NO EXCUSE FOR POLICE VIOLENCE
“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled. The words “Equal Justice Under Law” are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand — one that all of us should be able to get behind.” General James Mattis, former Trump administration Secretary of Defense
Once again, the country is in turmoil because excessive force by police killed a Black man, George Floyd. Once again people are angry and taking their demands for justice, and real change, to the streets. In too many places the police response has been more excessive violence proving the legitimacy of the protesters’ complaints. When will the legitimate demands of people of color for “equal justice under law” be seriously addressed?
There is no excuse for excessive force by police. It MUST STOP. Police officers who do not understand this MUST be prosecuted, fired, or resign. In the last four and a half years 1,252 black people have been killed by police (according to the Washington Post). This is unacceptable! Those of us who are the beneficiaries of white privilege MUST stand up and speak out.
Racism is endemic in our society. It has been a dominant theme in our history. It has shaped our public policy since colonial times. We all know the history of slavery, Jim Crow, the KKK, educational, employment, and housing discrimination. It was not just in the deep south. Even Duluth had a lynching. Northern cities have de facto segregated schools. Much of American history is a denial of justice and equality for minorities.
As a liberal, educated white person who has lived and worked with minorities, I consider myself pretty egalitarian. I am not a racist. But latent racism is part of my subconscious. There are times when I feel uncomfortable walking past a group of young black men, or driving in certain neighborhoods. Intellectually I reject these feelings but they are there. We all have this latent fear of others. It is part of who we are as tribal Homo sapiens. It should not be surprising that police officers reflect this inherent racism.
We cannot deny that racism affects police procedures and actions. The statistics are clear and unambiguous. Few whites suffer from “stop and frisk” polices. No whites are pulled over for simply driving in a predominantly black neighborhood. No whites are suspected of car theft simply because they are driving an expensive car. Few unarmed whites are shot in the back, shot multiple times, or shot while on the ground. We cannot deny that people of color are profiled, ticketed, arrested, incarcerated, and killed more frequently than whiles. We cannot deny that too many people of color are killed by police in situations that do not justify the use of lethal force.
Yes, the police have important, difficult, dangerous jobs. But this does not justify use of excessive force. The slogans “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” should be recognized for what they are… lame efforts to change the subject and direct attention away from the unjust treatment of people of color, immigrants and the poor by police. The police need to do less CYA and more “protect and serve.”
Too many police are simply trigger happy. Too many police think they are the law. Arresting people for talking back or taking videos is not appropriate. Shooting people for resisting arrest or running away is excessive. In fact, shooting people for actually stealing is not justified. High speed chases endanger the public. The police are supposed to be the trained professionals with many options to control the situation. Excessive use of force, especially deadly force, is simply not justified unless citizens or police officers are in immediate, life threatening danger.
The many examples of excessive force are not only egregious because of the racism involved, but also excessive use of lethal force endangers us all. The lack of justification and accountability threatens the integrity of the judicial system. The extreme militarization of police should be a red flag to all of us. It illustrates that we are moving toward a police state.
I have attended rallies organized by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. I was impressed by the reasonableness of their “demands.” The basic objective of the organizers, and the larger national movement, is to stop the use of excessive force. They want the violence against people of color to stop. They want to stop the unwarranted racial profiling. They want police officers who do use excessive force, especially deadly force, to be held accountable. They want procedures and citizen oversight put in place to insure change actually happens. The Campaign Zero web has the whole list of demands. I believe these demands are entirely reasonable.
As General Mattis has also said, “The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values — our values as people and our values as a nation.” As he says above, these are demands “… all of us should be able to get behind.”
So, I will be using my “white privilege” to help. I will be contacting my representatives to demand action on these issues. I hope you will do the same in your community.