I was asked a strange question today, one which was designed to reflect on me as an American and on American society as a whole. The fact that it backfired with me makes no difference, I am not the same as others, it saddened me that such a question should be posed at all.
If you were a white police officer on patrol and saw a black man and a white man walking down the street, which one would you stop and frisk?
In our present American form of society, the question is most certainly relevant: many laws are seen as being racist or applied in a racist manner. Those of color are more likely to be stopped on the street than a white person although, in some areas, it also depends upon the manner of dress. A white rocker in full biker outfit is more likely to be stopped than a black businessman in a suit.
Photo Source: dfirecop – Creative Commons
What saddened me about the question more than anything is the fact that there is nothing there about a crime. A police officer is on patrol, not investigating a crime. Two men are walking down the street, not trying to avoid the police, not acting in a suspicious manner. There is an assumption of guilt inherent in this scenario, even without the knowledge of a crime, and this is the impression many foreigners have of the United States: guilty first. Similar to shoot first, ask questions later. American society has now hit the point where it is assumed that someone is guilty from their appearance. Guilty of what, makes no difference, just guilty.
This is the way many Europeans see the United States. It’s no longer the small town sheriff exerting his power against someone, it’s the police as an organization, whether in a provincial backwater or a major city. If foreigners see the police force in such a manner, with a complete lack of trust simply because of their enforcing of laws which are clearly borderline if not against what we would wish to understand as Rights and Freedoms, why is it such a surprise that Americans themselves no longer trust those who are meant to Protect and Serve?
- Viktoria Michaelis.