They thought he was reaching for a gun. It was mistaken identity. He/she resisted arrest. Wrong place, wrong time. We’ve heard these excuses time and time again. Like in the case of 25- year- old Howard University student Prince C. Jones who was shot 15 times by an undercover cop on his way to his fiancés house for no apparent reason in 2000. Or Kathryn Johnston, the 92-year-old Atlanta woman who was shot six times and killed by police officers who had maliciously entered her home without warrant in 2006. Or the six-year-old little boy who lived just blocks away from me, whose head was grazed by a bullet after cops violently invaded a families New Years Eve Party this past January in Philadelphia.
Sadly, they’re a just a few of the many Black people that have been killed or hurt due to police brutality, and the recent murder of seven-year-old Aiyana Jones has once again brought this issue to the forefront–hopefully it won’t be short lived. On May 16th, as Aiyana lay asleep in her living room couch, Detroit officers violently raided her home; first throwing a hand grenade into the living room and burning this innocent little girl, and next firing a shot through the window that fatally struck Aiyana in the head. Neighbors are said to have warned police that there were children in the home they were raiding (as if the toys in front didn’t give them any clue), yet with camera crews filming them for reality show, “The First 48,” the officers were reportedly too “excited” and riled up to care or use appropriate caution. Thus, another innocent Black life brutality taken; another family left to grieve; another heartbroken community; and another police department dodging accountability.
As Aiyana’s name became a trending topic on Twitter shortly after her life was taken, I hoped her story would not simply become a conversation starter or eye-catching headline for the moment; and that by #FF (Follow Friday) or #MM (Music Monday) the loss of this precious little girl and the issue of police brutality would not be ‘out of sight, out of mind.’
It has been said many times before: where there is no justice, there is no peace. Black communities, families, scholars, leaders and activists have constantly demanded a stop to racially charged violence at the hands of the law, yet this injustice has yet to be put to an end. According to US Legal Definitions, police brutality is defined as “a civil rights violation that occurs when a police officer acts with excessive force by using an amount of force with regards to a civilian that is more than necessary.”
Black oppression and discrimination fueled by White angst, paranoia and superiority complex in this country has manifested itself various ways throughout history. And it seems the same contempt that kept plantation overseers anxiously surveying our enslaved ancestors for one wrong move, may still be ingrained in the trigger happy boys in blue who need no more than a questionable blink to give them a reason to unload their clips. The above the law mentality and treatment of many police departments, coupled with an historical disregard for Black life (male, female or child), makes it easy for excessive force to be used without second-thought and/or proper punishment and consequence.
It was during the Civil Rights Era that the issue of police brutality became imprinted on the national conscious, as people witnessed the horrible images and footage of the Birmingham, Alabama Police force attacking Black protesters with dogs and fire hoses. And by the rise of the Black Power movement in the 60s and 70s, putting an end to police brutality was on the agendas of many Black organizations and activists. The infamous Rodney King assault in 1991, where a group of LAPD members were caught on camera viciously beating King with batons ignited even more racial tensions and social unrest between Blacks and the police. And by now, for many Blacks, the idea that police are here to protect and keep the peace is out the window.
All police officers may not be inherently corrupt or racist, and there are probably many who genuinely want to serve the communities they patrol. However, often times the ideologies and fears that have been ingrained in this society due to the unjust yet constant criminalization of Blacks–males in particular—can subconsciously give way to the dangerous notion of “guilty until proven innocent” when it comes to handling Black suspects. This, along with the influence of fellow officers who abuse their power, can cause even officers of color—many who long to fit in with the culture set by their colleagues–to respond and react with excessive force (as seen in the case of Sean Bell).
So, what can we do?
Black Cops Against Police Brutality (B-CAP) “was developed for the purpose of assuring that the rights of all citizens are not abridged by the police, especially, in urban America,” and their main goal is to end and prevent police brutality against people of color. Some of the organizations solutions include:
• Civilian control and oversight of the police
• Community based training for all police officers
• Cash rewards for the exposure, arrest and conviction of corrupt cops
• Congressional Public hearings
• Annual psychological evaluations for officers
In addition, many have argued and advocated that Black officers be sent to patrol Black neighborhoods; for its assumed they would be more astute to the needs of their own people and equipped to justly serve them. Taking things a step further, organizations such as the Black Panther Party and Philadelphia’s 10,000 Men want Blacks to patrol and protect their own communities; believing this would stop the need for heavy police presence and decrease the potential for volatile incidents.
And while we all may not be prepared to be on the front line of this issue, we can protect ourselves and each other by being armed with a sound knowledge of our rights. Learning and knowing the proper procedures for traffic stops, warrants, etc. In addition, we can research and support organizations within our communities similar to B-CAP or the October 22nd Coalition, that are actively fighting to end this social atrocity. Whatever action we choose to take, as long as we do not turn a blind eye to police brutality, become complacent or accept it as the natural order of things, we’re taking a step in the right direction.