Fear of African-Americans in Mississippi in 2017

Imagine sitting in your home with your spouse and children. The police knock at the door. When you answer, they demand that you let them in so that they can search your home for drugs. Knowing that you are not guilty of a crime, you refuse, but the police officers force their way inside anyway—without a warrant. They then subject you to physical brutality while your family watches.

This scenario is what real life looks like in Madison County, Miss., if you’re African-American.

The Madison County Sheriff’s Department is under fire for its discriminatory policing practices toward Black residents. The lawsuit filed against the MCSD by the ACLU alleges that the sheriff’s department routinely targets African-American residents through unconstitutional stops, searches and even arrests without probable cause.

Madison County’s African-American residents tell of being stopped on sidewalks and at police checkpoints set up at the entrances and exits of housing complexes, and of being imprisoned without due process.

Khadafy and Quinetta Manning were victims of police officers who barged into their home without cause. When Khadafy (a disabled man) protested, the officers cuffed, choked and beat him.

This act is not something that happened during the civil rights struggle. The Mannings and other African-American citizens are facing this conduct now. And if a headline from today can be switched with a headline from 60 years ago, and we’re unable to tell the difference, then our society has a serious problem!

This violation of civil rights is happening in America in 2017, and it’s nothing new. It is only the latest saga in the Black experience with law enforcement. And we are no closer to a solution than we were in 1957.

The main issue lies in our society’s inability to even agree that this problem exists. There are many Americans who have never stared down the barrel of a police officer’s gun simply because of the color of their skin. They have not been pulled over or harassed by police, and so they would prefer to pretend that these incidents are not problems that affect millions of Americans.

Sticking your head in the sand in an attempt to ignore what’s happening in front of your very eyes is not going to change the reality that African-Americans face each and every day. And as I’ve said before: If you are unwilling to see racism for what it is, then you are a part of the problem.

Many have been ingrained from birth to fear “the other”—the person who doesn’t look like you, doesn’t sound like you and doesn’t act like you. A widely used trope in Hollywood is that we “fear what we do not understand.”

But the terrible thing about fear is that it’s an extremely powerful emotion, and when our fear gets the best of us, it can evoke reactions that have dire consequences.

This fear is why many do not see the brutality against African-Americans as a serious issue. From birth, you have been conditioned to fear us because you do not understand us.