There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and people bringing up black-on-black crime in response to the outcry over police violence.
“Are those people also protesting the murders in Chicago?” they ask.
“Perhaps we should focus on the crime in black neighborhoods, rather than police violence, since the latter makes up such a small portion of African American deaths,” they say.
First of all, I didn’t know that our brains were so tiny as to only be able to focus on one issue at a time. If that’s the case, kindly alert the millions of people who participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge that ALS is small potatoes, and inform them that we should really be focusing on those epidemics that account for a larger percentage of American deaths. Or (and forgive me, because this is going to sound crazy), you can actually be a decent human being of greater intellectual integrity and stop diverting attention away from one very real issue on the faulty premise that another issue of “greater” significance exists.
Because, at the end of the day, police brutality and the use of excessive force merit just as much attention and scrutiny as the epidemics that plague neighborhoods of lower socioeconomic status.
No, you know what, scratch that. They merit more attention and scrutiny. Because police officers are agents of the state. They’re provided with state-issued weapons, and they operate as representatives of our government. They are (and should be) held to a higher standard. So when a police officer unjustifiably kills an African American citizen, it is –in effect—a state-sanctioned killing. And these killers are often met with little more resistance than paid time off work.
You know why we’re not as vocal about our concerns over poor-on-poor crime? Because we know that the perpetrators, if caught, will be punished, and that they won’t have to wait until they meet their maker before that day of reckoning comes. In fact, said individuals –if black—will likely face sentences for their crimes that are nearly 20% longer than the sentence a white individual would face for a similar offense. So yes, we are less concerned with protesting poor-on-poor crime, because we know that there will be at least be some form of accountability, as the criminal justice system has already proven it is willing to prosecute these perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law (and then some).
Can the same be said about the perpetrators of police violence?
You have to consider: the district attorney works hand-in-hand with law enforcement. They are critically and inextricably linked in their efforts to prosecute crime. As a result of this relationship, one might reasonably conclude that the district attorney might be a bit biased towards the members of the local force; and yet, it is the district attorney who decides whether or not to present a case to the grand jury. It is the district attorney who decides what evidence the grand jury hears, and what it doesn’t. And so it is unsurprising that, all too often, officers walk away from these encounters unscathed. After all, they are able to count the D.A. as an ally, while perpetrators of poor-on-poor crime count him or her as an adversary. And therein lies a fundamental difference.
Not to mention the fact that police departments have created a culture where it is seemingly unheard of to criticize or condemn a fellow law enforcement officer. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a fellow lawyer call attention to legal misconduct. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a doctor identify instances of medical malpractice. And yet, I have never once in all of my years of conversing with law enforcement officers and reading their posts on social media…not once have I seen a law enforcement officer (or their family) speak out against officer-involved shootings.
And this is problematic for two reasons.
First, it insulates those members of the force who do go on to commit unspeakable acts of violence. Just recently, an officer was charged in the murder of a civilian that occurred nearly five years ago. And you know why it took so long to bring this man to justice? Because none of the other officers spoke up. None of the other officers came forward to express their concern over the fact that the alleged murderer in question had expressed his intent to kill the victim prior to it actually occurring. That he had exhibited malice aforethought, making this not just murder, but likely first degree murder. They didn’t come forward to tell someone that he likely planted a gun in the victim’s car in order to lend credence to his claim of self-defense.
They didn’t come forward.
Instead, they allowed this officer to further sully the memory of the fallen, by painting him as an aggressor he was not. And they allowed a killer to roam free for five years, before new evidence thankfully came to light.
How is that acting in furtherance of your oath to protect and serve? How does that inspire faith and trust in the public?
Which brings me to problem number two. If the only time you speak publicly comes after violence against the police, and you are found to be silent in the wake of violence performed by the police, you are proving yourself to be guilty of selective outrage, and you are failing to inspire trust in a segment of the populace that so badly needs to trust you. If you are only vocal when it is your own kind that is being victimized, I lose sympathy. I see so many people expressing indignation over the riots occurring in Charlotte right now, and they are right in doing so. Violence as an answer to violence solves nothing. Using deaths as an excuse to commit crime furthers no cause. And so I stand with most of the individuals who are calling out for peace and restraint. But (and this is a big but), I do not stand with the individuals who are so quick to condemn the rioters, but never willing to condemn the police officers at the root of these riots; those individuals who are so swept up in the symptoms, and not the cause. Because they are doing absolutely nothing to effectuate change. The person suffering from a brain tumor loses my sympathy when they repeatedly complain that the Tylenol isn’t making their headache go away, but continuously prove to be unwilling to visit a doctor and discuss cures for the root cause. At the end of the day, these riots (however misguided) are occurring for a reason. So instead of calling foul only when it begins to personally affect you, try calling foul when the incident originally occurs. Don’t give off the perception of tacit approval. Don’t be so egocentric that you fail to appreciate the struggles of all individuals; choosing instead to focus solely on your own. Establish trust in your motives and your ability to see them through. Do that, and that trust will only continue to build over time and will eventually corrode the overriding feelings of mistrust that come in the wake of an unjustified assault.
At the end of the day, police brutality is a serious issue that requires that all hands be on deck. That means Caucasians. That means police officers. That means the families of police officers. We have to stop making excuses for things that are inexcusable.
A friend on Facebook actually said yesterday that “very few (if any)” of the poster-boys of the Black Lives Matter movement were innocent; that they were all “criminals doing bad things.” I would ask that person what Tamir Rice was guilty of, other than being a 12-year-old in possession of a toy gun. I would ask them what Charles Kinsey was guilty of, other than being a good caretaker. What Philando Castile and Levar Jones were guilty of, other than following instructions to retrieve their IDs. The fact that someone would ever say that these people were guilty of anything demonstrates either remarkable ignorance or implicit bias. Either way, we clearly need to be better about educating ourselves and others.
What’s more, even those who were “guilty” of something (and I use quotes, because one of the cornerstones of our criminal justice system is that all individuals are deemed innocent until proven guilty, and we are constitutionally entitled to go through the proper channels of due process; not have an officer be judge, jury, and executioner), didn’t deserve death as a punishment. Did former Coast Guard member, Walter Scott, deserve to die for having a faulty brake light and fleeing the scene of a traffic stop? After all, the Massachusetts Supreme Court has ruled that black people are so disproportionately mistreated at the hands of police that they might have legitimate reason to run from them, and that such an act should not be treated as probable cause that a crime has been committed.
Ultimately, I could go on with example after example of individuals whose punishment did not fit their crime (cough, Eric Garner selling tax-free cigarettes), but I shouldn’t have to. Because to dismiss these episodes of misconduct on the basis of people doing “bad things” is to close the book on constitutionality and the Bill of Rights. We, the citizens of the United States of America, are entitled to due process. We are entitled to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. We are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; freedoms that are all too often prematurely ripped from the hands of our black peers.
So don’t be one of those people who refuse to acknowledge the problem. Don’t make excuses. Don’t deflect. Because when you do, you are only pushing us further and further from a solution. At the end of the day, instances of excessive force are unacceptable. That’s the beginning, middle, and end of it. There should be no “but” to follow. And until you all start focusing on the root of the problem, I don’t want to hear a damn word about the symptoms or about other problems that we should be focusing on instead.
Because you might be comfortable ignoring an issue until it hits too close to home, but the only home I’m concerned with is America.
And its citizens need our help.