Opinion: Summer 2014, racial divides and ugliness in America

Story highlights

  • Errol Louis says racial divisions in America were again exposed by the shooting of Michael Brown
  • Black Americans lag behind when it comes to economic and educational opportunities, studies show
  • Even with a black president, suspicions of racial profiling will remain a live, lingering concern, says Louis
  • Louis predicts more flashpoints like what happened in Ferguson
The name "Ferguson" will enter America's political vocabulary alongside cities like Detroit, Harlem and South Central Los Angeles -- places where black Americans rioted in the streets following the violent mistreatment of unarmed black men at the hands of police.
Despite amazing progress in some areas of race relations -- notably, the election and re-election of Barack Obama as President -- the United States also harbors a deep, durable strain of racism that occasionally flares into public consciousness, sometimes with explosive results.
The summer of 2014 was one of those times the curtain was pulled back and the ugliness emerged.
On July 17 in New York City, half a dozen police confronted a man named Eric Garner for allegedly selling cigarettes on the street without a license to do so. A bystander's phone camera captured video of the police pushing Garner to the ground using a chokehold as Garner, a father of six, repeatedly said "I can't breathe." He died shortly afterwards.
A few weeks later on August 5, in Beavercreek, Ohio, a man named John Crawford was shot to death inside a Walmart store after police responded to an emergency call about a man waving a weapon. Crawford turned out to be holding a pellet-shooting BB gun he'd picked up from a shelf inside the store (which sells the gun).
On August 9 in Ferguson, Missouri, police killed a teenager named Michael Brown and left his body uncovered in the street. Witnesses say Brown had his hands up when an officer fired six shots into his body. A week of demonstrations and violence followed.
On August 11, a 25-year-old man named Ezell Ford was shot to death in Los Angeles. Police say Ford attacked an officer after his car was stopped; other witnesses say he was not resisting and was killed while lying down in the street.
All around America, demonstrations have taken place to protest what some call a national epidemic of police brutality toward black men.
There's no sure way of knowing whether there is a pattern of police imposing deadly force on blacks, but civil rights organizations have long complained about racial profiling -- the practice of assuming members of a racial minority group are engaged in criminal activity and detaining or arresting them for that reason alone.