Sunday, July 17, 2016 | 2 a.m.
“I shot that black man because I feared for my life."
That statement has been used frequently by our police officers, our community and, unfortunately, African-Americans who believe that black males are dangerous. The brand of the black man is damaged.
In 1987, an airman at Nellis Air Base and moonlighting at CVS Pharmacy in the evenings was stopped by a North Las Vegas police officer near the old NLV City Hall. An officer approached his white 1980 Cutlass Ciera with his gun drawn and asked, "Why are you in this neighborhood so late in this nice car?” He informed the young man that only drug dealers and gangbangers would be out at this time. After the driver produced his military identification, he was allowed to continue home.
This was my first experience of racial profiling.
Almost 20 years later, while driving to a business meeting, I got stopped by a highway patrolman who didn’t seem to like the dark window tint on my brand new Chrysler 200. Via a bullhorn, he ordered me to roll down all of the windows. He walked up to the car carefully, with his gun in the holster. He examined my attire and the inside of my car. He asked, "Are you late for a meeting?” I told him “Actually, I would be early.” He reminded me that I had plenty of time and asked me to slow down. The experiences were different with the same person.
Recent violent events in Minnesota and Texas have me pondering the root of these unforgiving acts. Police shooting young black men is wrong. A person shooting 12 police officers and killing five is wrong.
Police officers are making true statements when they say, “I believed that my life was in danger," when dealing with black males. It’s not due to lack of sensitivity training in police departments. It’s more ingrained than that. Black men have always been suspects before citizens. Unfortunately, our media, intentionally or unintentionally, have been conditioned to build this stereotype and brand an image of black men, which dictates the behavior of not only the police but merchants and yes, other black people. So unfortunately, black men are suspects before they are considered citizens.
The black male is probably the most prejudged human alive.
I recall taking a cab ride in New Orleans prior to the destruction of Hurricane Katrina after dining at Dooky Chase's Restaurant, a famous soul food eatery. A black man, probably in his 70s, picked us up, close to the sunset. He asked us, “Are you guys crazy? Didn’t anyone warn you about the dangers of being out after dark?” We were perplexed because we eat in Las Vegas late in the night, early in the morning or whenever we get hungry. He emphatically told us, “We used to worry about the (Ku Klux) Klan, but now I have to worry about these boys in white T-shirts and sagging pants.” As members of the 100 Black Men and attending the conference in the city, we realized that we were out of touch with reality. If an older statesman who looks just like us feels this way, then we are doomed.
In the media, black men are immediately presumed to be suspects, even before police start the investigation. Merchants continue to watch black men when they are shopping.
But the attitude of others towards me is based on how I am dressed. When I am professionally dressed, people typically are generous. If I wear sweats and a hoodie, I get the suspect looks. But a white male wearing the same attire and a backpack is ignored. I watch these things.
What’s the root of this behavior? It’s the brand of the black man.
There has to be a rebranding of the black male from destructive, conniving, criminal-minded to constructive, innovative, resourceful. Let’s start with the fact that African-Americans only make up 12-13 percent of the population, but they make up 35 percent of jail inmates and 37 percent of prison inmates, according to the U.S. Department of Justice in 2014. The Sentencing Project report on Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System, submitted to the United Nations in August 2013, found that one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime. Couple that with the fact that one out of every three households are fatherless in the U.S. In African-American households, it’s nearly 8 out of 10, or 78 percent fatherless. That’s why the brand of black males is extremely negative. We are limited when it comes to good examples of black males.
The brand of black males needs a new marketing campaign. Let’s talk about the businessman, not the drug dealer. Let’s do news reports about the good black fathers and not the single mothers who made it without a man in the house. Let’s interview black athletes who have black male figures in their lives and not just the ones who have absent fathers.
Let’s change how we brand the black man!
Shaundell Newsome is the founder of Sumnu Marketing and sits on the board of the Urban Chamber of Commerce.