No denying systemic racism plays a role in police shootings of black men


After Greg Snyder wrote an essay about recent racial unrest and religious faith (Oct. 9 Viewpoint), one reader wrote him to ask this: “The killing of a black man in Ferguson, Mo., was racist? How? In Charlotte, a black cop shot a black man, and you assume before the investigation is over that it’s racist?” Snyder, a professor of religion and chair of the religion department at Davidson College, responded this way:

Yes, I believe the Ferguson killing was racist.

Black children growing up in places like Ferguson, boys on their way to becoming men like Michael Brown, will be shaped and formed in an environment within which they are told, every day, in many and various ways, that their neighborhoods do not matter, their schools do not matter, and therefore, that they do not matter.

Growing up in that environment, receiving those signals every hour, every day, every month, every year, fuels long-term anger. That smoldering anger is likely to boil over in some cases, as it did when Darren Scott met Michael Brown in the road that day in Ferguson.

In the aftermath of the shooting, the Department of Justice found that indeed, the police department in Ferguson had in fact engaged in systematic racial profiling and discrimination.

Ferguson is not unique: different versions of it, of different intensity, are found in thousands of towns and cities across America.

The problem of racism is systemic, social, and present everywhere. All of us, Michael Brown, Darren Scott, me, you: we grow up in this society and are formed by it. Our circuit boards are etched with its patterns; there is racial discrimination in all of us.

It must be actively combatted, not passively tolerated.

And finally, while the shooting in Charlotte is complicated from the racial standpoint, many others are less so: Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile; many others.

There’s a pattern.