When I was seventeen years old, my father took me to a matinee showing of The Godfather. This was not long after the studio released the film. The violence in the movie disturbed me.
I had never seen a movie like The Godfather. We were living in New Jersey. My father commuted to New York City each day. From the top of the highest hill in our town, I could see the World Trade Towers. Our nearness to the setting of much of the story probably made the movie even more frightening than it might have been otherwise.
After we left the theater, I tried to comfort myself by telling myself that the story was fiction.
Then, that evening at home, we turned on our television to see the news. A reporter told us that authorities had found a body at the end of a runway at New York’s JFK airport. The man had been strangled. Police said that this was the fiftieth murder carried out by the Mafia in the city that year.
What could I conclude about the character and conduct of Americans who have Italian ancestry? Fifty murders in a few months in one city! And The Godfather was not the only movie to associate Italians with gangsters.
Of course, the answer to the question is “not much.”
This summer, a man died during an arrest in Minneapolis. Many Americans can recall a half dozen or a dozen similar episodes in recent years. Even if some can recall twenty or fifty, what can they conclude about the character and conduct of police officers?
Nearly 18 million Americans trace their ancestry to Italy. There are two thirds of a million police officers in the United States.