Widespread examples of excessive force by police, though devastating, does offer teachable moments. Maybe those fortunate civilians who never had to deal with police brutality, those who see officers as their “friends,” can now relate to what people of color have endured for years.
The plethora of reports on unarmed black men being injured or gunned down by white officers has reached epidemic proportions which can no longer be ignored. Media scrutiny has shined a light on a facet of life that black people know all too well, but which most white people seldom see.
As President Barack Obama said this week, tensions between police and local residents (often minority) is “not new, and we shouldn't pretend that it's new." Black folks have been complaining about it for generations. It really happens to us, our children, parents, relatives and friends more often that it should. It’s a fact of life; we’re not making this up.
April 29 marks the twenty-third anniversary of the L.A. riots that followed the acquittal of four white police officers who beat black motorist Rodney King. Had it not been for a civilian with a video camera, we might not have ever known what happened.
Top law enforcement officials across the country like our Attorney General Kamala Harris are calling for more police accountability, and particularly that officers wear body cameras. However, even with 4 LAPD officers being caught on video beating King while he was on the ground, they were still acquitted. Even with video showing Eric Garner being choked to death by officers, and audio of him telling them he could not breathe, they still walked free.
It’s clear that we are going to need more than clear video evidence to bring justice to our communities. As one woman said after the King verdict, “They want me to believe, I did not see what I saw.”
Video does help, as in the case of Walter Scott, who was shot 8 times, unarmed while clearly running away from the police. But for every case like this one, there are 10 others where bad cops get away with murder.
Now that the Dept. of Justice is getting more involved in police shootings of unarmed suspects, hopefully the scales will become more balanced. It will take a multi-layered approach to solve this horrible problem. It will take a national standard for training officers, which must address cultural and racial stereotypes, excessive force, mental and emotional health, a broken justice system, more diverse jury selection, and of course, cameras.
In Baltimore, as police brace for another possible night of rioting, healing is already taking place. Volunteers have rolled up their sleeves to help clean up the mess made by protestors who allowed anger to destroy the very community they depend on to work, shop, worship and raise families.
America’s history of strained relations between the black community and police must be revised. And that means taking ownership of our communities. We must not allow terrorists to control our neighborhoods, whether they are police who seek to do harm or knee-jerk reactionaries looking for an excuse to loot and destroy property.
It’s good that others are starting to relate to our pain, but it’s even better when we step up in unity, working to eradicate bad guys on both sides.