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Why do black men fear encounters with police?

Posted at 4:47 PM, Jul 21, 2016

Charles Kinsey held his hands in the air and shouted to police that the autistic man sitting on the street next to him wasn't dangerous. A few seconds later, he felt bullets rip into his leg.

The therapist, who is black and works with people with disabilities, was rounding up a patient who had wandered away from a facility when he was ordered by police officers to lie on the ground. Kinsey imagined that "as long as I've got my hands up, they're not going to shoot me. This is what I'm thinking." ''Wow, was I wrong," he told a television station.

The shooting in Florida earlier this week illustrates the longstanding fear among black men that almost any encounter with police can go awry with potentially deadly results, even when a person follows every law enforcement command.

Police are known to pull their triggers "no matter how you follow their directions," emphasized Isaial Murray, a black 28-year-old construction worker in Detroit.

Some black men question why police seem to avoid using deadly force on dangerous white suspects, like Dylan Roof, who is charged with killing nine African-Americans last year in a church in South Carolina, but are quick to point a gun at blacks.

"I see incidents with a white person with a gun on their hip and ... they don't pull their gun. They pull their Taser to calm them down," said Travis Haynes, 35, of Orlando, who is black. "But when it comes to a black man, the first thing they do is draw their gun."

On Monday in Florida, officers ordered Kinsey and the patient, who was sitting in the street playing with a toy truck, to lie on the ground. Kinsey got down on the pavement and put his hands up while trying to get the patient to comply, North Miami Assistant Police Chief Neal Cuevas told The Miami Herald.

An officer then fired three times, striking Kinsey in the leg, Cuevas said.

Police were responding to reports of a man with a gun threatening to kill himself, and the officers arrived "with that threat in mind," the chief said. No gun was recovered.

The patient was not harmed. Police have not released the name or race of the officer who fired but said he's been placed on administrative leave, which is standard procedure.

The latest shooting comes after two black men were killed at the hands of police in Louisiana and Minnesota. Alton Sterling died during a scuffle with two white Baton Rouge police officers at a convenience store where he was selling CDs, as he had done for years. The officers were responding to a call of a man threatening someone with a gun. They have said they found a gun in Sterling's pocket.

That shooting, captured on cellphone video, provoked widespread protests about police treatment of the black community.

It was followed days later by the death of Philando Castile, who was legally registered to carry a gun and told an officer that he had a weapon during a July 6 traffic stop in a St. Paul suburb. Then the officer fatally shot him. Moments later, in a live Facebook stream, his girlfriend said the officer had asked for Castile's license and shot him when he moved to retrieve it.

"There is like an aggression toward all black males, whether it's young or old," said Guy Kirton, a black 21-year-old living on Long Island, New York.

Police need to acknowledge this feeling among African-American men and work to find a solution, said Chuck Drago, a white former police chief in Oviedo, Florida.

"Perception is reality. If people believe that, then we as the police have to do something to prove that wrong," Drago said. "There's a lot of ways to do that, but we can't ignore it. We can't say: 'It's not true. You're mistaken.'"

Following those two deaths, 10 law enforcement officers were fatally shot in attacks in Dallas, Baton Rouge and in a Michigan courthouse.

Police have historically been used against minority communities to enforce slavery, Jim Crow and segregation laws, said Victor E. Kappeler, the white dean of the College of Justice and Safety at Eastern Kentucky University. The recent deaths of black men have only increased that mistrust.

"This is the way it's always been," said Bishop T.D. Jakes, speaking at a panel last month in Washington, D.C. For generations, blacks have been reluctant to call authorities for help "because the issue was we have never felt safe with the police."

The mistrust has led many families to warn their teenage sons about how to act in encounters with the police. But parents worry that even the most polite behavior will not be enough save their children's lives.

Don A. Brazelton, a black father in Washington, D.C., said he has warned his 18-year-old son, Don, at Howard University about treading carefully with police if he's ever pulled over.

"Don't raise your voice. Be respectful. Put your driver's license on the dashboard Hold your hands out the window," Brazelton said. "But even in that case ... that's not often going guarantee a positive outcome."

There seems to be an overwhelming fear of black men, driven by mass media, that causes police officers to use deadly force, added Rick Anderson, a black retired Boston firefighter with two sons working as deputy sheriffs in in Massachusetts and Alabama.

Police aren't "shooting because they are evil. They are shooting because they are scared," Anderson said. "They see the slightest thing going on, and they are scared to death."