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The terrifying police shootings of unarmed black men

Natasha Gray holds a placard as she gathers with other protesters across the street from the police department in Ferguson, Missouri September 26, 2014. (Whitney Curtis/Reuters)

One of the burdens of being a black male is carrying the heavy weight of other people’s suspicions. One minute you’re going about your life, the next you could be pleading for it, if you’re lucky. That’s what happened to Trayvon Martin in February 2012 and Michael Brown last month. And two other recent shootings add further proof that no standard of conduct, it seems, is too good or too mundane to protect a black man’s life particularly from a police officer’s bullet.

John Crawford III was talking on his cell phone in the Beavercreek, Ohio, Wal-Mart and carrying an unloaded BB air rifle he picked up in the superstore on Aug. 5. “There is a gentleman walking around with a gun in the store,” Ronald Ritchie told the 911 operator. “Yeah, he’s, like, pointing at people….He’s looking around, waving it, waving it back and forth….He looked like he was trying to load it. I don’t know.” Fair warning: As the graphic video shows, Crawford was shot and killed by police. Ritchie has since changed his account of what happened.

Levar Jones was pulled over for a seat-belt violation by now-former South Carolina state trooper Sean Groubert on Sept. 4. Thanks to the startling and graphic dashcam video we get to see every African American’s worst nightmare unfold in seconds. A request to see a driver’s license followed by an attempt to comply leads to Jones being shot by someone who, as The Post’s Radley Balko correctly says, “should never be a police officer again.”

Groubert asks Jones, “Can I see your license, please?” Jones, who was standing outside his car at the gas station convenience store, turned and reached inside to retrieve it. “Get out of the car! Get out of the car!” Groubert shouts before opening fire on Jones at point-blank range. After being hit in the hip, Jones can be seen moving backwards away from his car with his hands in the air as two more shots ring out.

Groubert: Get on the ground! Get on the ground!
Jones: I just got my license! You said get my license! I grabbed my license. Right there! That’s my license.
Groubert: Put your hands behind your back! Put your hands behind your back!
Jones: What did I do? What did I do, sir?
Groubert: Are you hit?
Jones: I think so. I can’t feel my leg. I don’t what happened. I just grabbed my license. Why did you, why did you shoot me?
Groubert: Bro, you dove head first back in your car.
Jones: I’m sorry!
Grouvert: Then you jump back out and I’m telling you to get out of your car.
Jones: I’m sorry I didn’t hear two words.

Jones survived. Groubert was fired on Sept. 19 then arrested on Sept. 24 and charged with “assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.” Groubert’s cover-your-butt version of events is shocking in their audacity after seeing what actually happened. That Groubert is facing justice is as breathtaking as it is rare. The officers who killed Crawford were not indicted by a grand jury, but the Justice Department did announce an independent civil-rights investigation into what happened.

What happened to Crawford, Jones and Brown only feeds the sad history of mistrust between African Americans and the police. And the parents of Crawford and Brown now join a harrowing list of parents whose children were killed by police and others who viewed them with unfounded suspicion. President Obama touched on this during his speech at the Congressional Black Caucus dinner Saturday night in Washington.

I know that nothing any of us can say can ease the grief of losing a child so soon.  But the anger and the emotion that followed [Michael Brown’s] death awakened our nation once again to the reality that people in this room have long understood, which is, in too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement.
Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement, guilty of walking while black, or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness…..
And the worst part of it is it scars the hearts of our children.  It scars the hearts of the white kids who grow unnecessarily fearful of somebody who doesn’t look like them.  It stains the heart of black children who feel as if no matter what he does, he will always be under suspicion.

Because of those stereotypes and suspicions, black moms and dads teach their sons (and daughters) a raft of rules they hope will safeguard their lives. But these lesson also deny their children the liberty to make mistakes, especially adolescents who do ill-advised yet commonplace things like smoke pot or shoplift.

“That is not the society we want.  It’s not the society that our children deserve,” the president said Saturday night. “Whether you’re black or white, you don’t want that for America.” Agreed. That’s why if there is a silver lining to all this heartache of late it is that African Americans are no longer alone in their outrage.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj