It seems fitting that 2015 would end with yet another example of our justice system failing to hold police accountable for killing an unarmed African-American. The Tamir Rice case was especially poignant because the victim was only 12 years old. He was playing in the park with a toy gun — like millions of kids do all over the country. And the video that everyone saw with their own eyes showed that police rolled up and within seconds shot him dead. The prosecution and a grand jury decided they were justified in doing that for reasons that make little sense to rational people.
The story of fatal police shootings of unarmed African-Americans is a national shame. We don’t even know how many of them there are. But with every video and every family’s public pain and every astonishing decision to hold nobody accountable, the nation is shocked out of its complacency and police reforms are demanded by the people. It is long overdue.
The Obama administration released its reform recommendations from the Task Force on 21st Century Policing last spring. This article in the Nation by Alex S Vitale outlines the proposals for changes in police procedures:
Such procedural reforms focus on training officers to be more judicious and race-neutral in their use of force and how they interact with the public. The report encourages officers to work harder to explain to people why they are being stopped, questioned or arrested. Departments are advised to create consistent use of force policies and mechanisms for civilian oversight and transparency. The report implies that more training, diversity and communication will lead to enhanced police community relations, more effective crime control and greater police legitimacy.
There is no doubt that African-Americans are the hardest hit by the policies that allow police to operate in an atmosphere of impunity. Here’s an everyday example of how this can play out in everyday life:
Nicholson Gregoire, a 25-year-old biology student at Nassau Community College, was walking his puppy pit bull, Blue, around 5:00 pm on December 15 when he noticed police conducting “stop and frisk” searches, according to the New York Daily News. Police noticed the dog wasn’t restrained by a leash and asked Gregoire for ID. Gregoire reportedly was granted permission to go inside his Queens Village home to find the ID, but he closed the door, prompting two officers to repeatedly ring the doorbell. Gregoire’s 87-year-old grandfather, Roleme, came down the stairs to answer the door, but from there, the police and Gregoire tell different versions of subsequent events.
According to Gregoire’s lawyer, the police claim that his client “dragged them inside,” which is just bizarre. The arrest report alleged that Gregoire refused to hand over his ID, but a video shot by Gregoire’s girlfriend, showing police struggling with him on the stairs, has Gregoire holding up his hands showing the ID.
Whatever happened in the house, they had no reason to stop him or ask him for ID. He was walking his puppy on the street where he lives. The police created a dangerous situation where none had existed before. And this happens many times each day, all over the country. Gregoire was arrested and faces seven years in prison for resisting arrest, assaulting an officer, and strangulation. He’s been suspended from his job and missed his final exam. It reminds me of the old Bob and Ray routine “Squad Car 19″:
“The suspect apprehended in that case at Rossmore and LaBrea was convicted on three counts of being apprehended and one count of being a suspect. Apprehended suspects are punished under state law by a term of not less than five years in the correctional institution at Soledad.”
As Vitale wrote in his Nation piece, these changes in procedures are a good start but the problem goes much deeper:
What is not discussed in the report is dialing back in any meaningful way the war on drugs, police militarization or the widespread use of “broken windows” policing that has led to the unnecessary criminalization of millions of mostly black and brown people. Well-trained police, following proper procedure, are still going to be engaged in the process of arresting people for mostly low-level offenses, and the burden of that will continue to fall primarily on communities of color, because that is how the system is designed to operate—not because of the bias or misunderstandings of officers. A more respectful and legally justified arrest for marijuana possession is still an arrest that could result in unemployment, loss of federal benefits and the stigma of a drug arrest.
Many cities are studying “stop and frisk” reform (one of the most recent being Chicago) but without a larger reform of police culture, the drug war and militarization it’s unlikely to have the effect reformers hope.
And lest any of us nice comfortable white people get the idea that this is only a problem in the inner cities and nothing we need be concerned about because the majority of such cases affect African-Americans, this story should shake us out of any complacency. This one didn’t happen on the mean streets of Chicago or Baltimore. It happened in a nice Kansas suburb…Read More at Alternet