6 Good Reasons a Black Person Might Resist Arrest

For black men in America, cooperating with the police isn't such a no-brainer.

| Fri Aug. 15, 2014 5:41 PM EDT
An August 14th rally at Meridian Hill Park to protest the fatal shooting by police of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

At least four black men were killed by police in the past month, via chokehold, tasing, and shootings, after being confronted for reasons ranging from selling untaxed cigarettes to picking up a BB gun off a shelf in Wal-Mart.

In at least two of these cases—Dante Parker and Eric Garner—the victims allegedly resisted arrest. Some political leaders, witnesses at the scene, and Internet commenters have placed blame on the victims for this reason, saying their refusal to go quietly with the cops is what ended their lives. 

"For FUCKS SAKE stop struggling and resisting like this and deal with it at the precinct!! Resisting arrest, even if the police have the wrong guy, is a TERRIBLE idea!! God why don't people get this?" writes one commenter at Gawker. At a press conference on gun control in Harlem yesterday, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio said that "once an officer has decided that arrest is necessary, every New Yorker should agree to do what they need to do as a citizen and respect the police officer and follow their guidance. And then there is a thorough due-process system thereafter."

And how about in the tasing death of Dante Parker? A San Bernadino county newspaper employee and married father of five with no criminal record, Parker was out riding his bike for exercise on Tuesday when he was approached by sheriff's deputies as a robbery suspect. A witness relayed what he saw:

He was super strong…it took about two or three guys to get his hands behind him. They went to try to get him to stand up, but he wouldn't do it…He kept kicking and kicking and kicking. He was very uncooperative."

So why would someone like Dante Parker or Eric Garner resist arrest? Here are six good reasons:

  1. The idea that "if you didn't do anything wrong, you don't have anything to fear" does not hold true for black people. Most people who end up being exonerated for crimes they served time for, but didn't commit, are people of color. 
  2. Blacks routinely serve higher sentences than whites—for the same crimes.
  3. Once in custody, black men are rough-handled by police more often than whites.
  4. Racial profiling and bias in police departments across the country is well-documented.
  5. There are many well-known cases of police torture directed at blacks in prison, such as the dozens of black Chicago inmates who were systematically tortured over a span of 20 years.
  6. Scientific studies shed light on how racial bias can influence witness testimony, like this finding that race can make people "see" guns, or a reach for a gun, where no weapon was present.

Asking why a black man with even the slightest bit of awareness of these facts wouldn't fully cooperate with the cops is a bit like asking why William Wallace didn't simply extend a warm welcome to the invading English forces. Here's a better question: What are law enforcement agencies doing to heal their relationships with the black communities they're supposed to protect and serve?