Hundreds of college students, social justice leaders, and journalists packed into an auditorium at Philander Smith College in Little Rock to hear one of the nation’s most prolific voices in the conversation about police brutality, racial discrimination, and the prison industrial complex. New York Daily News reporter, Shaun King, delivered a speech steeped in history to explain the controversial racial climate that dominates today’s headlines and this year’s Presidential election.
King primed the audience for his observations about police-involved killings and other global misconduct by sharing the teachings of Leopold von Ranke, a German scholar noted for his research-based approach to understanding history.
A doctoral candidate in history, King said, “Every generation wants to believe it’s a little better than the previous. Leopold von Ranke discovered that people were confusing the improvement of humanity with the advancements in technology…there are rises and dips. It is hard to accept that you may be living in the dip.”
The statistics King shared support his theory that this recent trend of police killings and brutality is consistent with a dip.
“One hundred and two is the number of unarmed Black men and women shot and killed by police last year,” King said. “You would have to go all the way back to President McKinley in 1902 to find a year where more than 102 African Americans were lynched. Last year more unarmed Black men and women and children were killed by police than were lynched in any single year in more than 100 years.”
In conversations with leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, King stated he found that even they are flummoxed by the anger mixed with racism that they see. “I asked many elders from the Civil Rights Movement, ‘Have you ever seen anything like this in your day. And, they said, No, we’ve never seen anything like this,’” King said.
The disproportionate number of Black Americans imprisoned also figured into King’s call for America to recalibrate its moral compass. “More people are in prison and under the jurisdiction of police than were ever slaves even at the peak of slavery,” King lamented. “When I speak to people all over the country, it feels like we’re in a dip, but it’s hard to accept.”
He pointed to rallies for Republican Presidential candidate, Donald Trump, where supporters have beaten and cursed Black attendees. King cited the killing of New York’s Eric Garner, who took his last breath while a New York City police officer restrained him in a chokehold prohibited by the department. King drove home his point by inviting the audience to “ask Eric Garner’s children if we’re living in a dip?”