Until There Is a True Accounting, There Can Be No Accountability
#blacklivesmatter #HandsUpDontShoot #icantbreathe
An incredible lack of oversight exists in the way this country polices itself. And it affects all lives–black, white, asian, you name it. Yes, resisting arrest is unlawful, but how do you trust a police system to arrest you and keep you safe while in custody when your faith in that force is nonexistent? How do you teach your child “do not resist arrest” when you fear your child will be abused or killed while in police custody? The system is broken. Here are a few ways the country can fix it:
1. On a national level, we need a consistent way of reporting the deaths that occur at the hands of the police, whether they are through shootings or deaths while in police custody. The FBI tracks some of these statistics, but the ways in which municipalities report them are so inconsistent as to be meaningless. The US has more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies, but the FBI receives self-reported data from only a small percentage. We need one national standardized system so we can better measure and assess police effectiveness or ineffectiveness, and whether necessary force or excessive force was used. Until there is a true accounting, there can be no accountability. http://online.wsj.com/articles/hundreds-of-police-killings-are-uncounted-in-federal-statistics-1417577504
2. Transparency in statistical reporting needs to carry over to transparency in grand jury decisions. There is no compelling reason why the decision process of the Eric Garner NYC grand jury should remain under wraps. Nor is there a compelling reason for the grand jury decision to be veiled in Wisconsin, where a man with Down Syndrome died in police custody. A truly just system is capable of withstanding public scrutiny.
3. We need to rethink the role of the police and improve their education. Officers need to be better trained in conflict resolution and intercultural communication in order to de-escalate tense situations and deal with people who many not understand them due to language barriers, hearing loss, or mental illness. Conflict resolution without the loss of life should be the main goal. Officers need to warn arrestees that force will be used if they resist arrest (which did not happen in the Eric Garner case), and officers need to be aware that arrestees are likely scared and may not be able to fully understand directions (as in the case of an elderly white man who was nearly deaf). When officers arrest someone, they hold that person’s life in their hands and should be responsible for it. To protect and serve doesn’t mean to put someone in an illegal chokehold that kills him. Police have to learn to defuse situations more effectively, not escalate them. (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/05/opinion/we-must-stop-police-abuse-of-black-men.html?_r=0) I do not believe that a police officer wakes up in the morning with a gleeful inclination to kill someone. I do, however, think that bullies sometimes make their way onto the police force alongside well-intentioned women and men. I also think the training officers get is insufficient preparation for protecting public safety, and in many situations, as we have seen, they–the officers–become the real danger to safety.
4. One of the best ways to regain community trust is this way: Any death while in police custody needs to be investigated by an outside review board that includes citizens, not by the police themselves. It makes no sense for the police to have the authority to be able to clear themselves of wrongdoing when someone in their care dies. (For information on how this change is occurring in Wisconsin, read the story of a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force whose son was shot in the head by police: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/08/what-i-did-after-police-killed-my-son-110038_Page2.html#.VIM2A9q9KSM).
5. Accountability through technology. When we provide our police with military surplus, we send a message to officers that we want them to act more like Rambo rather than like someone whose job is to protect a community (and earn the trust of the community in the process). Let’s stop sending this message. One potential way of earning community trust and keeping officers honest is the officer-cam program being piloted in Philadelphia and other cities. Officers wear cameras that keep them accountable. This is a step in the right direction, but in some cases these cameras have been known to “malfunction” at times when officers have resorted to deadly force. Convenient, huh? Again, independent review should be used to investigate such officers. The police should not be the ones doing those investigations.
6. White people out there, now I am talking specifically to you. Stop drawing attention away from the important issue. Stop saying stupid bullshit like “blacks are their own worst enemy” or “the rioting in Ferguson makes it acceptable that blacks are viewed more suspiciously by law enforcement because blacks don’t give white folks nearly enough examples of good behavior to think otherwise of them.” Statements like these simply show your bias and the unfortunate fact that you’re not even aware of the privilege you take for granted. If you’ve ever said anything like this–or if you have said nothing at all–you need to look at the world through different eyes. A black person could make the same complaint against white people: That white people riot over stupid things like the Super Bowl and the World Series, that white people repeatedly give the black community reason after reason to think the worst of them. Whites do that by hassling blacks with stop and frisk policies, by racially profiling them, by redlining their neighborhoods, by underfunding their schools so that their children are less academically prepared–all of which adds up to a system that denies black Americans the same access to upward mobility that most white Americans have. You say blacks need to change the way they are racially perceived by whites? Well, blacks can can just as easily say it needs to start with whites working to change how they are racially perceived by black people. It’s a two-way street, baby. Own your bias and replace it with empathy that might actually create positive change. And guess what, white America? If you help stop the abuse of black Americans by the police you will also help stop the police abuse that gets perpetrated on white people, too.
7. We need to see these changes and we need to see them now. We need national leadership to make this happen. Obama needs to create a national reporting structure for deaths associated with the police and he needs to work to create a system of citizen review. Until we live in a society where our police force serves and protects its citizens–and NOT the interests of a power structure designed to perpetuate massive economic disparity through a corrupt capitalistic system–until then, I say march, goddamn it, demonstrate, goddamn it, do what it takes to keep you and yours safe. This should include going out and voting for politicians who will make our police force accountable. To protect and serve needs to actually mean something.
For more on the need for a true accounting of police-related deaths, read the following. Here’s a teaser: “No government—not the federal government, and not the thousands of municipalities that give their police forces license to use deadly force—wants you to know how many people it kills and why.” http://gawker.com/what-ive-learned-from-two-years-collecting-data-on-poli-1625472836
UPDATE, Dec. 18, 2014: Since posting this blog, Congress has dusted off an old piece of legislation requiring national reporting of police-related deaths, which the had de-funded years ago. It’s only a first step. And I doubt it would have happened without all the protesters out there. Your actions can–and do–work, so don’t give up the fight. –KM
[The artist of the painting above is Patrick Campbell. Please follow his FB page at: https://www.facebook.com/PatrickCampbellArt.%5D
#EricGarner #ferguson #policeabuse #fatalencounters