By Shanna O’Mara
On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, died after New York Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in a chokehold during an arrest, forcing him to the ground while Garner repeated, “I can’t breathe.” On Aug. 9, 2014, Mike Brown, an unarmed black teen, was shot six times and killed by Police Officer Darren Wilson of Ferguson, Missouri. In both cases, there was no indictment.
These cases and many more across the country spark controversy and raise the question, “Does race matter?”
At the “#BlackLivesMatter: Justice For All?” event, Dr. Sheena Howard, assistant professor of communication, chair of the Black Caucus of the National Communication Association, award-winning author and civil rights advocate, called upon both staff and students to explore that question. She moderated a panel that discussed recent events, including the Ferguson and Staten Island verdicts pertaining to acts of violence against blacks.
“We, as Americans, have a very difficult time dealing with structured racism,” said Don Brown, director of the multicultural center, who served as a panelist at the program. He stressed that community involvement is key in finding a solution to the prevalent prejudice.
Rider University faculty from the criminal justice, sociology, psychology and political science departments discussed with students how a person’s race can influence his or her treatment in modern American society, particularly when dealing with law enforcement.
Dr. Victor Thompson, assistant professor of sociology, reported that out of all crimes involving black individuals, 92 percent involve black victims and black perpetrators. Similarly, out of all crimes involving white individuals, 87 percent involved white perpetrators and white victims. This establishes the conclusion that “segregation exists in society.” Thompson also said that approximately one in three black male teens will serve time in prison compared to just one in 17 among their white counterparts.
American media have a history of presenting negative depictions of black citizens throughout the 1950s and well into the 21st century. Thompson said that it is “common to use animal imagery” not only to depict black criminals, but black victims as well. Dr. Mickey Hess, an English professor, noted that even the hip-hop industry has also profited from utilizing these stereotypes.
During recent protests, civil rights activists’ chants of, “Hands up, don’t shoot” were countered by malicious calls of, “Pants up, don’t loot.”
“You don’t have to be racist to participate in racism,” said Samantha Reed, junior journalism major. The panel said that, though bias may not be rooted in hatred, as a society, Americans maintain an unintended segregationist outlook. Many do not see skin color as a catalyst for conflict, but rather as a clear distinction between races.
Vickie Weaver, director of Public Safety, said Rider has been showing progress in becoming one unified campus.
“Working together and coming up with some practical approaches, some goals, connections, that make our community stronger — these are the things we’ve done over the years and we continue to do.”