HOW TO STOP ABUSIVE AND HOMICIDAL POLICE CONDUCT
Justice Is a Verb!
©Wendell Griffen, 2016
July 13, 2016
If this society truly intends to stop police from abusing and killing civilians, which they do in disproportionate numbers to people who are black, brown, red, and poor, we must do the following actions.
We must first treat abusive and homicidal conduct by police officers the same way other people are treated who engage in abusive and homicidal behavior.
Last week (July 4) Delrawn Small was shot to death by an off-duty police officer in Brooklyn, New York who then falsely claimed Small had punched him in a road-rage confrontation. Surveillance video footage proves that claim was untrue. The off-duty officer has not been arrested and charged with killing Small.
Last week Alton Sterling (July 5) was shot to death in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by an officer after having been tackled to the ground. Again, there is surveillance video footage of the shooting. The officer has not been arrested and charged with killing Sterling. The prosecutor in the case has recused, citing a long personal relationship with the parents of the officer who killed Sterling.
Last week (July 6) Philando Castile was shot to death in Falcon Heights, Minnesota by a police officer during a traffic stop. Castile was shot while seated in his vehicle and while obeying the officer’s directive to produce his driver’s license. Castile’s fiancé posted graphic video footage of the officer pointing his weapon at the dying Castile as she demanded to know why Castile was shot. The officer has not been arrested and charged with killing Castile.
Last week (July 9) Alva Braziel was shot to death in Houston, Texas in the middle of a traffic intersection. Officers claim he was killed because he pointed a gun at them. Surveillance video from a nearby convenience store appears to show Braziel holding his hands in the air above his head before he was shot. The officers who killed Braziel have not been arrested and charged with killing him.
Police officers should be subjected to and abide by the same standard of behavior applied to everyone else concerning conduct that is violent, vicious, and lethal. That has never been the case. Police officers know this. People of color know this. Judges and prosecutors know this. Voters know this. Pastors, rabbis, and other religious leaders know this. White people know this. If we want the abuse and killing to stop, we must arrest, charge, try, convict, and punish abusive and killer cops and stop making excuses for them.
White supremacy created this mess. White people must admit their cultural incompetence to correct it and accept leadership from culturally competent people who are black, brown, red, poor, and white.
People licensed to use violent force have been permitted to trample the rights of poor, red, black, and brown people throughout the history of this society so white people could unjustly gain and hold onto power, privileges, and opportunities. When white settlers encroached on land occupied by the indigenous red and brown people in this land in violation of treaties, white people applauded or looked the other way. When slave holders raped, tortured, kidnapped, and murdered Africans, white people applauded or looked the other way. White preachers and their congregants applauded or looked the other way. White politicians, business and civic leaders, and voters applauded or looked the other way. The police have always been able to count on white people to “back the blue” after poor, red, black, and brown people have been brutalized and murdered.
Beyond that, the police have been viewed by journalists and other media outlets as above reproach. Even in the face of compelling video evidence that police have killed unarmed black and brown civilians without cause, white prosecutors, judges, other political leaders, preachers and other religionists, and white voters have consistently rallied behind the police killers, not stood up for the black and brown victims.
Until white people admit their complicity in and condonation of abusive and homicidal police practices and policies, there is no reason black, brown, red, and poor people should treat their expressions of concern seriously. Stop blaming the victims and blame the victimizers, including the white supremacist mindset that glorifies the police because they protect white supremacy and privilege. Stop blaming hoodies, sagging pants, loud music, whether people have children while married or out of wedlock, and whether people come from single or two-parent families for how police abuse and kill black, brown, red, and poor people. Look in the mirror.
White people must also admit their cultural incompetence to correct the mess they’ve designed, created, funded, staffed, promoted, and defended. People who do not understand the moral and ethical virtue of the term “Black Lives Matter” are not competent to lead a conversation about fixing the current mess, let alone oversee the processes and resources needed to make necessary changes to it. Culturally competent black, brown, red, poor, and white people must lead the way ahead.
Abolish existing processes and practices associated with abusive and homicidal policing immediately!
Racial profiling must be stopped, immediately!
“Stop and frisk” police tactics must end, immediately!
Forced encounters between police and civilians where police are allowed to stop, question, and “request” to search anyone even without reasonable suspicion that the person has engaged in criminal behavior must cease, immediately!
Pretextual police stops (where police fabricate a reason to stop someone, such as by claiming a traffic violation) must cease, immediately!
Use of force protocol that permit lethal force when officers “fear for their safety” absent objective evidence of life-threatening behavior must be rescinded, immediately!
People have a right to be left alone! They have a right to walk, run, drive, talk, stand, gather, play, work, live, and otherwise engage in legitimate behavior without being stopped, questioned, and traumatized by other people who wear badges, carry lethal weapons, and are part of a culture known for engaging in abusive and homicidal behavior with impunity.
People have a right to put their hands in their pockets without being treated as murder suspects. People have a right to refuse to interact with police. People have a right to refuse to open their locked homes, cars, luggage, and other property without being victimized, wrestled to the ground, mauled, and humiliated.
Ending these practices can happen immediately. It does not require a lawsuit, election, or town hall meeting. Police agency leaders and the public officials responsible for overseeing their performance can and should announce that these practices are immediately ended and will no longer be tolerated. They can and should announce that all current police personnel will undergo retraining and cultural competence examination, effective immediately.
But we have not already ended these practices because police leaders and the white power operators to whom they have sworn allegiance and whose interests they protect enjoy the way things are. Cultural destructiveness, incapacity, indifference, and pre-competence on the part of existing political, civic, social, and policing leaders are why we have not abolished the processes and practices responsible for our existing atmosphere of violence and distrust.
Establish, fund, staff, and support independent and aggressive review protocol concerning abusive and homicidal policing allegations.
People have good reason to distrust police and prosecutors to conscientiously investigate, charge, and prosecute police officers who are suspected of having committed abusive or homicidal conduct. We do not allow teammates to referee sporting events. Likewise, we should not expect police to be impartial investigators of suspicious behavior by their co-workers that maims or kills others. And we should not expect prosecutors who routinely work with police in a given jurisdiction to be objective and fair-minded to investigate and prosecute allegations of abusive and homicidal police conduct.
An independent agency responsible for investigating, reporting, and prosecuting allegations of abusive and homicidal police conduct should be created, funded, staffed, and supported in every locality and state. That agency should be fully independent from political partisanship, and commissioned to investigate and prosecute suspicious police practices that result in abuse and death on its own volition, not at the belated or begrudging invitation of defensive police agency leaders and politicians. The agency should be staffed with crime scene investigators, prosecutors, and other technical personnel. The agency should be authorized to subpoena records, conduct interviews, and lodge criminal charges against police suspected of abusive and homicidal behavior.
Judges must stop shielding abusive and homicidal police behavior.
Judges determine whether conduct is deemed reasonable or legally unacceptable. Court decisions now allow police to use lethal force based on “fear of officer safety” without objective evidence that a police officer is confronting someone who presents a real and present lethal threat. These decisions exist because judges are more likely to be police sympathizers than civil libertarians.
Civilians are not deemed justified in killing others based on fearfulness without proof they have been actually threatened with lethal force. Being scared of others because they are physically, ethnically, politically, socially, occupationally, nationally, religiously, or otherwise different is no reason to attack and kill them. That standard should apply to police officers also. It is either reasonable for everyone (including the police) or no one.
This means voters and other judicial selection bodies must exercise care when electing (judges are elected in 39 states) and selecting (governors and judicial selection commissions) judges. It is not enough for a candidate to promise to be fair and “tough on crime.” If the candidate has not demonstrated cultural competence and commitment to fairness concerning the plight of marginalized communities, then voters and judicial selection bodies should not elect or select that candidate for judicial office. As Justice Hugo Black wrote in an 1940 opinion (Chambers v. Florida) while on the U.S. Supreme Court, “Courts …stand as havens of refuge for those who might otherwise suffer because they are helpless, weak, outnumbered, or …non-conforming victims of prejudice and public excitement.” People selected as judges must possess cultural competence, courage, and integrity to do this work.
The current unjust system can be fixed.
Our current predicament is not like weather, something beyond human control. Humans created it. We can abolish the dysfunctional system we created and replace it. But we will not do so until we stop defending and trying to prop or patch current policies, procedures, and practices and the people who operate them.
We must admit the reality of white supremacy and its oppressive force. We must replace what we have with culturally competent people, policies, processes, and practices. We must hold abusive and homicidal police actors accountable. We must establish, fund, staff, and support fully independent review agencies to investigate, charge, and prosecute abusive and homicidal police actors. We must elect and select culturally competent prosecutors and judges.
Each of these things can be done. We can begin doing them immediately. The only thing stopping us is our unwillingness to change, be changed, and truly become a just society. Time will tell whether politicians and preachers, business owners and workers, students and senior citizens, white people and people of color, police leaders and people from communities of color will embrace this plan of action.