A father, his teenage son and a realtor, all African American, were surrounded by police with guns drawn and handcuffed during a house showing on Sunday, August 1, in Wyoming, Michigan. The violent encounter is yet another exposure of the brutality of American capitalism.
When real estate agent Eric Brown arrived at the property on Sunday afternoon in a black vehicle, a neighbor reportedly mistook Brown for another person, an African American man with a black Mercedes who had been arrested at the same house for illegal entry a week before.
Police released audio of a phone call in which the neighbor reported that the “young black man,” who was previously detained for “squatting in a house that’s for sale,” was “back there again. The car’s sitting out front.”
The police also released audio from their radio channel. After their arrival on the scene, an officer relays, “I just got off the phone with the caller. It sounds like it’s going to be a B[reaking] and E[ntering] in progress, in an unoccupied dwelling. They’re currently inside the house.”
By this time, Roy Thorne and his son had arrived and were touring the house. In the audio from their radio, police noted “a black Chevy and ... Genesis,” neither of which matched the Mercedes from the call and the previous arrest.
As police arrived at around 2:25 p.m., they reported, “The front door is open.”
Police surrounded the house, demanded the three come out with their hands up and kept their weapons trained on them until they were all in handcuffs.
Brown had the presence of mind to point to his business cards, which identified him as a real estate agent. Within minutes, the three were released. In body camera video of the incident, an officer apologizes “for the confusion.”
For those few perilous minutes, any wrong move on the part of Brown, Thorne or his son could have resulted in their execution by the police.
In an interview with NBC News by the two men, Thorne called the experience “traumatizing,” and that “the damage is done.” Recalling guns pointed at him and his teenage son, Thorne continued, “In the current climate of things, you just really don’t know what’s going to happen.”
In the same interview, Eric Brown said he believes they were racially profiled. If it were white people showing and viewing the home, he said, “I don’t think the neighbor would have called, and if she did call, I don’t think the officers would have reacted the same.”
Expressing his fear about showing houses in the future, Brown raised a fundamental democratic question, “Am I just automatically the criminal? Because that’s how we were treated.”
Racism certainly played a role in the decisions made that day which led to the life-threatening police encounter, and one cannot help but agree with Brown’s “what if.”
But such episodes occur over and over in which a racial component is not involved, and police nonetheless conduct themselves as judge, jury and, in worst cases, executioners.
Every year, police kill a thousand or more people in the United States. Black men are proportionally overrepresented among these killings. But police murder workers of all races, and the largest number of victims are white.
The epidemic of police killings is a major aspect of the crisis of American capitalism. Over the course of decades of virtually continuous imperialist war, social inequality soared, and capitalist rule began to depend on ever more anti-democratic and violent forms of oppression. Out of this came the militarization of police departments, the war on immigrants and many other attacks on democratic rights.