The current spate of shootings of black people by white police has raised the issue of whether race is the determining factor. A case can be made that what we have as the ultimate cause of such shootings is a police culture nurtured to have an authoritarian mindset in the service of an increasingly authoritarian state that views poor people as potential threats to law and order, especially at a time of rising inequality.
But the fact that most police officers are white and that poor people are often black inevitably puts an overlay of white vs. black conflict onto what one might, if one were being exceedingly charitable, view as a police vs. poor people one. Whether police are more likely to shoot black people in tense situations because they are black or because being black is seen as a proxy for being poor seems almost immaterial because the net result is that race has become a proximate cause for these shootings.
Take for example, the case of a Colorado man who was arrested for pointing a banana at a policeman.
A Colorado man wielding a banana probably should have just split.
Instead Nathan Channing, 27, was sent to Mesa County Jail after he pointed the piece of fruit at two sheriff’s officers Sunday and pretended it was a gun.
The officers wrote in the police report they feared for their safety despite observing the supposed weapon was yellow.
The bad joke actually turned into quite a dangerous scene as the other officer, Donald Love, was about to pull out his gun before Channing screamed, “It’s a banana!” the officers said.
Channing now faces felony charges. But what if he had been black? That difference could have been the factor that caused the momentary hesitation on the part of the police that enabled him to shout that what he was holding was not a weapon. We see from the video of the Tamir Rice shooting that there was no time at all for such a clarification to take place since he was shot less than two seconds after the police arrived.
While this story is not funny because it could have had a tragic outcome, especially if Channing had been black, I could not help but be reminded of this Monty Python sketch where John Cleese teaches recruits how to defend themselves against someone armed with a banana.