Last Tuesday, Shaun King visited Columbia’s campus to talk about police brutality, Black Lives Matter, and the state of America. The event involved a lecture, a Q&A session in which student leaders asked questions submitted by students and other members in attendance asked questions from the floor.
King’s main argument was that human society isn’t steadily getting better as most people think; instead, progress is something that contains both peaks and troughs. Though the audience general seemed to agree with the points King made, there were two notable exceptions.
During the Q&A session that was open to the general audience, one student approached the mic with the statistic that four times as many white people than black were killed by the police. Due to the inaccurate statistic, King refused to hear the rest of the student’s question. Another student approached the mic with a similar stance.
“You mentioned before that quality of life is decreasing,” he said. “Can you define quality of life?”
King answered his question, but not to the student’s satisfaction. He soon left the mic only to face a hostile crowd. Since the majority of the crowd seemed to be sympathetic to King’s message, the Lion was curious about what the two dissenters had to say.
“In a vast majority of these cases, police are acting out because they see an actual threat, not just a random, abstract vague threat,” one of the dissenters said. He agreed that implicit bias does exist, but not in a majority of cases.
Both conceded that there were some cases that were unfair, like the case of Eric Garner and “the guy in Florida who had his hands up when he got shot,” but they were sure that “in the grand scheme of things, it’s not like there’s not an institutional racism problem.”
“I wanted to really delve deeply into the evidence,” he continued, “I didn’t see that.”
As a source of evidence, both students mentioned this Washington Post article, titled, ‘Aren’t more white people than black people killed by police? Yes, but no’.
On the surface, the event might have seemed like a monologue instead of a dialogue, but several students approached the dissenting students after the event to talk about their views.
“Most unarmed black men who are killed by the police see no justice,” a pro-Black Lives Matter student argued. “The issue is that people [the police officers] don’t go to jail.”
“There are ways to engage with someone who is threatening that is not “I’m going to shoot them and kill them,” another student argued when someone suggested that most of the black shooting victims had attempted to harm the officer beforehand.
As a resource, one of the pro students suggested that the dissenters read “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander.
“There’s a higher probability that when a white man is killed, his murderer will be taken to court and go through the process of justice than it is for a black man who is killed by a police officer.”
Though the conversation was heated, both sides listened to the points the other made.
Later, one of the dissenters voiced his main concern.
“If you have respectable people like Shaun King saying, “The system is out to get you and the system was built to tear people of your race down and kill you, what are you going to do? You’re going to tear the system down.”
He chuckled. “And I like the system. I think it works pretty well.”