Fear is the primary cause of increased officer involved shootings. The growing social uprising is from mounting resentment towards law enforcement within the poor communities that need policing the most, but have overwhelming mistrust from a backlog of incidents, harassment or unwarranted stops and arrests over the years.
I know this first hand. I'm white but I spent many years growing up in gang territory, Oakland, California, the reigning murder capital of the nation at one point. I've been the only white person in school, at parties and I've been threatened for it at times. I saw growing up in those neighborhoods, through friends, and now as a crime reporter police profiling is the same, only now it gets more news coverage.
I don't want to say "racial profiling" because, although a high proportion of police shootings involve blacks, it's a prevalent problem in poor communities with a mix of races. Over the years as a television field reporter, I've covered police shootings of unarmed men and it always occurs over assumptions, a split-second decision based on what the officer's past has taught him about how to react to perceived faces of danger.
My brother has an injury to this day, from police brutality years ago. He was choked and beaten when stopped by officers for walking down the street. A white man. He still gets pulled over regularly. Most recently, he was detained along the side of the road enduring an unjust search of his car while our mom sat in the passenger seat, not even shocked by what was happening. I've been pulled over several times when he's in the car with me. I, a crime reporter for a major network. His crime? The way he looks. My brother's tattoos trigger police assumptions that he's a thug, a gang member, a threat.
Yes my brother has a record, he's been to jail many times for alcohol-related crimes. He's an alcoholic not a criminal. The tattoos on his body and face are his choice, his right. Unfortunately, it's also the risk and weekly trigger for his harassment. He bites his tongue and bears it because he has no power to stop it. My brother is a stereotype of danger. He is what my colleagues in the media, and in the movies say danger looks like. He is also harassed because he's often the lone white guy in a circle of black friends.
It's more than race, it's a lifestyle officers are judging, and it's the hardened looks on the faces of these kids that cops perceive as a threat, signaling them like beacons of terror to be on alert. But if a closer look is taken, the faces reflect fear of being arrested, beaten, or not heard when told they've done nothing wrong. But cops fear for their lives as well, and everyone should worry that freedoms are being taken for just looking like the stereotype of someone who commits a crime.
What looks like a thug, isn't always a thug it's someone like my brother, your brother, the hooded teen headed home or the scared kid who runs before thinking.
With that being said, the people I grew up with, including my brother, know you NEVER provoke a cop! You never intimidate, talk back, or create suspicion when you encounter a police officer. If you do, it's knowingly putting your life at stake. You obey their commands... period and you'll live to fight for progress within the system. Many deadly officer involved shootings I've covered were because the person ran away when asked to stop. If you didn't commit a crime even if your use to being harassed by police don't run, don't turn your back.
The systemic change needs to come from diversity in all of our lives, especially in law enforcement, and it needs to come with training. Train cops to choose non-deadly force options. Use a Taser, use a bean bag gun, or restraints. And parents, teach your kids to obey authority, the law, NEVER run and answer what you are asked, defend yourself with words.
Harmony will never exist, evil and crime will never go away because people are suffering. People suffer mentally, financially and emotionally in a world that is not equal across any spectrum, but identifying real fears versus irrational stereotypes is a start.
I'm a white girl who's looked into the eyes of countless families, Caucasian, Hispanic but mostly African American, who tear up while asking for help, to shed light as a news reporter on their loss and help them fight for the justice they feel has been taken after a loved one is shot and killed by police. It's been my job to question the Chief of police, commanders and politicians on their policies on force and what triggers what reaction and why. I've spent years searching for answers for myself, for the families affected and for communities. This problem has been around for decades and will continue until systemic change is in place for police and for individuals to question their deeply embedded fears of what is simply different.
Through it all I've never lost my faith. In offset to my anger over the constant police harassment my brother endures, I've interviewed and gained many friends in law enforcement. I've attended funerals of heroic officers gunned down by hardened criminals, I've seen cops ambushed by cold hearted killers, and I've shadowed cops in the field and in their homes. I've learned their hearts, their sense of purpose and the dangers they face. They want to protect and defend. We're all afraid. Let's unify by turning that fear into trusting each other enough to do the right thing, whether it's being a good parent, citizen, staying out of trouble or stopping when an officer tells you too. Be fearless in knowing you are not a threat and threats won't come your way.