When reading of the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, amid the sadness and rage, I had a moment of feeling grateful that we have tools like cell phone cameras and the Internet so that such atrocities don’t remain hidden.
But then I thought of Traudl Junge describing growing up in Germany in the 1930s. After the war she had an epiphany: “But one day I walked past the memorial plaque for Sophie Scholl on Franz-Joseph-Straße and there I realised that she was my age group and that she was executed the year I came to Hitler. That moment I felt that being young actually isn’t an excuse and that maybe one could have learnt about things.”
I think the quote leaped out in my mind because Philando Castile is the same age as I am.
I then have to think about Jimmy Wilson, a black Alabama laborer, who in 1958 broke into the house of a white woman and stole $1.95. He was sentenced to death.
This isn’t new. It’s just a time where those of us with privilege can see these events with a greater clarity.
Perhaps the ugly realization that we have to make about our criminal justice system is that these murders aren’t a sign that it’s broken. They’re a sign that it’s working as originally intended.
Therefore body cameras or piecework legislation isn’t adequate. We need a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system. Here’s where we start:
– More work needs to be done publicly connecting the dots between routine revenue-collecting traffic stops, which disproportionately target people of color and escalate into police brutality, and the ideology of small government/no-new-taxes. So long as cops remain armed and deputized to make up for municipal revenue shortfalls by mining majority-minority communities for ticketable offenses, these shootings will only continue.
– Ban the box. This is a system of social control where felons are obligated to disclose any felonies on their record. This only became common practice after the civil rights movement when race based discrimination became illegal. To continue legally discriminating, the range of felonies were dramatically expanded, often targeted at social problems within black communities. It’s still legal to discriminate against former felons.
– Train police officers to de-escalate situations. Reorient policing to be social workers who do have the capacity to intervene violently in the worst case scenario, instead of people who are sent to ensure compliance at all costs. A sizable portion of LEOs see themselves as mechanisms of control instead of community servants. That mindset needs to change at all levels of the DoJ.
– Not only make all officers wear body cameras, but make it an unconditionally fireable offense if a violent incident occurs while the camera is switched off. Make all footage available to the public within 48 hours. We have the technology. This not only helps those who face abuse by the police, but it also helps the good cops who are wrongfully accused of misconduct.