A Note on Police Brutality: What Can We Do About It?

Last Friday, Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man, was shot and killed by Betty Shelby, a white police officer. Crutcher joins a long list of African-Americans whose deaths at the hands of police have been widely publicized through graphic footage. Many have expressed moral outrage over these tragedies. Others have suggested that police officers are being demonized unfairly.

On the one hand, many liberals have articulated the structural and historical injustices that surround this issue. On the other hand, many conservatives have downplayed history and inequality and magnified the lack of personal responsibility among black people who don’t talk enough about black on black crime. What often gets left out are observations that may compel some of us to adjust the narratives we tell ourselves about the world. For example, our opinions on police brutality are shaped in no small part by the media we indulge. Some prefer Fox News, others MSNBC.

Controversy over this issue will continue regardless of what anyone says, but we should be mindful of how corporate media, in a sense, construct our reality. To wit, the graphic footage we see every week of another black person being killed by police foments some of the indignation we see in Black Lives Matter.

America’s history of racism and oppression make it difficult for many African-Americans to scrutinize the narratives through which we process race relations. Indeed America’s past and even the present explain, in many ways, the conviction that cops kill out of bigotry and racist bias. However, that belief is vastly oversimplified. Reality, like history, is complicated. The data that receive the most attention can be statistically dubious. The data that complicate the picture, for those with opposing agendas, can fall on deaf ears. For black victims, media coverage is ubiquitous; for white victims, media coverage is sparse. Still, the fact remains: police kill too many people.

To reduce the use of excessive force by police, we have to change policing in this country in meaningful ways. Coming up with feasible, implementable solutions is arduous, but necessary. I think we need to raise the following questions: How can we educate police officers on issues of implicit bias and race perception? What sources of support are available to police officers facing challenges (psychological and otherwise)? What should deescalation training look like? What should be the role of police unions and how should they engage with their respective communities? What role do police lobbies play in government? And what are the indicia of comprehensive data accountability on this issue?

While these are just a few of the many questions we need to consider, perhaps answering them can help us in crafting the solutions we need.