News broke this evening of no indictment in the death of Eric Garner. I wasn’t following this news very closely, but it serves as just one more incident of unnecessary death.
In the span of a few weeks 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by police, within seconds of police arriving on the scene; there was no indictment in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Mo.; and now there’s no indictment in the Eric Garner case.
Where the Michael Brown case might seem murky (no video, conflicting stories, charging the officer), the Eric Garner case seems much more direct. There’s video of the confrontation and while Garner is subdued on the ground an officer has him in a choke hold and doesn’t let up, even though the NYPD doesn’t authorize that kind of force.
Their are now protests around the country. My Twitter feed is lit up with outrage.
I don’t want to debate the ins and outs of any of this. I’m tired of that. But there are two things bothering me:
1. Do you know what’s happening?
Too many people keep dismissing these protests, dismissing these issues, refusing to accept the underlying issues here. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or see things the way I do.
But there’s a point when systemic injustice is happening and we need to pay attention. When this continues to happen to people of color then something is wrong. That doesn’t mean all cops are racist. But issues of race and white privilege are so ingrained our society that injustice continues.
That’s not a condemnation of police. It’s a recognition that something is wrong: Blacks are 21 times more likely to die at the hands of police than their white counterparts.
I don’t know why that is. Systemic racism, poverty, improper police training, something else? But it’s time we start paying attention.
If you’re not hearing about these issues or seeing the outrage, you need to start listening. Your life is too insular. Broaden your circles, find some new voices.
2. How do we stop it?
So what’s the answer here? One of the responses to the Michael Brown case was a call for police to wear body cameras. It’s not a perfect solution, but people thought it would help. It wasn’t a body camera in the Eric Garner case, but the video testimony still didn’t change anything. No charges for the officer responsible for Garner’s death.
Is it too easy for police to kill? It sounds like it’s awfully easy for police to justify lethal force in the U.S. And then we get stories about how rare it is for police to use lethal force around the world (Officer Darren Wilson fired more bullets at Michael Brown than the entire British police force fired in all of 2013). Obviously there are glaring differences between the U.S. and the rest of the world (um, second amendment).
But wouldn’t it be a nice goal to kill fewer people?
(Yes, even criminals. Police are not the judge, jury and executioner.)
So what do we do about it? Protests are one thing, but I’m not sure the current system would even allow for a conviction in some of these cases. The police have pretty broad latitude. While I think there are a lot of inconsistencies and mishandling in the Michael Brown case, the law gives Darren Wilson a lot of reason to use lethal force. I think it probably should have gone to trial, but I don’t suspect that would lead to a conviction. Not because what Darren Wilson did was right, but because the law is wrong.
I suspect the same is true in the Eric Garner and Tamir Rice cases.
If police officers are following the law in these cases, then maybe it’s time to change the law.
I’m not anti-police in any sense. I think clarifying our use of lethal force laws would only protect police. Serving as a police officer is a hard job. Shouldn’t we work to minimize the real mental and emotional hardship on officers of using lethal force?
And perhaps it’s time to revisit our police procedures in general. Why is lethal force the first resort? If our society values life (and maybe that’s a question we should be asking), shouldn’t we train our police to make lethal force a last resort? Shouldn’t there be a way to keep police officers safe and kill fewer civilians?
I don’t know what the answers are, but in the wake of all this police violence, we need something.