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Does Americas have two separate policies when it comes to policing?

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When it comes to policing in America, some people in the community say it is abundantly clear that there are two policies, one for whites and the other for blacks and other minorities, which resembles terroristic acts and leads more often to death for the person of color. They point to the civil rights movement of the 1960’s when police were free to attack and kill blacks who stood up for their rights, did not know their place, or questioned police authority.

These same people believe that when pulled over by law enforcement, it is normal and customary for white Americans to get a ticket or even be sent on their way with just a warning. However, when it comes to black Americans being pulled over, some question if they will make it home to their families because they believe it is open season by the police

on black people. Black drivers are stopped for the flimsiest of reasons and are immediately assumed guilty of something by police. They are told by police to get out of their car and if the black driver asks for an explanation, they are immediately pepper sprayed, pulled from their vehicles, thrown to the grown, and handcuffed. If they are lucky, they might walk away from the incident with their lives intact, but for far too many, they end up dead on the streets at the hands of overzealous police.

The people in the community I spoke with said you cannot have a soul if you do not find yourself upset, angry, and depressed by recent actions by police in what they described as blacks being freely terrorized by law enforcement. We witnessed two events over the past few days. One was the release of body camera footage of an incident from December 2020, which showed a black Army lieutenant being pepper sprayed after police suspiciously pulled him over for “not having a license tag on his car”. Footage from the officers’ dash cam clearly showed the paper license in the top right corner of the military officer’s new car, which should have been visible to the police officer. The license would become even more visible after the black driver proceeded to a well-lit gas station before stopping. Someone would have to be legally blind to have missed the paper license, but the police officer claimed he did. Once pulled over, the officer should have approached the vehicle and told the driver to disregard the stop as he could see the paper license and he had no real reason at that point to stop him. Instead, the officer approached the vehicle in a hostile manner that escalated from there. Some asked where was his de-escalation training, back at the station?

The horrendous video of the incident has been seen millions of times around the world as the police officer literally terrorized this black driver before our eyes. While in his military fatigues and telling the police that he was serving his country he attempted to de-escalate the situation, however, his uniform nor his declaration of being in the military provide him any protection or relief from what the officer had in mind for him that evening. He was pepper sprayed three times and he, along with his “military uniform” were grabbed, yanked from the vehicle, thrown to the ground, and then handcuffed, all while having the other officer point his service revolver at him if he resisted. The Army Lieutenant showed great restraint in that moment, something that most people would not have been able to exhibit. In a very telling moment, the Lieutenant made a plea with the officers to render aid to his dog, who was still in the back area of his newly pepper sprayed vehicle breathing in the fumes.

After reality sat in, the police decided that the stop was a bad one. What is ironic is the speech the officers gave the Army Lieutenant to try to convince him that he did not want to report this attack to authorities, suggesting that reporting the incident might ruin his military career. The Army Lieutenant has now filed suit, one of the police officers lost his job, and the government is calling for investigations, but we know this will not end here.

As we learned more about this situation and as the jury listened to testimony in the George Floyd murder trial, where a white officer is accused of killing a handcuffed black man, another incident played out in another community. Ten miles from the location of the Floyd murder trial, a 20-year-old black man lost his life after a 26-year veteran police officer shot and killed him thinking she had grabbed her taser instead of her Glock. Civil rights Attorney Ben Crump, who is representing many of the families that are suing following police involved shooting deaths said at a recent press conference with the Wright family, “It’s very difficult for this family to accept that this is an accident when you have a veteran who’s been on the police force for 26 years, referring to the officer who shot Daunte Wright. “We still believe that it was over policing. It was an excessive use of force, because we have a propensity in America to over police marginalized minorities, especially Black men.”

Pointing to the murder trial of former officer Derek Chauvin, Crump said, “George Floyd didn’t get the benefit of consideration, the benefit of professionalism, the benefit of the courtesy, the benefit of the de-escalation that we see so often with White American citizens.”

Until those in charge take a deep look in the mirror and decide that they do not like what is looking back at them, this will not cease. Those of us who care about our community are speaking out as we wait for the next headline of another black person losing their life to law enforcement.

These are just a small portion of the negative interactions that officers have with people of color around the U.S. While no one believes that every officer is out to do harm, we continue to be shocked as we witness these stories and negative interactions occurring. I fear for our people of color as I know that they have a fear each time they pass an officer or see those blue lights in their rearview. Are they being legitimately stopped? Will they make it home? These are the fears that people of color have when they interact with the police and is not what many whites in this country must endure. You must ask yourself why? Why are the interactions so drastically different?

Further, we see ongoing protests as many communities push back against what they believe is police brutality. We ask ourselves when will enough be enough for the police? When will we see real change in their training and approach? When will they step up and police themselves? And what about the encounters that are not captured on cell phone footage or body cam. Or worse yet, what is occurring with the ones that police know about, have not released to the public, and have not taken any action on?

In our community, we know that we have “great” officers who go out each day and risk their lives for our safety, our comfort, and our quality of life. We know they are not without fear as they go about their workday; putting on a uniform that is becoming synonymous with over policing and brutality as it relates to people of color cannot be comfortable. Many must legitimately perform traffic stops or chase down a suspect. We understand the fear they have each time they step outside of their vehicle and approach a car they have stopped or a person on the street that has committed a crime. The underlining question then becomes what are they thinking when they see a white person vs a person of color in those situations? Do they have a bias that will cause them to treat the two colors differently? Is their bias born out of fear or is it brought on by ingrained hostility? In a tense situation, will their adrenaline drive them towards aggression and actions that can never be reversed, or will they know how to de-escalate a situation based on training that they have been provided?

A recent story out of New York reflected on a former Black female officer, Carol Horne, who was fired from her position as a Buffalo police officer after she stopped her partner from choking a handcuffed suspect. Instead of rewarding her for her actions, her superiors fired from her job and the City upheld it. After a lengthy legal battle of 15 years, Horne was finally awarded her back pay and given her pension credit towards her retirement. She was willing to do the right thing and may have saved that persons’ life that day. We need more officers like Carol Horne policing our communities who are willing to speak up and out, no matter the cost.

We do not have the answers, but believe there is a pattern emerging with these stories, a pattern some say has always existed. It is getting more attention now as people are exhausted by the senseless loss of life. We believe a change must be made in the way that our officers interact with people of color, which starts with training, community involvement, accountability, and a commitment to change. Officers should live in the communities that they serve and interface with the people who live there to build trust and create partnerships. If police officers are not interacting with the community on a positive and consistent basis, and if the officers are not held accountable for the actions they take while policing, we will continue to see these headlines of police shootings of unarmed people of color. We should also expect continued protest that will surely follow until we do something about what is believed to be a two-system policy of policing in the U.S.

Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘the time is always right to do right.”

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