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Structural Racism, Police Brutality And Making Sense Of A Week Of Violence

Princeton, Lester Spence

People across the country are trying to make sense of last week's shooting by the police of black men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Falcon Heights, Minnesota, a suburb of St. Paul, and the fatal shooting of five police officers in Dallas, Texas during a peaceful rally. 

On Tuesday, Alton Sterling, who is African-American, was shot and killed by police in Baton Rouge after police say they received an anonymous call about an unidentified man with a gun outside of a convenience store. Sterling was shot outside the store after an encounter with two officers. The officers can be seen in a video, taken by a bystander, on top of Sterling before shots were fired. Both officers are white. Louisiana is an open carry state and police say Sterling had a gun in his pocket. Witnesses say Sterling never reached for the gun during the encounter. 

On Wednesday, Philando Castile, who is also African-American, was shot and killed by a police officer in Falcon Heights during a traffic stop. According to Castile's girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, Castile was reaching for his wallet and disclosed to the officer that he had a pistol on him he was licensed to carry. Reynolds says the officer then said, ‘don’t move' and as Castile was putting his hands back up, the officer shot him in the arm. Reynolds live streamed a video of the immediate aftermath for 10 minutes. When the video starts, you can see Castile in the driver seat, his shirt covered in blood, with the officer's gun still pointed at him.

The Justice Department has launched an investigation into the shooting of Alton Sterling and is monitoring the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s investigation into the shooting of Philando Castile.  The officers involved in both cases have been placed on administrative leave. 

Then, in Dallas during a Thursday night protest of police brutality and the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philado Castille, five officers were fatally shot by a sniper who also injured seven other officers and two civilians. The sniper was later killed by police using a bomb carried by a robot. Police say the sniper, who is black, specifically targeted white officers in response police brutality against blacks. 

Dr. Lester Spence is an associate professor of political science and Africana studies at Johns Hopkins University and author of Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black PoliticsDr. Eddie S. Glaude is the William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African-American Studies at Princeton University and the author of Democracy in Black: How Race Still Governs the American Soul. They both join Tom to discuss last week's events and how structural racism perpetuates distrust and animus between police and communities of color. 

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