Living in the commonwealth of Virginia in the year 2012 is a mostly enjoyable existence for myself and the fellow members of my community. Stafford, Virginia is a relatively small place. We have about 100,000 people living here. This is a community steeped in heritage. One of the landmarks of our community is the boyhood farm of First President of the United States, George Washington. Ferry Farm is the central tourist attraction in Stafford and many of our local events center around our Founding Father. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln visited Chatham, a private home in the region. The land was used as a station for the Union army during that war. America's history is part of our daily lives. This is evidenced by the fact that the phrase "Where history meets the promise of tomorrow" is emblazoned on the town's website (Stafford 2012).
I am a Caucasian person of mixed heritage. Within me I have the blood of the Polish, the French, the Germans, the Italians, and the Irish. Were I a canine rather than a human being, I may very well be referred to as a mutt. Being blessed with such a rich and diverse background, I have been raised with the knowledge that no one ethnic group, racial group, or geographic location makes someone better than anyone else. The French are not more sophisticated than the Italians, nor the Irish more violent than the Polish. Each component of my background is equally important and the influences of each of those groups have combined to create my own unique, individual culture. However, there is an unfortunate number of people in my community who are a remnant of a past age where it was acceptable to judge other people not by the caliber of their characters, but instead by the color of their skin. Although we as a society like to think of ourselves as free from prejudices and as more progressive in our thinking of ethnicity than our historical counterparts, the truth of some of the sadder aspects of racial interactions is still alive in places like Stafford, Virginia.
This community is comprised mainly of African-American and Caucasian people. Caucasians outnumber all other ethnicities by a considerable margin. In Stafford County, approximately 70% of the population is white (U.S. Census 2010). About 20% are African-American. There are other ethnic groups in the community, but they are in the minority. All other ethnicities combined only amount to approximately 10% of the entire county's population. Stafford is considered a well-off community in terms of financial acumen. Many of the residents here are well off or at least financially stable. Indeed, according to Bill Freehling of the Freelance Star (2011), "Stafford County has the seventh-highest median household income of all U.S. counties with at least 65,000 people" (page 1). According to the United States Census Bureau (2010), Stafford County has a median household average income of nearly $90,000. We also boast one of the lowest unemployment rates throughout the United States of America at half the national rate.
As the majority of the members of the community are Caucasian, so too many of the people who are either in positions of power or who are members of the media are Caucasian. Most, if not all, of the persons who hold local political power are white. The sheriff of Stafford is white. Most of the police officers are white. The department heads of the sheriff's department are nearly all white, save for the head of Juvenile Services (Stafford County 2012). It never occurred to me until I was asked to thoroughly examine my surroundings. It is inarguable that most people in positions of power in my community are people who are not African-American or any other minority.
When glancing over the recent news, the only negatives seem to be a string of arrests made in burglary cases. This is not surprising. Burglary and theft is the most common crime in Stafford. One of the downsides to being affluent is that the less well-off members of the community try to abscond with property that does not belong to them. Also, sometimes members of that upper class community become greedy and find themselves arrested for embezzlement or for fraud, so-called "white collar" crimes.
On the surface, everything within this community is wonderful. Business is progressing, people are buying homes, and there are almost limitless amounts of good news for those in Stafford. Sometimes though, it appears that all this goodness is only on the surface and it masks some substantial sociological and ethical problems that exist beneath this thin outer layer.
The United States has an unfortunate history with regard to non-Caucasian people. In Virginia, we have to live with the heritage of slavery which still reverberates in some of the interactions between the more prejudiced and racist members of our society. It is with disgust and despair that I and my more logical, reasonable, humanistic counterparts look on these attitudes. In an article for the Stafford County Sun, author Alane Callandar (2008) explained how a majority of members of the community view members of minority races. She said that the problem with regard to relationships is that the Caucasian people of the community do not interact with African-Americans on a daily basis. Seven out of every ten people in the community is white and thus they come to accept this race as the norm and everything outside of the norm as other or different. Much of the world looks at the American south and assumes that we are all backward individuals who do not understand the fallacy of believing in racial superiority or inferiority. Most of us have tried to make amends for the sins of our forefathers by ignoring racial differences and disallowing these differences from impacting the way we interact with our fellow men.
Stafford County has been in the news recently because of an incident between local police and a young African-American male. In March 2010, a phone call was made to authorities that a black man was hanging around local schools and libraries and was potentially in possession of a weapon (Vargas 2010). When the officers went to arrest the young man, he resisted. Eventually the young man was arrested and has been sentenced to more than ten years for charges ranging from resisting arrest to harming an officer in the course of his duties. These are the bare bones of the facts as they are known but there are many other details which have affected how the people of Stafford, VA perceive the incident. Many people would come to view the incident as a case wherein police took action based upon the youth's race rather than upon whether or not he was committing any crime or whether his actions warranted arrest or even any action at all.
It came to light following the arrest that the youth in question, Reginald Latson, nicknamed Neli, is autistic. He suffers from Asperger's syndrome and would not have known how to react to officers when he was initially approached. Attorneys and supporters say that police officers reacted violently to the young man's actions, perceiving them as aggressive rather than as the result of his mental disorder. Additionally, Latson alleged that during his arrest and after he was placed in custody, the officers, all Caucasian, made highly racist comments to the young man. This culminated when Latson stated that he didn't do anything to warrant arrest. The officers allegedly replied that he didn't need to have committed any crimes to be arrested in Stafford County. The implication being that the boy's race was substantial enough of a reason to be arrested. Since the young man's sentencing, advocates have been trying to have his sentence overturned on the basis that he should not have been arrested in the first place. Had he not been accosted by police, the resulting injuries to the officers never would have occurred. Their behavior led to a youth's incarceration in a place where he has been reported to be abused and terrorized by inmates and guards for the simple reason that he does not have the mental faculties necessary to survive in prison.
This unfortunate incident has had some major repercussions throughout Stafford and the commonwealth of Virginia as a whole. It has brought up a series of questions that more level-headed minds had hoped was answered and settled. Several of the people who are in support of releasing Latson have issued statements saying that the young man was not properly treated in childhood. His disorder was not diagnosed until after he had complete much of his schooling. Reginald Latson's low grades and behavioral issues in school were attributed to his economic position and family dynamic (Cohan 2010). Educators may have been blinded to the truth of his affliction because of assumptions that were made due to his ethnicity. This is a form of indoctrinated racism wherein there is a prejudice or bias…