Last Week’s Tragedies Highlight The Need For Reforms
The week that has just passed has left America staring into a mirror and searching for the words to express how we are yet again forced to confront violence, racism, and the divide in our community. On Tuesday, Alton Sterling, a father of five, was pinned down by police, shot at point blank range, and killed outside of a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Mere hours later, Philando Castile was murdered in front of his 4-year old child and fiancé during a traffic stop, after simply informing the officer he was legally carrying a gun and reaching for the registration the officer requested. And during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, Texas, five police officers were killed by a gunman at the conclusion of a peaceful Black Lives Matter march. After this traumatic week, it is clear, as the Center for American Progress’s Todd Cox and Danyelle Solomon put it, that “we must have honest and thorough conversation about policing and race in America.”
Though police brutality has impacted many communities across the United States, the data make it clear that communities of color, especially the black community, are particularly impacted. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were the 114th and 115th black men killed by police this year. These tragic losses are not just another statistic—as President Obama stated, these shootings “are symptomatic of the broader challenges within our criminal justice system, the racial disparities that appear across the system year after year, and the resulting lack of trust that exists between law enforcement and too many of the communities they serve.” Unarmed black Americans are five times more likely to be killed by a police officer than white Americans. And, due to bias and systemic problems, African-Americans are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system. Though African-Americans only make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, they comprise 40 percent of incarcerated Americans.
Police have had a large role in mass incarceration and police brutality’s disproportionate effect on the black community. As FBI Director James Comey stated earlier this year, “At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups.” These senseless, preventable police killings highlight the need for bold reforms, including, as Cox and Solomon describe, “increasing the use of special prosecutors in police misconduct investigations; implementing improved and robust law enforcement training, including de-escalation and implicit bias; and mandating data collection on police misconduct and fatalities and injuries involving the police to ensure transparency.”
One of the tragic ironies of last week’s events was that the Dallas Police Department has been a leader in de-escalation reforms. In 2016, the Dallas Police Department has had the fewest police officer-related shootings of any large city in the United States. The department has worked to reduce shootings and has seen dramatic results. In addition, the department has reduced arrests, and excessive force complaints and the murder rate have also declined.
Despite efforts to divide the law enforcement community and those who seek change, the Black Lives Matter movement and police have worked together in many cities, like in Dallas. We all have a shared interest in a better relationship and stronger communities, and don’t support violence against African Americans or police. As President Obama stated on Saturday, “Americans of all races and all backgrounds are rightly outraged by the inexcusable attacks on police.” The actions of the shooter in Dallas do not represent the Black Lives Matter movement.
BOTTOM LINE: The events of last week underscore the need for conversation and reforms about race and policing. In a time of rising tensions, it is important to combat the fears that underlie these tragedies as we work for necessary reforms to protect lives.
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