The United States of America is arguably one of the most advanced countries in the world, technologically and socially. Many Americans believed the days of the Civil Rights movement and protests were a thing of the past. Police brutality and misconduct have only recently become a major topic of concern. This can be accredited to social media and news outlets constantly informing the public of testimonies and statics that prove African American citizens are unjustly targeted by law enforcement. #BlackLivesMatter, #BlueLivesMatter, and #AllLivesMatter are social media- driven movements created to address this issue. Some members of law enforcement have unfairly targeted African-American citizens, and police departments must be reformed to guarantee the safety of all Americans.
Black men are killed at a higher rate by the hands of law-enforcement than any other group. According to Wesley Lowrey, reporter for The Washington Post, over a period of seven years ending in 2012, two times a week a white police officer killed a person. 18% of those shootings were acted upon an African-American male, compared to 8.7% of Caucasian males (Lowrey). These statistics alone show the injustices and discrimination that black men face in this country. Police officers are the people all Americans should trust their lives with. Sadly, only a portion of the country’s citizens can say this. African-American males only make up 13% of the population but account for 24% of police shootings (Lowrey). According to Timothy Williams, writer for New York Times, a study done by the Center of Police Equity concluded “African-Americans are far more likely than whites and other groups to be the victims of use of force by the police, even when racial disparities in crime are taken into account” (Williams). While it is important to guarantee the safety of citizens, it is unlawful to target the group specifically. Because of camera phones and social media, the public has the opportunity to see first-hand the misconduct of police officers. For example, Philando Castile was shot by officer Jeronimo Yanez in Falcon Heights, Minnesota after being pulled for a broken taillight. Castile was a licensed gun carrier and was simply reaching for that license when he was shot. His girlfriend who was in the passenger’s seat, recorded the aftermath on Facebook Live (Williams). Because of this social media outlet, the public saw another point of view they were not previously exposed to. Police brutality and misconduct is nothing new, the cameras are new.
Another profound topic around this issue is defining the term “use of force” by law enforcement. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is the research, development, and evaluation of the U.S. Department of Justice. According to the NIJ, the use of force is “the amount of effort required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling subject.” This means that the officer should only use force necessary until he or she is in control of the situation. If the suspect refuses to comply with law enforcers’ orders, officers have been given the right to use force, but only enough to either neutralize the threat or gain control of the situation. Any force beyond that point should be considered excessive and unnecessary (Police Use of Force). The use of deadly force is permitted, however, it should only be used as a method of last resort.
To my understanding, there are few situations that require deadly force. An example of permissible deadly force is in wake of a mass shooting or terrorist act, where the suspect is armed and having the will and ability to harm surrounding parties. Secondly, if the suspect charges the law enforcement officer, deadly force is permissible and required. However, deadly forcer should never be used if the suspects attempts to flee as force is only required when a threat is posed. Recent acts of excessive force have brought a great deal of controversy, which has caused the people of our nation, mostly African American citizens, to form a political and social organization named Black Lives Matter. While most police officers honor their vow to protect and serve, many fail to protect all citizens due to subconscious racial bias.
The Black Lives Matter organization has been a catalyst to protests around the country. According to their website, Black Lives Matter is a movement that began after the death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012. George Zimmerman, the man who killed him, was acquitted under Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law. The organization has since evolved into a “chapter-based national organization working for the validity of Black life” (“About the Black Lives Matter Network”). While many people and celebrities have come out in support of the movement, others criticize it for not including all lives.
The All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements developed as a response. According to the Blue Lives Matter website, the organization’s goal is “to honor and recognize the actions of the law enforcement to strengthen public support.” This group was created after riots in Ferguson, Missouri sparked in the aftermath of Officer Darren Wilson killing African-American teenager Michael Brown. Fellow police officers believe Wilson’s life was threatened and he had the right to use deadly force (“About Blues Lives Matter”). These groups also made a profound presence after the ambush of police officers in Dallas, Texas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana during the summer of 2016.
Supporters of these movements have also faced criticism for their lack of involvement when protests and injustices occur around the country. According to Daniel Victor, reporter for the New York Times, All Lives Matter may have been created to bring people together, but it has not. Many advocates for Black Lives Matter believe All Lives Matter is “a way to remove focus from the specific grievances of black Americans” (Victor). According to Keeanga- Yamahtta, assistant professor of African-American Studies at Princeton University, all lives matter is the general assumption. The point of Black Lives Matter is to bring awareness to the extent at which black lives have not mattered in this country (Victor). The debate between the different movements has also affected the social and political atmosphere in this year’s presidential election.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump have addressed the relationship between African-Americans and law enforcement. Clinton believes that minority groups have been victims of a broken justice system. Hillary Clinton’s website lays out her plans and goals for the future of America. According to her website, she plans to reform police departments and “strengthen bonds of trust between communities and police. To achieve that goal, we must first acknowledge that implicit bias still exists” (“Criminal Justice Reform”). The website On the Issues is a non-partisan website dedicated to informing voters about candidates. According to On the Issues, Trump believes there is a war on police and they “are the most mistreated people in America” (“Donald Trump on Crime”). Trump and Clinton’s views on social issues in the country played a big role in the outcome of the election. According to the New York Times exit polls, Donald Trump won the presidential election with 290 electoral votes. As a result, protests and riots have broken out across the country by people who believe Trump’s campaign was based on racism, xenophobia, and misogyny. This election also showed the racial divide between Caucasians and minorities in this country. 58% of Caucasian Americans voted for Trump, while 88% of African- Americans and 65% of Latinos and Asians voted for Clinton (“Election 2016: Exit Polls”). The results left many people shocked and proved that we have a long way to go as a country to gain common ground and truly be one united nation.
As a young African-American girl, I have been exposed to the injustices that minorities face everyday. I grew up watching my uncles informing my male cousins about the inherent burden of being a black man in America while also teaching them to proper way to interact with law enforcement. On the other hand, I have friends and family members who are policemen and truly want to make a difference in the world for the better. Many people, myself included, are torn because they feel they have to choose between being pro-black lives or pro-police lives. I choose to support both causes. I believe only a small amount of police officers are not doing their job correctly and most truly care about the people they serve. I whole-heartedly believe the police force must be reformed in order make minorities and law-enforcement feel like citizens, not targets.
Police officers also notice the corruption in departments. According to Patrick J. Lynch, president of the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), officers’ jobs have become so focused on meeting mandates, and these quotas are detrimental to the wellbeing of both citizens and officers (Lynch). In order to effectively patrol and enforce the law, officers must be treated as professionals (Lynch). According to Lynch, the elected officials are to blame for ignoring the failed management of police departments around the country (Lynch). Police officers and citizens both agree that the reformation of departments is a necessity.
The first step in the direction to reform the use of force by police is to demilitarize their departments so they aren’t viewed as occupying armies, or at least to the extent where they aren’t viewed as authoritarian in the simplest of situations. Secondly, if an officer violates the law, like any other citizen or public official, that individual should be held accountable. Thirdly, as a nation, no matter how difficult the approach may be in its infancy, community policing is necessary in all areas. Lastly, attempt to recruit a wide variety of officers so departments look like the community they serve.
In order to demilitarize police officers the process must first begin in police training academies. Officers should have extensive and annual training in situations where de-escalation is necessary. There have been far too many incidents in past years where excessive or deadly force had not been appropriate. I strongly believe if officers had received proper and continual training in regard to those types of settings, outcomes would have been less severe if not altogether avoided. In suggesting that officers be punished for their wrongdoing and malice intent against citizens, this will instill a fear and force officers to be conscious of their actions. In the majority of police brutality cases officers aren’t apprehended and if punished, it usually isn’t justified with the crime committed. With justice being served to law enforcement, it gives the notion that they are no longer invisible and will be held accountable. Examples must be made to assist in reform. The next step in reformation is to move away from the professional era of policing and gravitate towards community policing. This allows officers and well as community members to build bonds and trustful relationships. With ties to the community they patrol, it’s less likely that they terrorize its members with police tactics. And overall, having exposure to the areas they serve, allows officers the opportunity to care for the community and its members. Lastly, and what I believe to be the most important is to make an outgoing effort to further diversify police departments. Making our departments look like the communities they serve in their diversity. This allows members of both parties to feel more lax and less threatened when being approached knowing they won’t have the stereotypical officer respond to all calls.
America is a nation built on diversity and accepting everyone’s differences. As a nation, we have come a long way from segregation and Jim Crow laws separating different races and cultures. We are making progress, but the system reminds us everyday, progress is not made in a straight line. In order to continue progress, we must recognize our differences and understand that most people have similar concerns. Community policing is a step in the right direction to mend relations between minorities and law enforcement. Once all Americans truly feel safe in the country they call home, our nation will prove to the world that all lives matter.
“About the Black Lives Matter Network.” Black Lives Matter. Web. 9 Oct. 2016.
“Criminal Justice Reform.” Hillary Clinton. 8 July. 2016. Web. 9 Oct. 2016.
“Donald Trump on Crime”. On the Issues. 2 Oct. 2016. Web. 9 Oct. 2016.
Huang, Jon. “Election 2016: Exit Polls.” New York Times. 8 Nov. 2016. Web. 13 Nov. 2016
Lowery, Wesley. “Aren’t More White People than Black People Killed by Police? Yes, but No.” The Washington Post. 11 July. 2016. Web. 9 Oct. 2016.
Lynch, Patrick J. “For Real World Community Policing, Let Officers Do Their Jobs.” New York Times. 27 Oct. 2016. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.
“Police Use of Force.” National Institute of Justice. 13 Apr. 2015. Web. 9 Oct. 2016.
“Organization.” Blue Lives Matter. Web. 9 Oct. 2016.
Victor, Daniel. “Why ‘All Lives Matter’ Is Such a Perilous Phrase.” New York Times.
15 July. 2016. Web. 9 Oct. 2016.
Williams, Timothy. “Study Supports Suspicion That Police Are More Likely to use Force on Blacks.” New York Times. 7 July. 2016. Web. 27 Oct. 2016.