I AM NOT A HASHTAG: Police Need Accountability
Another day, another black life lost, another hashtag trending. The mistreatment of black people by police is far from a new occurrence, and surely this trend of officers killing unarmed black men for the most trivial of reasons is nothing new either, but there has been one major difference in recent times: camera’s are everywhere.
In 1991 when Rodney King was brutally assaulted by the LAPD, it was a big deal because for a change it was actually captured on camera and presented to the world at large with undeniable proof and could not be ignored. It was uncomfortable for everybody across the country because even the people who hadn’t witnessed police brutality beforehand couldn’t dispute the facts that were right there in front of their eyes, and it was uncomfortable for the people who were already aware of these sorts of things because it was a stark reminder of the world they live in.
Twenty-five years later, things aren’t really all that different now; cops are still assaulting and murdering black folk regularly, like it is no big deal. One thing that has changed greatly is the access to these stories, cops can’t commit any of these atrocious acts without somebody with a camera phone capturing it and sending yet another sick video worldwide to become viral.
Our consumption of these events has changed a lot too, you don’t have to be on TV or be a journalist to have your voice heard, all it takes is 140 characters (and maybe a whole thread) to speak your thoughts and share them with the world. No longer is it the case that the national media can bury these stories, and they go away. Today, twitter breaks these stories hours before anybody else even picks them up.
A positive side effect of this is that people are more aware, and are more charged up to call for change. And it is time for change because nobody in the world should have to wake up in the morning and worry that it may not be safe for them to leave their house because the very people in charge of protecting them and their community, may be responsible for ending their life due to a misunderstanding, a nervous cop, or an overzealous cop who is not afraid to flex their “authority.”
(I’d also like to point out that when we call for change, we are NOT calling for anybody to attack or harm police officers or anybody else. We are calling for change because we do not want to see anybody being harmed, we just want to live in a world where justice prevails and people are treated fairly and appropriately. A world where nobody can take on the role of judge, jury, and executioner in the streets. A world where you won’t face the consequences of fitting the profile of “what a criminal looks like,” even though you are not a criminal. I repeat, this is NOT an attack on the police and we do NOT want to see anybody harmed in any way.)
A negative side effect of this new world of social media has been seeing the reactions of certain groups of people on twitter. I love the idea of the police, and I respect everybody who goes out there and tries to serve their community and make it a better place; however, I cannot blindly support all officers through wrong and right. With that in mind, it is disgusting to see the reactions of some people to these shootings, where the first thing they do is try to justify the actions of these cops who are out here committing murder in the streets. It is perfectly okay to call things the way they are, and admit that cops make mistakes. It is okay to point out that these mistakes happen too often to seem like they’re still mistakes and are actually a pattern of behavior. What is not okay, is immediately trying to justify the actions of an officer who has decided to kill somebody, especially when that somebody is unarmed. What is not okay is to immediately jump to blaming the victim, and trying to find a million and one reasons as to why the officer was right to act the way he or she did, before even taking the time to consider for a moment that maybe the officer was actually just wrong and not justified in his or her actions. You should also take the time to consider that the guilt of the person who may have been committing a crime before being killed by cops, especially when the crime was non-violent in nature, is not really relevant to the case at hand because we live a society where (in principle) people are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
Another repulsive reaction is when some people try justifying it as “the cop was scared for his life,” but when the person killed by that cop was unarmed, what was he really scared of? Was the officer threatened by the color of that man’s skin? If he was threatened merely by the fact that the man, or woman, was black, does that really make it an acceptable reason for the officer “losing control” and taking a life? Whether you like it or not, whether you want to admit it or not, that is a very much a reality in America today. Black people are more likely to be viewed as criminal or violent, just by nature of their skin, and that is unacceptable.
If you think that is just hyperbole or an unrealistic take on the way black people are perceived and prejudged, take a moment to consider that Terence Crutcher was described by one of the officers in the helicopter as looking like “one bad dude” in audio released by police shortly after Terence was shot and killed. Maybe we didn’t get the whole picture of the scenario from the dash cam that was released, but I just don’t see how you could possibly make an assessment like that from up in the air. It may not seem like much, and might even be the same kind of off-hand remark many people make about other people, but those kinds of remarks set the tone for how you’re going to treat somebody, and how you treat people sets the tone for how they react; when an officer approaches a situation like this one with a negative mindset beforehand, a negative outcome is almost certain, and that is why mindsets like this are dangerous.
Putting on that badge and uniform in the morning does not make you infallible or above criticism, if anything it should hold you to a higher standard of conduct than everybody else.