Commentary: Does the pendulum of justice and fairness swing toward black men?

Commentary: Does the pendulum of justice and fairness swing toward black men?
July 14
09:05 2016

James B. Ewers Jr.

Guest Columnist

Alton Sterling and Philando Castile did not deserve to die.  The police shot them both at point blank range.

Sterling, who was shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Castile, who was shot in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, were black men who left home thinking they would return home. They didn’t.

The police officers involved were white.  I mention race because race matters. Dr. Cornell West, a distinguished scholar wrote a book many years ago simply titled, “Race Matters.” If you haven’t read it, you should as it may give you a perspective on what is happening today.

The circumstances surrounding the deaths of both Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are painful and sad.  Alton Sterling was being held down on the ground by two police officers when he was shot while Philando Castile was in his car following police instructions when he was shot.

Both of these horrific acts were caught on video. Having seen both videos, I believe strongly that other methods could have been used to apprehend them. These black men did not deserve to die.

At least in the Louisiana shooting, the Baton Rouge police say they have some additional footage which has not been made public as of yet.

Well, we will have to wait and see about this additional footage. John Bel Edwards, governor of the state of Louisiana held a press conference at a local Baton Rouge church and said that the Department of Justice will be leading the investigation.

Regarding the Minnesota shooting, Philando Castile’s fiancée, Diamond Reynolds, captured the entire incident and posted a live Facebook accounting of it. The governor of the state, Mark Dayton, says that the state will lead the investigation. I wouldn’t be surprised if he changes his mind in the coming days.

President Obama said that this violence is causing lives to be lost and is America’s problem.  It does not seem unreasonable for some to say that the relationship between the police and the black community is fractured and getting worse by the minute.

Yes, the vast majority of police officers in America are good people, yet these bad apples in their ranks have made many of us leery and weary.

Try telling Sterling’s young son who wept openly at the press conference about the good police officers.  Try telling Castile’s fiancée about the good police officers. They don’t want to hear it.  Do you blame them?

If you are the parent of a young black male, how do you explain to them what happened to these two men who are gone too soon?

If you tell them not to run, to be compliant, not to raise their voice, not to make any sudden moves, to say yes sir and no sir and to follow all police instructions, does that guarantee they won’t get shot, maybe even killed?  The answer to this question is no, it does not.

So we are really playing Russian Roulette with the lives of our black boys. Black men are also in perilous situations. Just ask Dr. Henry Louis Gates, a Harvard University professor who just a few years ago could not get into his own home in Massachusetts because of police interference.

On more than one occasion, I have said that when an African-American male leaves home in the morning, there is no certainty that he will return at night. Black men in America seem to be expendable. Have we become so smart, so bold, so confident and so emotionally secure as to pose a threat to the larger society?

I am sick with grief about the number of black men being killed by the police. I have heard the refrain from police, “I feared for my life,” which is a credible statement. Alton Sterling had two police officers on top of him, so who feared for whose life?

Back in the day, did the police fear for their lives when they beat Rodney King half to death and it was all captured on video? By the way, the police were found not guilty in that case.

There is frustration in black communities all across this land. What’s going on America when you have some police officers who in an instant can take a life when it is not necessary?  What’s going on America when police officers harass young black males who are obeying the law?

Police departments must begin to look seriously at how they do police work. Is shooting to kill the only option?

We honor and need law enforcement but we also need them to be more selective in how they use extreme force.

Alton Sterling and Philando Castile did not deserve to die.

James B. Ewers  Jr. Ed.D. is a former tennis champion at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem and played college tennis at Johnson C Smith University where he was all-conference for four years. He is the President Emeritus of The Teen Mentoring Committee of Ohio and a retired college administrator.  He can be reached at

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