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Opinion: Police Need to Join Protestors, Rally For Self-Reform

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega Opinion: Police Need to Join Protestors, Rally For Self-ReformPhoto via the People's Justice Project.
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“But we’re talking about racial healing in this segment. What do you say to Americans, people of color who…” began Lester Holt, NBC Nightly News anchor and moderator for the first presidential debate on Monday.

“– I say nothing. I say nothing,” Donald Trump interjected, following up with a statement of self-pride for being able to get the country’s first Black president to release his birth certificate.

Earlier that day, at a city council meeting in Columbus, People’s Justice Project protestors and other advocates demanded change. Storming the meeting, more than 100 people called for reform in police funding, training and procedure after waiting two weeks for an independent investigation into the shooting death of 13-year-old Tyre King.

Their demands include turning the city’s Summer Safety Initiative over to the community and reallocating funds to prevention and healing services. They also made the reiterative push for investigations by third parties into the deaths of King and 23-year-old Henry Green, killed by police in June.

These requests highlight some of the core issues eroding the trust between the community and law enforcement.

Minority communities nationwide display this lack of trust — a Gallup poll as recent as July found that 58 percent of white people have confidence in the police compared to 29 percent of black people. The suspicion around police motives and actions, as well as any consequences that follow those actions, is rooted in repeated systemic shortcomings:

  • Police continue to investigate their own cases even when it is widely known the force operates under a “code of silence,” protecting them from discipline for crimes such as police brutality;
  • There is not enough focus on community policing;
  • Therapy for cops to address implicit biases — like the automatic association of Black males and criminality — is virtually nonexistent, raising the chances that an officer who does hold these biases will act based on them;
  • The police force has a well-documented inability to appropriately identify and respond to individuals with a mental illness.

Keeping this in mind, whether or not the shooting of Tyre King was justifiable (no video evidence has come up showing King pulling a gun on Mason) doesn’t matter. The justice system is flawed. Taxpayers are funding an entity failing to protect communities who are low in the social, political and economic hierarchy that’s rooted in very recent history.

Those who think race relations magically mended in 1964, with the passing of the Civil Rights Act, needed only to turn to the presidential debate stage. Change takes time, and looking at the Republican nominee for president makes it seem as though no time has passed at all.

On Monday night stood a candidate who had “nothing” to say about racial healing. His solutions involved reinstating the unconstitutional Stop-and-Frisk law imposed by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and “law and order.”

“Law and order,” in other terms, means continuing the over-policing, over-charging, over-convicting and over-incarceration of people of color, who disproportionately occupy urban centers where crime rates are high and resources are low.

But it isn’t just low-income communities involved in the racial divide. Companies large and small pay unfair wages determined by race and gender. Yes, even though slavery has ended and everyone can vote (debatable), people are still being passed up for opportunities. And, even if a person of color is hired, the common thought is that s/he didn’t earn it — s/he just needed to fill the spot of a non-white employee.

Last week at a luncheon at the Boat House celebrating women in business, keynote speaker Donna James, Managing Director of Lardon & Associates LLC, related this exact experience. A coworker said to her that the “jury was still out” as to whether she was actually qualified enough to have made it to her position or if she was chosen simply for being a black female.

“You know, people who look like me think that people who look like you feel this way. It’s not often that we hear it,” she recalled saying to him. “But if that’s all it takes to achieve at this level, just to be black and female, then why aren’t there more people here that look like me?”

The experience was one of many in her “Journey to Confidence,” which detailed her life of success in spite of stigma surrounding her teen pregnancy, the weight of familial struggles and the ever-present racism encountered in conversations like the one with “Ralph,” whose name was changed to protect his identity.

But Trump ignored all of this. No matter which way he could have engaged with people of color, he had “nothing” to say.

This is the same candidate endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police — the police union with which the Columbus Police Department is associated. The nation’s largest police union supports a candidate who’s consistently shown no interest in mending the relationship with the people most alienated by his supporters.

The nation’s largest police union is saying they are not on the side of the communities they’re policing — yet these communities are told to trust them. Trust them that they won’t racially profile their children for traffic stops. Trust them that any implicit bias they may have about minorities won’t affect their decision to shoot. Trust that if they do shoot, there was no other way, and that justice was served.

If the Columbus Police Department and its officers really are concerned about justice then it’s time they report crimes committed by their cohorts. It’s time they join groups like the People’s Justice Project in storming city council instead of escorting them out. It’s time they rally on behalf of the communities they’ve sworn to protect and demand reform. It’s time for all to admit there is a systemic disease — it’s in every area of life. It’s what perpetuates the quality of life for people in low-income neighborhoods, and it’s what compelled James’ “Ralph” to minimize the success of a woman of color.

It is time to bridge the divide. Listen, engage, learn — not just the police, but all who drown out these voices of protest with the divisive sentiment, “Blue Lives Matter.”

“You’re killing us,” said one protestor on Monday night. “And our lives matter.”

Photo by Walker Evans.

Photo by Walker Evans.

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