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How many more innocents must die?

The tragic police shooting of an unarmed black teen in a St. Louis suburb once again points to discriminatory policies in our criminal justice system.

Once again, an unarmed black teenager has been killed in a highly questionable police shooting, this time in suburban St. Louis on Saturday.

Michael Brown, just 18 and two days from starting college, is dead. It appears from eyewitness accounts that – like Trayvon Martin – he was not involved in any sort of underlying crime that would warrant the use of deadly force.

Rather, like Trayvon, he was “walking while black.”

All too often, young black men in our society are viewed as potential criminals. They are targeted for arrest and incarceration more than anyone else. In schools, they are disproportionately subjected to harsh discipline. They fill our overcrowded prisons, often for crimes associated with the failed war on drugs. They are arrested for drug offenses at three to five times the rate of whites, even though drug use among whites is comparable.

Because of racial profiling and a history of discriminatory policies, many in the black community do not trust law enforcement. The distrust is a recipe for tragedy. No one gets the benefit of the doubt.

Obviously, the FBI needs to get to the bottom of what happened.  

But resolving this case is only a start. There’s a larger issue – a crisis, in fact.

As a nation, we urgently need to rethink our approach to criminal justice. Our entire criminal justice system has mushroomed in the past four decades, in large part because certain politicians have made it a strategy to stoke fear among white people – fear about young black men.

Young men like Michael – and their families – are paying the price.

It’s tragic. It’s senseless. It’s destructive.

How many more innocents must die?