After the senseless shooting deaths of seven individuals–two African-American men and five Dallas police officers–where do we go from here?
Data from the Mapping Police Violence website reported in 2015 that at least 1,152 people were killed by police incidents. As of this week the Washington Post’s Fatal Force database reported that more than a third of the people shot and killed by police in the U.S. had fled from officers. And yet such stark data does very little to convince some people that excessive force is a problem.
It’s clear we have to hold law enforcement to a higher standard. No longer can we use platitudes and non-descriptive nonsense such as, ‘We need to start a conversation’, ‘Can’t we just get along’, and ‘Something must be done about this’ to confront this issue. The elephant in the room is that the continued occurrence of unlawful killing of civilians by police is virtually going unpunished.
According to Free University of Berlin Political Science scholar Ruth Stanley, the authoritative nature of law enforcement is a form of public control that justifies brutality and acts as a form of social exclusion. Recent incidents have proved as such: During a stop and search in 2011, Fullerton Police Officer Manuel Ramos told Kelly Thomas, a homeless man who suffered from schizophrenia, that he was, “…getting ready to [expletive] [him] up”, before he and two other officers beat Thomas to death. Despite being terminated from their positions and brought to court on charges, Ramos and the two officers were subsequently acquitted by courts of any wrongdoing.
What our nation is witnessing is not new. In a October 22, 1967 article, Brownsville, Texas Herald reported that ten men from Neshoba County, Mississippi were convicted for crimes relating to the deaths of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) members James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in 1964. Among the convicted was Cecil Price–a local sheriff who helped plan the beating, shooting, and burial of the three activists. Indeed, in the tumultuous ‘60s other events of police brutality occurred.
Those events demonstrated an inconvenient truth: certain officers chose to kill because they could. However, in the CORE case, justice was served, resulting in Price’s guilt and imprisonment.
As we fast forward, technology should aid us. Before its collective eyes, our nation has proof of police misconduct through the lens of Facebook Live and YouTube; such media has provided us daunting footage of Alton Sterling’s and Philando Castile’s murders. We could probably add New York’s Eric Garner and others to a seemingly disturbing list. Murder, you wonder? I do not know what else to call it.
How are we able to see such brutality on various media in plain sight and ask the same, wearisome questions? Protests only do so much. And by the way, killing cops is never a solution.
Events of the past week, the past month, and the past few years, especially, make it safe to infer that those in law enforcement must confront its issues of brutality and misconduct head on. We need more officers, like Ohio’s Nakia Jones to demand change and to help nip the corrupt cop culture at its root. It is imperative that it comes from within. We the people, cannot do that.
To borrow the words of KFI 640-AM columnist Morris O’Kelly, “If you don’t think what happened to Alton Sterling or Philando Castile could happen to you or your child, then you could never understand the pain and frustration that I and others have experienced…if you’ve never had a gun pointed at you, you will not know what I’m talking about,” he invoked during a recent radio broadcast.
Two years ago I was involved in a benign situation that could have taken a turn for the worst. Confusion led to two sheriff’s detectives drawing their guns on me. Still, I can’t imagine seeing what St. Paul, Minnesota’s Diamond Reynolds saw: her wounded fiance bleeding to death in the seat next to her; I cannot fathom the horrors the couple’s 4-year-old daughter witnessed from the back seat.
Police put their lives on the line every day in service to our communities. However we face an urgent crisis: until law enforcement demands more transparency from its officers, until a cultural institution is shaken to its core from within, how can any of us feel safe? When we are stopped or confronted by law enforcement, what might become of us? As we veer away more and more from ‘Protect and Serve’ to being gunned down for a broken tail light, it’s an unfortunate, but fair–and really scary question to ask.