Stony Brook University’s Staller Center played host to the “Black in America” tour tonight, presented by award-winning journalist and former CNN reporter Soledad O’Brien.
“I enjoy reporting on race,” O’Brien said. “I think it’s a sensitive topic for people, and as a journalist, you get to ask those uncomfortable questions.”
The event covered the impact that police brutality has had on communities around the country, as well as how young men are mentally affected by this violence. In the audience was Kevin Minton, a Baldwin resident, who said he’s had his own encounter with police brutality.
“Growing up in New York, I’ve dealt with police brutality on a personal level,” Minton said. “I’m trying to protect my son now by keeping him informed and letting him know that as an American, you want to be a full citizen, but there can be times that you will feel like a second class citizen.”
O’Brien was joined in an open panel with award-winning journalist, Joan Morgan, first-hand victim of police brutality, Luis Paulino, and former NBA player Etan Thomas, all of who had something to say about how race has impacted their life experiences.
“It’s always the right time to talk about race,” Morgan said. “In those periods where it seems we’ve made a great deal of accomplishments, there are still underlying issues.”
O’Brien provided statistics for the audience that demonstrated how blacks in America have different views about their place in society. She said that 70 percent of blacks say that police have treated them unfairly, compared to only 37 percent of whites. But now, this unfair treatment is more likely to be exposed, thanks to technology and social media, which have played a key role in the recent police brutality stories that have been told.
“Social media gets on stories much faster then mainstream media does,” O’Brien said. “Eric Garner’s case brought people together because you can actually see it happening,” she said, referring to a viral video showing a police officer’s chokehold on the Garner. O’Brien also gave examples of hashtags that have sparked a social media frenzy, including #Ferguson and #MyNYPD.
With advancements in technology and the widespread use of social media, police brutality across the United States is being brought to light. O’Brien’s “Black in America” tour teaches us that we as a nation need to eliminate the judgement of a person based off their skin color but rather them as an individual.
Mianna Questelles, a senior social work major at Stony Brook University, thought the event was inspiring. “Presently, ‘Black in America’ means being able to receive equality in institutions, neighborhoods and anywhere I go,” she said. “I don’t have to be looked at by the color of my skin, but rather based on who I am as an individual.”
This sentiment was also shared by one of the panelists, whose shoulders were damaged in the process of being assaulted by police in Brooklyn during the summer of 2012. A video showed Paulino being beat by multiple cops after he tried to help someone else on the street.
“Your race is not who you are,” said Luis Paulino. “But it’s a part of who you are, and you should embrace that.”