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Unsettling Silence: Why Doesn't CMC Talk About Race?

December 15, 2014

Unsettling Silence: Why Doesn't CMC Talk About Race?
by Chris Jackson

On my way to my grandparents’ house in Carson, CA, I board the Blue Line, which passes through neighborhoods in the heart of what was formerly known as “South Central,” and after finally leaving Los Angeles, enters Compton, the small city neighboring my hometown. Anyone who has listened to or heard of Dr. Dre’s album "The Chronic" has heard of each of these neighborhoods, and has a vague idea of what these areas I pass through might be like. Some may even label these the, “avoid at all costs” neighborhoods of Southern California. However, I don’t. I just see this as my way to get home.

On the train, a man boards carrying a box of chips, probably from a value pack purchase one would find at Walmart. He tells passengers he is selling bags for a dollar each. He informs the passengers he also has “loose ones” for anyone that would like to purchase. He’s a very friendly guy. I give him a dollar for a bag, and the person next to me purchases a loose one for fifty cents.

The slang term “loose one” refers to a cigarette sold out of an open pack for anywhere between ten cents to one dollar, depending on the area. In that moment, I realized that he had committed a crime. I remembered that six months ago in New York City, Eric Garner had been harassed and then choked to death because he had been selling untaxed cigarettes in public for profit.

Living on a college campus, we have all seen more than our fair share of illegal activities from fellow students. Why is Eric Garner’s life worth less than ours, or those of other college students whom we see breaking the law? This is only one instance where police almost actively ignore illegal activities, but there are many others in America. Surely there are offenses worse than selling cigarettes that police either discount or don’t see.

Walking through North Quad on any given Saturday night, I see my fair share of underage drinking, illegal drug use, and general vandalism to the school. I have woken up from Sunday mornings unsurprised to see lounges’ windows smashed, light fixtures in Crown Hall pulled out, Marks’ ceiling destroyed, and even Wohlford tables thrown about and smashed. However, I have yet to see any students fined, suspended, cited, or arrested in an attempt to hold those responsible for their actions.

Although these instances may not be an accurate representation of America as a whole, it is impossible to deny that we live in a world where there is an asymmetric, racially- and socioeconomically-fueled enforcement of laws. From the enforcement of the “Stand Your Ground” law, to our individual states’ gun laws, to specific highway driving laws, we see an alarming inconsistency in the way law enforcement chooses to act on them.

This difference in enforcement mirrors The Daily Show’s Jessica Williams’ statement that “the Stand Your Ground defense [among other similar laws] is like bleach: It works miracles for whites but it will ruin your colors.” To those who see fault in this statement, I look back several years ago to one of my first truly unfair run-ins with the police: it’s hard to believe that in that instance I was honestly pulled over just for “failing to use my turning signal” with no one behind me when I turned onto an empty road.

In making this statement, I ask, was the police confrontation with Eric Garner racially biased? I can’t possibly bring myself to rationalize that a man should be surrounded and choked to death, purposefully or not, for selling loose cigarettes.

However, I am not writing to argue the details of the case or say whether or not the police officer in question should be indicted. I do not want to preach to you my view on the case. I wish to bring to light the alarming silence among CMC’s student population. We pride ourselves on being a liberal arts school that admits a balance of thinkers, both conservative and liberal, providing a spark for thorough and constructive discussion.

I am ashamed to see that our student body has expressed so few reactions to the events that have passed in the last couple weeks. With some of our most popular majors being Economics, Government, International Relations, History, and Philosophy, there should be discussion about anything and everything that significantly impacts our country’s laws, views, economy, and how our American practices are perceived by others. The killings of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Oscar Grant, and others have an enormous impact on the subjects we’re studying, and I am shocked that these events have not become a larger part of conversations on our campus.

When attending the protest outside of City Hall after the Ferguson Grand Jury verdict and other related events, which are generally led by students from Pitzer, Pomona, and Scripps, I feel alone as a CMC student. I love my college, and I defend our student body against any stereotyped comments by other 5C students. However, I am embarrassed when I can’t defend CMC because of our college’s silence on events this important. If there is a group of students, aside from those representing the Black Student Affairs group, attempting to speak out on this by way of protest, petitioning, or even making their opinions heard through social media, I am unaware of them.

CMC, I challenge you to stay aware about events like the killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, which are causing the relationship and trust between our government and the people to devolve rapidly. I challenge you to develop your voices on these cases, and make them heard in all constructive ways possible. I encourage you to bring these issues up in your classes in order to establish a concrete relationship between your courses and the effects of these events on those outside of the Claremont bubble.

If you would like to get involved and learn about the cases, I encourage you to read into the stories of the many people mentioned here to whom the police have done injustice. Furthermore, try to avoid news articles that exhibit a clear bias one way or another in order to establish your own views on the subject. Here is a link to look into the most recent killings that are reaching national attention.

Links are also attached to petitions for several different calls to action resulting from the death of Eric Garner. These range from firing Daniel Pantaleo (the NYPD officer who choked Garner to death), barring police officers from holding military grade weapons, requiring all police officers to wear body cameras, and general calls for action against police brutality. Petitions relating to other cases can be found online as well.

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