A Typical Day of News Coverage
Welcome to Channel 6 News at noon… Today’s top story: an unarmed black man was fatally shot by police. Neither the victim or officer has been identified. The officer has reportedly been placed on administrative leave, with pay. Protesters have assembled peacefully at the local justice center.
Welcome to Channel 6 News at 6:00 p.m.…Today’s top story: an unidentified black man was fatally shot by police. A weapon was located at the scene. The shooting is currently under investigation and the officer has been placed on administrative leave, with pay. A small group of protesters has gathered in the city square. Police are responding, in riot gear to reports of looting and vandalism in the city square.
Has police use of deadly force created a disparate impact on the African American Community? Are African Americans being unfairly targeted by law enforcement? Is the propensity to use deadly force greater when the target is an African American more often than when the target is Caucasian? Where is the line drawn between the necessity of public safety and the use of force against African Americans? What is the purpose of protesting police involved shootings? How do local elections impact police and the use of deadly force?
In the past, I can remember telling people, especially friends, do not be afraid of the police if you have done nothing wrong. Be respectful and follow their directions and you will be fine, is what I said. That same advice is useful, but it is not necessarily the “gospel,” today. African American citizens are taken aback as media outlets repeatedly report stories about police-involved shootings and the deaths of black people throughout the country.
The death of Eric Garner at the hands of New York City Police Officers has occurred over and over again. Similar story, in that a black person was killed by a member of law enforcement. These deaths, although on the surface, appear to be the same old song; however as details are released there are facets of each case that cause them to vary in their differences. Regardless of the differences in these cases, they have all resulted in three similarities; death of a loved one, substantial civil suit settlements paid by taxpayers and lack of criminal prosecution of involved officers.
Protesters have marched, vandalized property, retaliated against police officers, refused service to police officers, all in the name of JUSTICE. But what have these actions really accomplished? Justice, that elusive result we often call for, but what is it really? Dictionary.com defines “justice” as administering what is just by law and “the administering of a deserved punishment or reward.” The justice we call for, in a nutshell, is simply punishment for the crime committed against us or the people we love. We want criminals, whether those criminals wear a badge or not, to be identified and prosecuted. When a life is lost, it not only impacts the victim and their family, but it impacts the offender and their family, in addition to the neighborhood the crime occurred in.
The thought pattern of some of my closest friends has moved past whether they will encounter a police officer, they now worry if they will survive an encounter with police. What do I do now, they ask. How can a man be shot for doing what he was instructed to do? He was instructed to get his identification, he reached for his wallet and the police officer shot him.
The Justice Department report on Ferguson Police Department has shed light on the policies and practices that impact the treatment of African American citizens day after day. The importance of revenue generation in addition to diminishing the validity of complaints of inappropriate behavior of officers has exacerbated the distrust of African American citizens in Ferguson. Although citizens in African American communities have complained about these injustices repeatedly, this eye-opening report is not evidence of an isolated incident of policy gone wrong. Similar inadequacies were discovered after a requested Department of Justice investigation by the Baltimore, Maryland Police Department. As with any situation, the first step is to admit there is a problem. The problems have been identified, the move to implement solutions must now be swift.
The job of a police officer remains a dangerous one. There has to be an understanding by the community of what is expected when encountered by police, but just as important, police officers must learn to adapt to fluid situations and attempt to de-escalate those situations, rather than make a use of force the first option. It should be understood that each situation in which force is applied is not the same and therefore the response by police should not be expected to be the same. Just as a nation, we should employ diplomacy prior to declaring war. Officers should attempt diplomacy prior to utilizing force when the opportunity presents itself. Just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should.