When Freddie Gray was put in the back of a police van in Baltimore on April 25th 2015 after being violently arrested for doing nothing more than looking at a police officer, he was by all accounts a healthy human being. He left the van in a coma with three fractured vertebrae in his back, a damaged throat, and his spine 80% severed at the neck.
When Dylann Roof was arrested on June 18th for murdering nine innocent African Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, he was led calmly into a police car by arresting officers, then driven to a Burger King because said he was hungry. Roof arrived safely at the police station in Shelby N.C, and was flown to Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston on the evening of June 18 in perfect physical condition.
The enormous disparity between the treatment of Freddie Gray and Dylann Roof illustrates perfectly America’s sordid relationship with race. Judging by the statistics, it is not difficult to conclude that African American life is not deemed valuable by law enforcement. Take for example, this graph showing the number of African Americans wounded or killed by police officers in New York from 2000-2011 (via Mother Jones):
The proportion of African Americans killed in relation to other races generally holds for the rest of the nation, despite them being twice as likely to be unarmed. These shocking statistics point to a huge crisis in American law enforcement agencies that are categorically not living up to their pledge to serve and protect the communities they work in. A recent poll showed 86% of African Americans perceive the police as being far more heavy handed towards them than other races, a perception backed up by staggering statistics on the disparity between arrest rates of different ethnicities.
No one is arguing that Dylann Roof should have been subjected to the same treatment as Freddie Gray. It must be argued however, that Freddie Gray should have been subjected to the same treatment as Dylann Roof.
The contrasting narratives of these two Americans make it clear that there is still a serious crisis in America – a crisis that began with the enslavement of black people centuries ago, and continues with police abuse, mass incarceration and rampant institutional discrimination. These crimes perpetrated against the African American community won’t stop until America truly acknowledges its history, and understands that #BlackLivesMatter isn’t just a slogan, but a desperate bid to save lives.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.