“All you celebrities out there who poured ice water on your heads, here’s a chance to do something else.”
Samuel L. Jackson makes a great point. I don’t even know what charity the Ice Bucket Challenge was supposed to support. All I know is that people everywhere were suddenly pouring water on themselves and haughtily laughing (albeit soaked) about their good, charitable souls.
And here we have a dire situation in the US where, according to a December 13th, 2014 piece in The Economist (http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21636033-united-states-needs-overhaul-its-law-enforcement-system-americas-police-trial), “the police shot and killed at least 458 people last year.” That’s over one and a quarter persons killed by police per day in the US ... and those numbers are a very conservative estimate. According to the same article, police departments in the US do not always report deaths to any sort of Federal accountability structure (because there isn’t a process requiring it). It is likely that the number is higher.
So what can we do about this? Is it enough to get out another bucket of ice water? Or .. how about offering our solidarity with the families of those grieved by the loss of a loved one at the hands of the police? Or ... do we assume that all police shootings are justified and go on about our business?
Speaking of justified police shootings, let me be plain: sometimes the police do have to shoot and kill bad guys. What, I think, folks in the US and around the world are wondering is, “are there so many bad guys in the US that opportunity exists for more than one to be shot? Every day?” And remember, the police are not supposed to execute a sentence. Police are supposed to stop criminal behavior. The jury determines punishment. A judge adjudicates.
Whatever you may think about the state of morality with regards to how many people you assume need to be shot by police here in the US each day, what is happening is that the police are shooting people who do not need to be shot.
Take John Crawford, for instance. He was standing in the toy aisle of a WalMart holding a toy guy sold by WalMart in that toy aisle, when police appeared (bullets first) and shot him dead. (Both officers involved were acquitted).
Which gets back to the core question: where’s the accountability? The black community in the US is more and more seeing the police as an “occupying” force rather than a civic institution meant to protect and serve (a phrase now spoken more tongue-in-cheek than in seriousness).
The police are not the bad guys, but they are, as individuals, placed in a situation that increasingly looks incalculable for them. Because, let’s face it, with 300 million guns out there on the US streets, if a cop makes one mistake, s/he could die. Is that a fair trade-off for his/her $65k a year salary? And do you know what they are trained to do vis a vis force escalation? They are trained to counter perceived force with stronger force, and not just strong, but overwhelmingly stronger force. At times that means lethal force. Not first mace, not hit the legs or shoot the wrist.
Some people in the dialogue remind me that there are bad apples in every bunch, which means we should remember that there are some bad cops. As Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins says, “Unfortunately, my mom also taught me just as there are good police officers, there are some not-so-good police officers that would assume the worst of me without knowing anything about me for reasons I can’t control. She taught me to be careful and be on the lookout for those not-so-good police officers because they could potentially do me harm and most times without consequences."
So I counter the question of “where” is the accountability with one of how, in this environment, there can be accountability? There can’t. It’s the system that must change. The system is bad. It must change to allow for more police training to de-escalate instead of countering force with force, except as a last measure. It must allow superintendents to fire the bad apples. And they know who they are. But my guess is that their hands are tied due to union clauses and protections of some sort or another.
And, finally, I regret to say, some officer somewhere is going to have to go to prison, for a long time. I know they are mostly doing their job according to their training. And the US government has geared them up to be pseudo combat militia teams. And they are scared (and brave). But at some point, if the people continue to see officer after officer shooting citizens dead in the street day after day with zero accountability, things will get a whole lot worse for a whole lot more people, and maybe faster than we expect.
We can’t “arrest” the system. Some judge somewhere is going to have to offer up a sacrificial lamb in the name of national justice. If that doesn’t happen, change will still come to the system, but it won’t be pretty, clean, or safe.
Edit: The pressure valve appears to have broken with the cold-blooded murder of two New York City Police officers. I sincerely believe that the shooter was mentally disturbed and not purely driven by hatred of police, but the damage has been done.
This is a terrible tragedy.