Thursday, July 7, 2016

It's Time to Get Beyond the Politics and Take Action to End the Police Killings of African-Americans

[This article also appears on Huffington Post. You can access it from my author page: ]

Exploding defective airbags have killed 10 Americans, resulting in the costly recall of “many millions” of cars.
One American died from a Zika virus infection, and Congress is considering legislation to spend over $1 billion to help combat it.
A few hundred people who ate at Chipotle were victims of an e. coli outbreak, and the CDC sprung into action, as Chipotle’s stock price nearly dropped in half.
However, police have killed at least 136 black people in 2016 so far (sadly, I have to write “so far”), and the reaction by governmental bodies and those in power has been ... nothing. And there has not been enough of an outcry by Americans to move their leaders to action.
We watch on video after video after video as police officers shoot defenseless black people, and while an occasional indictment might result, nothing is done by cities, states or the federal government to address the larger, systemic problem.
Innocent people are dying, and we do nothing.
Now, sadly, in the current hyper-ideological, hyper-partisan atmosphere, everything is politicized. Some conservatives reacted to Black Lives Matter with All Lives Matter (even as the implication of Black Lives Matter is that Black Lives Matter ALSO, since white lives already matter as the police do not regularly shoot unarmed white people). These conservatives can’t even admit there is a problem ― it must be the fault of those shot ― because to do so would (big inhale): show disrespect for police officers, show disrespect for the Second Amendment, show a lack of support for tough crime enforcement, require agreement with terrible liberals who are always wrong ... I could go on. And that is without wading into the obvious racism at play.
But the total denial of the existence of this problem is insane. It takes someone watching these videos, watching an innocent man be shot for no reason, and somehow see the victim as wrong. It requires someone to ignore the avalanche of these killings of innocent people and pretend it’s somehow just some isolated incidents, not a systemic problem.
Now, of course, to keep the argument from shifting into accusations that I am attacking the police, I am forced to state some patently obvious things:
  • The overwhelming majority of police officers do good and honorable work.
  • Police officers have a difficult job, as they have to make potentially life-and-death decisions in a split second.
  • Police lives matter, and sometimes police officers have to use force to defend themselves and the members of the communities they serve, and sometimes they are the victims of horrible violence.
But here is the thing: None of those things has anything to do with the epidemic of police killings of African Americans in this country. Zero. All of these things can be true, and there can still be a massive, tragic problem we should be addressing head-on in this country.
To say that there is a problem is not disrespectful to police officers. This epidemic of killing innocent people is the result of damaged systems and poisonous cultures, not a problem of individuals. A fantastic New York Times Magazine profile of an African-American New York Police Department officer who tried to help change the culture in the department relating to race showed at the individual level how deeply ingrained the problem is.
Given the geographic range of places where these killings are taking place ― North and South, East and West and in-between ― this is a systemic national problem. Something has gone horribly wrong that allows these killings of innocents to happen again and again.
Can’t we get past the ridiculous my-side-your-side politics of this issue and just address the unnecessarily dead bodies on the videos in front of us? Can’t we look at the hundreds of deaths of black people at the hands of the police, year after year, and say, hey, something is wrong here and we should try and fix it?
It’s time we stand up as a country and say, “Enough. Not a single other black person should be needlessly killed by the police.”
It’s time for government action. It’s time for every mayor and city counsel, every governor and state legislature, and the president and Congress to take measures to end the killings. Whether it’s changes of leadership, training and/or practices, changes have to be made.
And it’s time for every American to stand up and demand these actions.
As a country, we have moved quickly to address defective airbags, the Zika virus and e. coli outbreaks, none of which killed as many people as the number of African-American people killed by the police.
It’s time for a national change in approach to the issue. If you watch a police officer shoot and kill Philandro Castile in cold blood for no reason at all and think anything else but, “We have to do something about this,” you’ve lost your soul to your ideology, party or, dare I say it, your racism.
No, every American ― right and left, blue and red, North and South, white and black ― who sees that video should be outraged and demand that their representatives ― Democrat or Republican ― do something about this.
It’s enough. We can’t expect to hold ourselves out to the world ― or even to ourselves ― as a country of freedom and the rule of law if we allow the regular, systematic slaughter of innocent people because of their race.
I’m tired of the politics on an issue that shouldn’t be political. It’s time for consensus (killing innocent people is wrong) and government action. Will the Republican leaders have the guts to stand up for what is right and lead? Will Democratic leaders have the guts to move from rhetoric to action? It’s time.