prejudice.

To their credit, Las Vegas Metro Police have made advancements in this area in recent years since being subjected to a U.S. Department of Justice investigation over excessive use of force.

But our view, one does not have to dig deep to see that law enforcement often is not held accountable for its actions when it comes to the lives of minorities. When a person of color is killed, an officer is often put on paid leave while incomprehensible amounts of effort are funneled into the vindication of the officer and the vilification of the victim. Occasionally, a case will be taken to court, where an officer will be judged by a jury of his (predominately white) peers. The officer will be ruled not guilty and things will blow over until the next person of color has it coming.

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Kendra Patterson is president of the Black Student Organization at UNLV.

Philando Castile was licensed to carry a weapon. He informed the officer that there was a weapon in the vehicle. The officer asked him to provide license and registration. He slowly began to reach for his wallet, and then the officer shot him. What did he do? He followed the law. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said himself that had Castile been white, he would likely be alive.

The sad reality is that in America, colored skin is synonymous with threat. Black men are seldom portrayed in the media as anything other than aggressive, dangerous and thuggish. Black women are portrayed as erratic and vindictive. For those who are not exposed to real people of color every day, these stereotypes stick, and affect how they interact with others. Often enough, this extends to those who are meant to serve and protect.

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Christian Smoot is membership director of the Black Student Organization at UNLV.

Upon receiving the news of yet another police brutality case, one may experience a variety of emotions. Some individuals are happy that the life lost is not their own. Some are racked with despair at the loss of someone who could have easily been themselves. Many people in African-American and black communities are becoming desensitized to these killings, as they are becoming the norm in the lives of our people. But the prevailing feeling in our communities is frustration. People are becoming frustrated with the fact that they must fear those who took an oath to serve and protect them.

We do acknowledge the existence of trustworthy and good police officers. But it is not our responsibility to cleanse the reputation of law enforcement. The onus falls on those trustworthy officers to speak out in times such as these.

We are college students. We seek to create better opportunities for ourselves in a world where the cards are already stacked against us. Our ancestors and those who fought during the Civil Rights Movement worked tirelessly in the hopes that we could be precisely where we are today. It is unfathomable that their work is being squandered right now, and that our hopes and dreams for the future could be taken from us in moments. We are constantly moments away from being the next hashtag or being the subject of a #BlackLivesMatter protest. It only took minutes for Alton Sterling and Philando Castile to lose their lives, and it only took seconds for the officers to decide that these people no longer deserve to live.

This commentary was written by Black Student Organization members Christian Smoot, membership director, and Kendra Patterson, president. Smoot is an English major, and Patterson is majoring in philosophy.

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