I’ve been trying to find a way to process this week, to have it make sense, and I keep failing. Alton Sterling was shot multiple times in an altercation with the local police, because of an anonymous 911 call. Less than a day later, in a different state, Philando Castile was shot and left to bleed to death after a traffic stop.
In the days that followed, protests and marches began in cities around the country. These protests were overwhelmingly peaceful. In Dallas, a rally just ended when a gunman opened fire on the Dallas police. He killed five officers and wounded seven others. The officers that lost their lives were Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, and Brent Thompson.
The next day, at least two other officers were shot. One was attacked during a traffic stop in Missouri, while another answered a 911 burglary call in Georgia and then was ambushed when he responded.
The protests continue. The violence continues. This is sadly nothing new.
I don’t know how to process what’s going on. I’m not shocked anymore because I realized the other week whenever I see a non-famous person’s name, or a city, trending online I just assume it’s because someone died.
I’m sad. I’m sad because people are dying, because Tamir Rice, a child, was shot and killed for playing in a park with a toy gun and I remember spending hours in a park with my own as a child. I’m sad because John Crawford was shot and killed in a Walmart for walking around the store with a BB gun was killed when I remember countless men doing the same at my own store and allowed to live. I’m sad because a Eric Garner lost his life for not being licensed to sell cigarettes.
I’m confused because I don’t know how to respond when this happens. I’m angry because I know that I have the luxury of being able to decide how to respond. That I can choose to remain silent on the issue and realistically convince myself that I can do this because it doesn’t impact me. I’m disheartened because I see so many making this choice.
The protests continue. The violence continues. The centre cannot hold.
I don’t understand the problem. I don’t know if I ever can fully understand the problem because I am not black, I am not a police officer, I am not someone who was raised to fear police officers. But I know there is a problem, and I know that as long as there is a problem, people will continue to die because of it.
Police Brutality Is Real
After Michael Brown was shot and killed by an officer, the federal government launched an investigation into the police department to see if they could find any evidence of systemic problems. The results are troubling.
The study found that person’s of color made up a disproportionate number of the arrests, and fines, given by the department. They found clear evidence of these disparities coming as the result of unlawful bias and stereotyping on behalf of the department.
In Chicago, the mayor said that the police were forced into a “fetal” position out of fear for unfairly becoming the center of media outrage. An independent audit of the force was completed, and the results are not surprising. You can read the whole report here. Some of the key findings include:
- Overwhelming Evidence of Racism or Racial Targeting
- Random But Pervasive Physical and Verbal Abuse By the Police
- Deprivation of Basic Human and Constitutional Rights
- Lack of Individual and Systemic Accountability
They’re not unique. Nationwide, police departments paid out more than one billion dollars in police misconduct cases in the past five years.
A Lack Of Accountability
Police departments might pay out billions to settle claims, but in many cases the cops keep their jobs, and so the abuse continues to happen. This isn’t because people aren’t reporting these incidents when they occur. They are. But they’re being ignored and dismissed.
From 2012-2014, the Los Angeles Police Department received 1,356 complaints of bias. The department’s internal review board claimed that they could find no evidence of bias in any of the cases. The chances of this actually being the case are statistically zero.
In 2015, the Washington Post tried to investigate every case where someone was shot and killed by the police. One of the frustrating things about finding this information is that there is no nationwide database that you can search to find this information. The closest you have is the FBI database, which includes all deaths that are voluntarily reported. Less than half of the 18,000 police departments report their data to the agency. In the first year the Post kept their own records on officer-related homicides, their number was double what the FBI’s was.
By researching public court records, they discovered just 54 cases where police officers had to defend their actions in court. Not 54 convictions, 54 cases. Of these, just 11 cases resulted in convictions. And this is just for shootings. The New York Times found that our legal system heavily favors law enforcement. In most cases, the trials never make it past the Grand Jury.
In practically every other type of case that goes before a Grand Jury, an overwhelming majority get approved for trial, but if the defendant is a cop, almost every case won’t go forward. While the number of indictments is increasing thanks to increased media scrutiny, the issue is nowhere near resolved. And these are just deaths, not misconduct as a whole.
On of the things that makes accountability so hard is that the few police officers who do come forward and point out wrongdoing are immediately seen as traitors. When a government official acknowledges racism, police officers will literally refuse to do their jobs.
The CATO institute operates a police misconduct tracker. On it, they provide a summary of every case that they can find where an officer is charged, or convicted of misconduct. They don’t do this because they hate cops. They do it because accountability and the rule of law should matter and apply to everyone.
Our Wrongheaded Response To Injustice
When someone is shot and killed by a police officer, or a video surfaces of someone being brutally assaulted, there’s understandably outrage from the community impacted. But unacceptably, there’s a lot of insensitive, and sometimes racist, response as well.
We Try To Justify The Shootings
When a person of color is assaulted or killed, we dig for dirt from their past. We’ll find a criminal record, or an incriminating Facebook photo or post and pass it around as “proof” that they were bad people. All the while we’ll ignore that according to the constitution, having a record does not mean that police are immediately allowed to murder them.
When someone dies in a mass shooting, we don’t dig through their past to see how they deserved it, we paint them as saints. When people are killed in a terrorist attack we call them heroes. When people of color die at the hands of police, we shrug and say they were bad people anyway, so we shouldn’t question how they died.
We Say They Had It Coming
Once we write them off because of their past, we’ll look at the issue at hand. We’ll tell people to “calm down” because we need to wait for an investigation before we know the facts. We’ll say this with a straight face because most of us never bothered to look at just how unlikely a real investigation is to occur.
We’ll excuse abject brutality with the catch-all “they were resisting arrest.” We’ll insist that if they were just respectful to the officer, if they did exactly as they were told, none of this would happen so obviously they did it. We always assume the officer innocent and the victim guilty. We ignore the fact that many of the people we’re telling to shut up and wait for the facts personally have negative experiences with law enforcement. If they don’t, they may know others who do.
But since WE can’t recall ever having a problem with the police, since we know that the rule of law exists, we can write off any claims of wrongdoing because officers just don’t do that stuff unless provoked.
We tell them that a broken taillight deserves a death sentence because the deceased obviously made the officer feel unsafe. We tell them that getting kicked repeatedly in the skull is an acceptable punishment for resisting arrest. We’re saying that the police are justified in using almost any actions they choose to, no matter what the victim did to “earn” it.
We Tell Them That All Lives Matter
When they shout that their lives matter, even if they’re black, we tell them they’re being selfish because they should really be saying “All Lives Matter.” We’ll pull up facts and figures about the number of white people that die to police, or mention Black on Black crime, or gang violence and tell them they should care about that instead, never actually listening to them and realizing that they do.
Tellingly, the only time we’ll talk about All Lives Matter, or inner city crime is when we’re trying to tell others that their grief and outrage are unwarranted. We won’t say “All lives matter” when Eric Garner has the life choked out of him in front of us. We pull up his prior history and write him off as a thug. We say that even though the officer used an illegal hold, banned by his office, he was right in doing so.
We don’t decry inner city violence when we vote, time after time, to defund programs and initiatives that hope to fix it. We say all lives matter, but our actions show that we don’t believe it.
I want Police To Be Safe Too
After the tragedy in Dallas protesters worked with the police to try and find the shooters. The Black Lives Matter movement came out and unequivocally condemned the shootings. Yes, some people online acted poorly, but the movement didn’t, even as many in the media and law enforcement called them the terrorist organization that caused this.
I know that most cops, an overwhelming majority of cops, are good people trying to protect their communities. The problem is, that for many person’s of color, they’re terrified of what will happen if the next time they’re pulled over, it’s not by one of those good cops.
Don Lemon, A CNN news anchor, said that the reason he complies with police as respectfully as he can whenever he’s stopped. He doesn’t do this out of respect, or because he’s trying to be nice. He does it because he’s afraid that if he doesn’t, he’ll be dead. In black communities, children are raised not to respect the police, but to fear them.
Fear doesn’t make cops safer.
I don’t want cops getting shot. I don’t want anyone to look at someone and judge them based on the uniform they wear. I don’t want communities to be hostile to them. I want them to get the training they need to de-escalate situations without feeling like their only only option is violence.
In 2015, of the nearly 1,000 people that died due to being shot by police, 250 of them were experiencing a mental or emotional break, something most officers do not know how to deal appropriately to someone in this situation. Our officers, that get put in harms way, don’t get the training they need.
Because I don’t want innocent civilians getting shot, but I know far too many that find it acceptable. I don’t want anyone to look at another person and judge them because of the color of their skin, but I know they do. The centre cannot hold.
Black Lives Matter
That is why I say Black Lives Matter. Not because I don’t think that “all lives matter.” Of course they do. The fact that so many think that this is a point that needs to be stated is exactly the problem. All Lives Matter, but all lives should matter equally. Right now, for many in the Black community, they live in fear because their lives don’t.
I don’t know what it’s like to be persecuted for the color of my skin. I don’t know what it’s like to be followed by law enforcement just because they think I look suspicious. I’ve never had a neighbor call the cops on me because I was out at night so they assumed I was up to no good. That’s why I want to listen to those who do, because I want to make it stop.
Black Lives Matter
The Image for this post is by Fibonacci Blue. It is licensed under CC 2.0.