Dear Friends, we will continue our series on When Police Kill our Children. Last week we addressed the killing of ten-year-old Clifford Glover, he was shot in the back April 28, 1973. Now we will remember fifteen-year-old Phillip Pannell. He was shot in the back also in Teaneck, NJ April 10, 1990. Following is a newspaper article that I wrote for the Bergen Record, one of New Jersey’s leading newspapers. It captures the feeling of the community, the pain and the anguish, the rallies and demonstrations, and suggestions for change:
Teaneck at a crossroads
A local minister suggests a prescription for healing – and insights into how blacks view the Pannell tragedy
By Herbert Daughtry
ON APRIL 10 in Teaneck, a black 16-year-old was shot in the back by a white police officer. In the welter of conflicting testimonies, one fact remains incontrovertible. Phillip Clinton Pannell Jr. is dead.
It is not the first time that African-American parents have had to walk this painful path -- and it will probably not be the last time. The pain and bewilderment are intensified by the incredible fact that their children were unnecessarily killed by the people who are paid to protect them.
“Why? Why? Why?”, they have asked.
"It was justified," some say. "It was an accident," others assert. Still others say, "Be quiet! No need to demonstrate. Let the system handle it."
The context for concern
For African-Americans, it is always difficult to justify the killing of a teenager, especially when, according to witnesses, hands were being raised and the youngster was shot in the back -- as was the case with Phillip Pannell and Police Officer Gary Spath. The accident theory is equally difficult to accept, since we're told that accidents are often unconsciously contrived.
Such killings must be addressed in the larger context. The system has not worked very well for African-Americans, a point many whites don't seem to understand. When whites are victims, the wheels of justice usually turn more swiftly for them. However, when blacks are the victims, the wheels become clogged. In fact, often when blacks are the victims if they were the victimizer. Since before and after the Dred Scott decision in 1857, when Chief Justice Roger B. Taney declared that black people have no rights that white people are bound to respect, Lady Justice has neither been blind nor even-handed in her relationship with African American people.
Because of this, the experience of African Americans has been "if you do nothing, nothing will happen." Although they have not wanted to, African Americans have had to employ various methods to make the system work for them.
For blacks, these police killings are rooted in the value placed on African humanity.
For 400 years, African people have been negated, emasculated, and decimated. To justify the unspeakable cruelties to which Africans were subjected - including the slave trade, where estimates range from 25 million to 100 million Africans were killed and hundreds of millions more died mentally and emotionally, Euro-Americans developed and propagated the Big Lie that Africans were subhuman, and thus enslaving them was really a blessing for them.
This idea of African sub humanity permeated the full spectrum of Euro-American life. All the institutions, traditions, and mores became influenced by the Big Lie. Thus, deep within the psyche of Euro-Americans is embedded this perception of African people. Tied to this conviction are guilt and fear "Nobody ought to be treated the way African people were and are treated, thus surely revenge is uppermost in their minds.
So when a white police officer sees a black skin, those old subconscious perceptions can take over, and the trigger finger moves ever so quickly. (It is important to note, on the other hand, that African-American police officers seldom, if ever, kill white children or women or other police officers.)
It's not always true to say, "A white officer who kills an innocent black youth is racist." Closer to the truth is that the officer is a part of, or a reflection of, a society whose world view, values, and mindset are biased strongly against people of African ancestry.
Even if whites disagree with this assessment, the fact remains that the perception exists and needs to be addressed.