The amount of people killed by Philadelphia police officers in 2016, three to be exact, is lesser than the number (four) of individuals murdered this weekend in the city, where homicides are up roughly 10 percent over last year. Yet, Mr. Walter Hudson, a New Jersey based activist who often engages the Philadelphia community, said it is, and always has been, open season on Blacks here and elsewhere due to the those targeted, but not always shot or killed, by police.
Mr. Kelvyn Anderson, who leads the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission, said he doesn’t think it’s true that its open season on African-Americans, though he does acknowledge both that historically and today policing has dis-proportionally impacted, and not for good, Black and brown communities. However, the idea that police, particularly in Philadelphia, are hunting black bodies for sport is somewhat of a hyperbolic statement, suggested Mr. Anderson.
“You’re more likely to be stopped-and-frisked (in Philadelphia) than shot by police,” he said.
From Mr. Hudson’s perspective, stop-and-frisk is how police stalk their prey; it’s the starting point, he said, of the pipeline that leads to brutality and deadly force. History, if not data, proves that American police departments have seen black and brown bodies as prey, argues Mr. Hudson.
At the moment, history and data are prominent yet opposing components of the national conversation on race and policing. The truth is, according to the FBI, that Americans have no idea if Black people are more likely than their White counterparts to be targeted and/or shot by police due the Justice Department never before collecting such data; until now, that is.
Better numbers on officer-involved shootings, suggested FBI Director Mr. James Comey, would make it easier to decipher whether or not a pattern exist of police fatally shooting African-Americans.
Seemingly at odds with Mr. Comey’s argument is an acknowledgement of, and apology for, the “historical mistreatment” of minorities issued Monday by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, America’s largest police organization.
Though the apology, which was praised by the ACLU’s deputy legal director as a “significant admission,” was absent of a mention about deaths at the hands of police, it did concede that the history of policing has had dark periods.
Mr. Hudson, who chairs the National Awareness Alliance, wasn’t moved much by the apology, for they’re just words, he said, unless it’s accompanied by atonement.
“If they really feel that way,” Mr. Hudson said of the IACP, “then they should work with communities to bring about new policies, such as giving citizens the right to defend themselves if they fear for their life when faced with police officers whose actions are beyond the scope of their job.”
The apology from IACP referred to a more collaborative relationship with communities but it refrained from connecting itself to policy reforms. It is policy, in many ways, that dictates what police do on the streets; and though the apology didn’t advocate for reform, it did acknowledge that state and federal laws have required officers to perform unpalatable tasks.
Given the content of the apology issued on behalf of more than 15,000 American police chiefs, and the sentiments from Mr. Comey, what should determine the direction of reforms: history, data, or both?
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Photos courtesy of the author.