Amid national debate on police use of deadly force, Lansing offers mixed views

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By Alana Easterling
Listen Up Lansing Staff Reporter

What’s racism got to do with it?

Some Lansing residents aren’t convinced that racism is the culprit behind the occurring cases of deaths in violent police crimes, including a recent pair of incidents in Louisiana and Minnesota, respectively, where police shot and killed black men, one who was selling CDs and another during a traffic stop.

“I know race is supposed to be involved. That’s what they’re saying.” said Mary Anderson, a cashier at a Lansing Speedway. She was asked if she believed racism had anything to do with the recent shootings.

Anderson does admit racism still exists, but doesn’t put the blame on it for the reason for murders by the police. Instead Anderson blames it on the bad rep police have.

“I just have a hard time believing that. I mean, I know there are still racist people, but what would that have to do with them killing someone?” she said. “I think there’s more to the case we just don’t know about. Police have bad reps anyways, and I think people like to use that as a reason to pin racism on them in these cases.”

“Not only do police have bad reps, but I think people now-a-days are giving police a hard time in general simply because of all of this stuff, like they’re trying to get back at them or something,” added Sophie Clark, Anderson’s co-worker.

Robert Merritt, the Lansing Police Department’s public information officer, who has been with the force for about 26 years, agrees that people shouldn’t jump to conclusions about what’s going on.

“Both cases are in the early stages of the investigation. Without having the entire investigation and facts, it’s a bit too premature to make comments or judgement,” said Merritt. “I along with the entire world have watched short brief moments on video on both cases and listened to the media and citizens opinions. We as a society have to let the investigation play out and take in all of the facts prior to making rash judgements.”

But Joe Darden, an urban geography professor at Michigan State University who studies race issues in cities says the way groups of people are treated by police correlates with where they reside.

“No matter where they live, if they are black, they will have a higher probability of unequal treatment,” said Darden. “Blacks who live in areas of concentrated poverty are those who experience the worst treatment from police because of both race and class.”

On July 5, 2016, two officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana responded to a call about a black man with a gun, Alton Sterling, who was allegedly threatening another citizen while selling CDs outside a local convenience store. This incident ended in a fatal shooting by one of the officers, taking Sterling’s life.

A day later, another black man, Philando Castile was shot four times and killed by a Falcon Heights officer in Minnesota during a routine stop for an alleged busted tail light.
Both incidents were recorded by witnesses.

According to The Guardian, African-American men were nine times more likely than any other American to be killed by a police officer in 2015, claiming that African-Americans were more likely to die at the hand of an officer with a fatality rate of 7.3 deaths per million residents, which is more than twice the rate of white Americans at a rate of 2.91 per million in 2015 alone.

“Ya know, it just seems like it’s always something,” said Mitch Wilkins, a native Lansing resident. “I don’t even cut on the news anymore. It’s depressing, and I have enough going on in my life to be concerned about things that honestly have nothing to do with me.

“My take on is this: if you’re stopped by the police, just do what they say.”

But Darden said that race and class explains a lot of the inequalities that exist in terms of all things, especially those of behaviors from police.

“The research is very clear on the fact that the treatment of white people and black people by police is not equal,” he said. “There’s something about being black and interacting with the police. It’s historical. It hasn’t ceased, it hasn’t changed, and we continue to be affected by it.”

Darden said that black people, males specifically, for some reason are usually seen as suspicious, or not abiding by the law, and police have the tendency to stop them, as opposed to Caucasians.

“The data shows this throughout the United States,” said Darden.

Darden discussed what he feels are the best things to do if ever encountered by the police.

“The law essentially gives officers the benefit of the doubt. Your best bet if ever in a situation with the police is to be cooperative, keep your hands visible, and say little as possible,” said Darden.

“Those are some of the things you need to do to protect your life because if you are put in a situation where it’s just you and the police officer, with no witnesses, and he does anything to you, it’ll be his or her word against yours if you live,” he said. “If you die, it’ll be just his or her word, and they’ll usually accept that as the valid situation that occurred.”

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