Unequally Safe

Several weeks ago, a group of young teenagers unlawfully entered the home of former NBA star Ray Allen.  Not only was his home entered unlawfully, his wife and children were home at the time.  According to Shannon Allen, the wife Ray Allen, she awoke to find a group of individuals in her home at 2:30am.  One can only imagine how terrified she may have been.  In that instant, a multitude of questions probably ran through her mind simultaneously including: Who is this?  Do they have weapon?  Are they alone or are there others?  Where are my children?  Have they been harmed?  How can I protect myself and my children?

Although the individuals immediately left the premises, they were later identified by local law enforcement.  As is well known, upon identifying the persons, the police officers in the local district initially chose not to pursue further actions in response to the unlawful behavior.  Essentially, the behavior of the individuals was attributed to a group of young adults simply playing a prank.  Although they have since been charged with a misdemeanor, they were never arrested and may be permitted to have their records expunged.

However, the dynamics of this incident highlights two very important questions.  The first question is quite obvious.  As the nation comes to grips with the death of one more unarmed black teenager by police officers, one must ask why the (in)actions of Michael Brown (and many others like him) warrant the use of a lethal weapon while the unlawful entry of a group of individuals into a person’s home does not even result in an arrest?

The answer is simple.  Michael Brown was a teenager residing in a predominantly black, low-income neighborhood while the teenagers in the Ray Allen case were presumably residents of or guests within the gated, affluent neighborhood where Ray Allen’s home is located.  As such, their affluent status afforded them more leeway, and more importantly, better outcomes in terms of their treatment by the criminal justice system.  Although they have been placed on probation, they will not be incarcerated.  They will all continue on to college and subsequently pursue careers.  They will all likely begin families of their own.  Last not but least – they will all remain alive.  And their families will not know the same devastation as Michael Brown’s, Amadou Diallou’s, Trayvon Martin, and many others.

The second question is one that has been overlooked by many in the media.  Are families of color not entitled to the same protection as non-minority families?  There have been many comments made about the affluent status of the teenagers that resulted in differential treatment.  Yet, no one has questioned the lack of deference that was shown to a family of color.  The criminal justice system has historically policed people of color while failing to protect people of color.  If Ray Allen and his family were non-minorities, would such a cavalier stance have been initially taken by members of the local police department?

Members of the general citizenry and the criminal justice system have often failed to perceive families of color as innocent and/or victims.  Often times, when families of color are the victims of a crime, their associations, affiliations, or past behaviors are critiqued in an attempt to make it appear as if their perceived shortcomings are to blame for their fate (i.e., Were they gang members? Do they associate with non-law abiding citizens?  Do they have a nefarious past?, etc.).  Consequently, in general, persons or families of color are not protected to the same degree as non-minority families or persons.

In this case, because of Ray Allen’s celebrity status, he was able to demand that some type of action be taken against the group of teenagers.  Unfortunately, this is not the case for all persons or families or color who are victimized and overlooked.