Milwaukee as the Canary


Milwaukee exploded without warning recently as yet another black man was shot and killed by a police officer. The official story is that the man was fleeing the officer and had a loaded assault rifle in his hand. I don’t know what happened. There are probably only two people who do – and one is dead. I’ve been involved with far too many police misconduct cases to uncritically accept the official police version of any incident and will wait for the body camera footage to form any impression.

What I do know is that Wisconsin is an open carry state, so the man may have had a legal right to carry the gun. When was the last time you heard of an officer shooting a white man openly carrying a gun? Whether in Wisconsin or Minnesota a black man carrying a gun legally can be shot on sight by the police. In Milwaukee the man was running from an officer, which seemed to that officer to be adequate reason to shoot him in the back. In Minnesota the man was simply riding in a car and reaching for his I.D. as instructed. Not that being an unarmed black man will lessen the chance of being killed by the police, but there does seem to be two sets of gun laws in the U.S.: one for African-Americans and one for the rest of us.

Some people were surprised by the suddenness and violence of the Milwaukee uprising. They shouldn’t be surprised. Whether the shooting was justified or not, it was more than enough to trigger a reaction that was ready to explode. No doubt, a lot of people will focus on the lawlessness of the rioters and the apparent lack of justification for their rage. What we should focus on is the fact that this rage is barely beneath the surface in many communities across the country. There is a valid grievance in these communities – a grievance rooted in economic injustice, the lack of opportunity to escape poverty, and the militarization of law enforcement to restrict and control whole populations. Focusing on individual incidents like Milwaukee miscommunicates the nature of the problem. Milwaukee is like the Canary in the mine – it is a warning that something is happening much more dangerous than isolated incidents across the country.

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