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Why Do Armed White Men Get Arrested While Unarmed Black Men Get Killed?

Photo: Daniel John / Shutterstock
King Soopers supermarket, location of the Boulder shooting

Boulder, Colorado was faced with an absolute tragedy this past Monday. A 21-year-old man walked into a supermarket and opened fire, killing 10 people, including one police officer.

This is just one of a handful of other mass shootings that have taken place in the U.S. over the past week.

The suspect was apprehended by law enforcement personnel and taken into custody unharmed.

The events that transpired this past Monday have only made me think about the disparity between the treatment of armed white men and unarmed Black men.

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The death of Elijah McClain also happened in Colorado.

He was a 23-year-old unarmed Black man walking home from a convenience store, simply minding his own business, only to be stopped by the police, put in a chokehold and sedated by paramedics with ketamine. He died a few hours later in the hospital.

But, when a white man opens fire with a deadly weapon, taking innocent lives, he is escorted from the scene by officers in handcuffs — without a scratch on him.

The Atlanta shooter gets to live to see another day, while McClain was held to the ground by three police officers for 15 minutes, until he lost consciousness, and ultimately, his life.

There is an obvious difference in the way law enforcement in this country handles encounters with Black men versus white men.

Black men in the United States are between 2 to 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than are white men. Black people are also twice as likely as white people to be fatally shot while unarmed.

Police are also five times more likely to shoot and kill unarmed Black men over the age of 54, who exhibit signs of mental illness, and live in the South, as compared to white men of the same age, mental health status and location.

A classic example of this disparity is Dylann Roof, the American white supremacist and neo-Nazi who opened fire in a church in Charleston, South Carolina back in 2015.

After killing nine Black churchgoers. Roof was led outside by police wearing a bulletproof vest they had placed on him for protection. And not only that, but police officers even went out to get him a burger after taking him into custody because he complained to them that he was hungry.

Shelby, North Carolina police chief Jeff Ledford even told reporters that Roof “was not problematic.”

Meanwhile, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was walking back to his home from 7-Eleven with only a can of Arizona iced tea and a pack of Skittles when he was shot and killed by neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman.

And Tamir Rice was playing the park with a toy gun when police arrived on the scene and, within a few seconds of driving up, shot and killed the 12-year-old boy.

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The list of names and comparisons gets longer and longer each year as the story remains the same.

White men like Dylann Roof and the man who opened fire in the Colorado supermarket are repeatedly treated with more humanity than even an innocent Black child.

These people are terrorists. They may or may not be mentally ill, but they are killers regardless.

The media has a habit of portraying white men who commit mass shootings as people who were struggling with their mental health, while unarmed Black men like George Floyd are branded as thugs and criminals after being killed by police.

This scenario played out yet again following the recent mass shooting in Atlanta that claimed the lives of eight people, six of whom were Asian-American women. That shooting was committed by Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white male with a troubled history who police described during a press conference as having said he'd had "a really bad day.”

Why are white men afforded the luxury of awaiting a fair trial behind bars after having "a really bad day” while Black men like Carl Dorsey III stand in front of the barrel of a gun with their hands up to show they are unarmed and complying with police orders, only to be killed anyway?

Why do the crimes of white men get written off as the result of their merely being "fed up" while Black men are pressed into the floor, screaming that they can’t breathe, and ultimately choked to death?

The answer is clear as day: Police officers in this country are not here to uphold Black life. They instead continuously murder Black bodies.

Actor, writer, and social activist Darnell Lamont Walker once said, “We were murdered so often, I started believing Black bodies made better fertilizer.”

The evidence lies with the 135 unarmed Black men and women who have been fatally shot by police since 2015.

For what this country has done to us, and continues to do to us, I think America should count itself lucky that all Black people want is equality — not revenge.

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Nia Tipton is a writer living in Chicago. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram.