Austin Harrington reflects on the unprovoked, violent attacks on African Americans by police.
“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is in an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” — Frederick Douglass, April 1886
Another day, another black man and member of the American impoverished class killed by cops. This is quickly becoming the norm in America, or maybe it always has been but it’s just now being discussed by the public. Has a declaration of war been declared by police and I haven’t heard? It’s not terribly difficult to find a list of unarmed black men killed by police. Names like Michael Brown may be the first that come to mind, but he is definitely not alone.
Men such as Victor White III, who allegedly shot himself after being handcuffed and put into the back of a squad car, or Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell, who were killed after Cleveland police officers fired 137 shots into their car, have been forgotten in the national debate. Their lives are now defined by the mischaracterizations given by police during indictment hearings and the, extremely rare, jury trial.
I suppose after looking at the nations track record with minority groups and the poor, I shouldn’t be too surprised. Should any of us expect anything better from a country that clung to slavery longer than other industrialized nations, created Jim Crow laws, kept the right to vote from women and minorities and still attempts to suppress voter’s rights at every possible turn?
Maybe I am naïve to believe we can do better. Maybe I am stuck in the idealistic views I was brought up with. But even if it is naïve, I will always believe that those charged with protecting the citizens of this country need to be more than a gang in blue killing people on our streets. And until the time comes that police are held accountable and the dead are given justice, the names of the murdered should represent the reality in this country. That reality is that police have lost all respect for human life and now see poor neighborhoods as warzones. Need proof, just watch the news.
Each day, the news greets viewers with videos of people being shot by police as they flee for their lives like Walter Scott, run down by squad cars like Mario Valencia, choked like Eric Garner or just descriptions of a child being murdered by police while sitting on his own front porch like Tamir Rice. Then the increasingly graphic videos are followed up with discussions over whether or not the police officer crossed a line. Why is that the topic of the debate? We, as a nation, are the witnesses to these murders. We should not debate the difficulties of the cop’s job, but instead we should find ways to end the systemic racism that seems to be inherited by those who wear the uniform.
Even though I personally know police officers who I would hope are above these types of inhumane actions, I will not water down my statements by saying the murderous actions of a few do not represent the entirety of the American police force. Any department that has these types of people among their officers should be held accountable for all murders committed, because they allowed them to wear the uniform and represent the dep artment.
I grew up poor, with friends of many different cultures and races. I was taught early on that the color of a person’s skin should never be used as an indicator for that person’s worth. Many of my friends spent time in prison. Some were caught stealing, others with drugs and others for violent crimes. But all were given a chance to change after paying for their crimes.
Many of those friends are now tax paying, productive members of our society. They work jobs, pay their bill and try to create a better life for their children. All of these things were possible because when they were arrested they were treated like human beings. They may have been arrested and charged with crimes, but the humanity was there.
The men being killed by the police on a daily basis are not afforded these, what in modern day America can only be referred to as, luxuries. They are merely being executed for crimes they may or may not have committed. The guilty are given no chance for redemption and the innocent are given no chance to clear their name. This system of indifference for human life must change. We must do better.
If the police are to remain a necessary part of our society, and it is not a given that they must, they will need to become an actual force for justice. They will need to find ways to be welcomed by communities instead of feared. I have heard about police officers that coach little league teams and are dedicated to helping low income neighborhoods, but I have never seen them for myself. The stories are beginning to take on the form of myths in poor neighborhoods all over the country.
Why should people trust law enforcement if their only interactions are negative? If you only see the police arresting people, shooting dogs and handing out tickets in your community, why would they be a welcomed sight near your home?
There may be a war going on between the police and poor, minority neighborhoods, but the poor didn’t fire the first shots. We have been on the receiving end of unrestrained persecution, persistent harassment and unwarranted degradation for decades. Until the police start seeing everyone equally, they will continue to see people standing up against the brutal tactics of their regime. Only they can end the war. Only they can right the wrongs committed by their fellow officers.
Photo Credit: andreas_klodt/Flickr