No Justice No Peace: Police Brutality in America
Updated: Jul 15, 2020
With protests demanding justice for George Floyd erupting throughout the country, it is clear that COVID-19 isn't the the only pandemic afflicting America. Racism underlying police brutality plagues this country, having lurked in the shadows of our history for hundreds of years.
Every so often, we see a person of the Black community unjustly killed by an "innocent" policeman, who gets away with his crimes without any charges. It happened to Aura Rosser, it happened to Michael Brown, it happened to Stephon Clark. We've witnessed the shooting of children like Tamir Rice. Even Botham Jean, a Black man who was simply enjoying some ice cream on his couch, wasn't safe from a local policewoman's gun. And every year, we see a bit of protest flare up and subsequently die down, guilty policemen protected by police unions and acquitted of their crimes by blindsided juries, and most importantly, little to no change. Majority of the nation has sat idly by...but not with George Floyd. His murder marks a paradigm shift in police reform fueled by countrywide rioting. And while some may be inquiring what makes George Floyd different, a more apt question might be, "Why haven't we done this sooner?"
It should never have come to this point. Breonna Taylor, Phillando Castille - too many have suffered the same fate just to be met with inaction. We are taught that "those who forget history are doomed to repeat it". Yet when it comes to racism-based police brutality, this country may as well be historically illiterate. Even after slavery was abolished, racism prevailed in every aspect of life for Black Americans. Black codes were militarily enforced by local police forces, many of whom were members of the Ku Klux Klan. Today, history has barely evolved, as white-supremacist police officers with unbridled power manifested in their guns senselessly continue to brutally harass members of the Black community.
For misdemeanors that white people might walk away from without so much as a fine, Black citizens are violently arrested and jailed or killed. Worse, officers protected by police unions go untried in court, with all records destroyed. According to the Los Angeles Times, "Some law enforcement organizations are charging high fees for records, destroying documents and even ignoring court orders to produce the files." Additionally, police unions that protect officers from being charged emphasize qualified immunity, a doctrine that prevents police from lawsuits as long as an extremely specific violation did not occur, encouraging further crimes against the Black population. And it all stems from police academies. Officers are taught to seek and neutralize threats based on skin color, engendering a natural instinct of offense over defense. With only 10-36 weeks of training (as compared with years in other countries, according to CBS News), police officers in the United States simply lack the discipline and consequences to restrain themselves. Due to fundamental racism, an abuse of power, a natural instinct for violence, and a lack of consequences, police are allowed to target innocent Black communities, forcing them to live in perpetual terror of arrest.
Because that's just one of the many effects of police brutality: perpetual terror. Constant paranoia haunts the Black citizens of our nation in even the most ordinary of situations. As author Brent Staples recounts in his article Just Walk on By, "I began to take precautions to make myself less threatening. I move about with care, particularly late in the evening. I give a wide berth to nervous people on subway platforms during the wee hours, particularly when I have exchanged business clothes for jeans." In a New York Times documentary entitled A Conversation With My Black Son, a woman expresses her thoughts on teaching her children to be careful of themselves: "It’s maddening. I get so frustrated and angry about having to prepare my kids for something that they’re not responsible for." According to the NAACP, 65% of Black people believe they are racially targeted by police. This is the life of a Black man in America -- a state of constant anxiety, knowing he could be wrongly accused of being a threat at any time. Children are taught things no child should have to know, like what to do when getting pulled over, or how to act less threatening.
Our country's core principles include freedom and democracy. The founding fathers fought for these ideals when Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." And while their intentions were exclusive of groups such as the African American slave population of those times, America is now living in a very different, modern era, where all groups are considered equal under the law. Is police brutality, then, not a constitutional violation of those unalienable rights so endowed upon Black members of society? How can they be expected to live in the pursuit of happiness if they must watch their every movement lest they are perceived as dangerous, as so many are?
The answer is: they can't, and it's because of the racist fundamentals consciously or unconsciously lurking within the minds of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Institutional racism within police stations is finally getting its place in its spotlight, showing the country that the "solutions" we have in place aren't enough. Body cameras and civilian review boards are ineffective and fallible, with a multitude of loopholes for police officers to get around. Police have the power to turn off their body cameras at any given time, and civilian review boards can be packed with police. Recent protests have been calling for structural reform within police stations - namely, the reallocation of funds. Many are voicing support for the de-funding of police stations, reasoning that a redistribution of these funds to other departments and organizations might be a better use of the money, as it would mitigate potential abuse of power.
Structural reform and de-funding are steps in the right direction, but many states have yet to implement them. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York recently repealed a law that protected police records from the public eye. "This is systemic reform of police departments", said Governor Cuomo in a press conference last month. "This is sitting down and taking a look at exactly what they do and have been doing, and looking at it through a new lens of reform and reinvention. Because this has been 40, 50 years in the making." Other states are also taking action to minimize police brutality cases. Minnesota, the home state of George Floyd, is working to pass a multitude of legislative bills in response to his death. Colorado's Senate Bill 217 also enacts reform among policemen, changing the way they will execute their jobs for years to come.
For successful change to be enacted, however, other states need to take action as well. The only way to create a lasting impact is to implement reforms on a national scale, but that begins with the legislative responses on local and state levels. With an increasing number of citizens speaking out against systematic racism, police reform may finally reduce unjust Black killings in America. However, as national protests fiercely continue, it is clear that policemen have resorted to arbitrary and unwarranted tactics: aiming rubber bullets for the head, releasing tear gas, and arresting peaceful protesters. "Cop-aganda" attempts - propaganda vilifying protesters and idolizing police forces - are posted through popular social media platforms by police departments to influence the public's perception and salvage their reputation. Such barriers to police reform serve only as hindrances to the path of racial justice.
At the end of the day, human rights are exactly that: rights, not politics. So why are they still being denied? It was never okay, not from the origins of African enslavement to the 21st century. For hundreds of years, the Black community has fought relentlessly for their rights as equal citizens, yet they are still being punished unjustly by the racial bigotry embodied in the very people with a duty to protect them. No longer may we remain silent, for silence is the loudest approval of Black oppression. For justice, for freedom, for equality, and for our fellow humans, we emerge from our quietude and we fight.
"He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.
#BlackLivesMatter #ACAB #Racism #PoliceBrutality #BLM #ICantBreathe #NoJusticeNoPeace
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