Officer or Overseer: Why Police Desegregation Fails as an Adequate Solution to Racist, Oppressive, and Violent Policing in Black Communities


On January 23, 2004, Timothy Stansbury, Jr., a nineteen-year-old Black man, earned his GED. He planned to attend community college and start a family with his girlfriend. Hours later, Timothy met two of his friends and together they traveled to another friend’s party. The three young men took a shortcut across the rooftop of Timothy’s building because the intercom in the building where the party was held was frequently broken. As the trio approached the rooftop doorway, Timothy was gunned down by a White police officer who panicked upon seeing Timothy. This incident occurred in the Louis Armstrong Housing Projects of Bedford-Stuyvesant, a predominantly Black inner-city neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Both the police officer who killed Timothy and the police officer’s partner had their guns drawn, pursuant to a New York Police Department (“NYPD”) policy, while on a routine vertical patrol. Although NYPD Commissioner Kelly immediately characterized the shooting as unjustified, a grand jury cleared the officer of any wrongdoing. On the same day of Stansbury’s murder, in Bensonhurst -an historically Italian and Jewish neighborhood located in Brooklyn, New York-a subway rider complained to the police that a man on the subway had a gun. When police arrived at the subway platform, Kevin Tester, a thirty-eight-year-old security guard, fired three shots at them with his .38 caliber revolver. Instead of drawing their own guns and blasting off rounds, the police took cover, called for backup, and talked Tester into giving up his gun. Tester was subdued without injury before being taken into police custody. Mr. Tester, a White male who was illegally armed and violent, is alive today while Timothy Stansbury, a Black male who was unarmed and law-abiding, is dead. The blatantly inapposite police tactics employed in these two cases illustrate, in part, why members of the Black community declare,”No justice, no peace, til the police are off our streets,” and “Our kids are human too!” Since our existence in this country, we have been subjected to a dual system of law enforcement in which we remain “at risk” for police antagonism and violence while Whites enjoy service and protection. The police in our neighborhoods continue to operate as an “occupying force” established to police (not protect) us.

Suggested Reading