scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Dallas should not make the nation forget Castile and Sterling

A makeshift memorial in front of the Triple S Food Mart where Alton Sterling was killed.Gerald Herbert/AP

Black men executed by police in Minnesota and Louisiana. Police assassinated in Dallas. This nation is at another terrible crossroads of racist policing and horribly displaced anger over it.

The killing of police officers in Dallas Thursday night at the close of a peaceful protest against police brutality was of course an abomination. It was ironically insane, given that Dallas Police Chief David Brown is African-American and was a White House guest this spring for his department’s efforts to provide data on excessive force and reduce it. President Obama properly reacted, “There is no possible justification for these kinds of attacks.”


But the Dallas killings cannot allow America to sweep away the tragedy of police brutality, which has raged for decades and is clearly justified in the eyes of a nation that has done little to stop it. The police killings this week of Philando Castile, near St. Paul, and Alton Sterling, in Baton Rouge, underscore how African-Americans continue to be executed without judge or jury in a police state utterly unknown to most white Americans.

In the heat of instant infernos ignited by intemperate cops, black people are animals until proven human, and given no chance to provide such proof. Such notions were reconfirmed with Friday’s release of a study by the Center for Policing Equity, which found that police were 3.6 times more likely to use force on African-Americans than on white Americans.

The disparities have created a separate universe of capital offenses for African-Americans. The death penalty is supposed to be for when you actually kill someone. But from Amadou Diallo to Castile, from Michael Stewart to Sterling, from Sandra Bland to Eric Garner, and from Sean Bell to Tamir Rice, black people die for broken taillights, failing to signal a turn, selling loose cigarettes, selling CDs, stealing cigarillos, holding a pill bottle, walking in a public housing stairwell, holding a wallet, scrawling graffiti, attending a bachelor party, being mentally ill, playing with a toy gun, and holding a BB gun for sale in a Wal-Mart.


The final message is clear. In the American psyche, often betrayed by the police, African-Americans are still not full citizens. The number of black men killed while possessing licensed guns screams that all these open carry and concealed carry rights are for white people.

The number of black people killed over petty crime, peddling, and minor traffic violations would never be tolerated in white society, a point conceded by Minnesota’s governor, Mark Dayton, when he said that what happened to Castile likely would not have happened to a white driver. While the mentally ill among more wealthy families get pills, the black mentally ill get bullets.

In reacting to the killings of Castile and Sterling, Obama pleaded for people to understand disparities in police treatment by saying, “This is an American issue that we should all care about.” Despite all the video recordings of brutality, white Americans are still far less likely than black people to see unfairness in policing. It is because, deep down, in the heat of the instant inferno, black people remain animals in need of control.

Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at