The cumulative impact of police shootings is having an effect

With each new incident where the police have killed someone, the past events get shifted to the background and even forgotten by those of us who have no personal connection to the events or are not activists. On the program Here and Now host Jeremy Hobson went through a list of nine recent high profile episodes of police killings of black people and the aftermath, with no action being taken against the police in almost all of the cases. You can read the transcript but I strongly recommend clicking on the link and listening to it even though it takes longer because it is so very powerful. There is something about the unemotional reading up of one case after another, accompanied by audio of the events, that carries great weight and makes you realize how awful things have become.

I think that this piling on is having some impact and that even those who might normally dismiss any idea that there is a systemic racism problem in our policing are changing their minds because the weight of evidence has become too large to ignore. Consider the case of Matt Lewis, a writer for the extremely conservative website The Daily Caller. He talked with NPR about the reasons behind his essay titled a confession …, that the ubiquitous availability of video and audio of the events has shaken people’s assumptions about what is going on.

In the era of Facebook Live and smart phones, it’s hard to come to any conclusion other than the fact that police brutality toward African-Americans is a pervasive problem that has been going on for generations. Seriously, absent video proof, how many innocent African-Americans have been beaten or killed over the last hundred years by the police—with little or no media coverage or scrutiny?

I was brought up to reflexively believe the police. To give them the benefit of the doubt. This was before everyone had a camera—and before my own personal experience would demonstrate to me that not all cops are heroes (though some certainly are). It was also before I became a dad and could appreciate the fear that many African-American parents have regarding their children’s interactions with police. (Note: I’m writing this the morning after five innocent police officers were murdered in Dallas. It goes without saying that this violence should be vigorously condemned.)

Those days are gone. Decent Americans cannot turn a blind eye to police abuse; they just didn’t really believe the it was happening. Or maybe they didn’t want to believe. Today, there is literally no excuse to be ignorant of the problem.

And if there’s any good to come from this horrible trend, it may be that the scales are coming off the eyes of a lot of well meaning, if naive, white Americans. My hope is that this will change public opinion to the point that we can change public policy.

Even staunch conservatives like Jonah Goldberg, Newt Gingrich, and Paul Ryan, who in the past might have been expected to dismiss concerns about police behavior, seem to be registering the fact that people of color are treated more harshly by the police.

Conservatives, of all people, should understand that misdeeds committed by agents of the state are categorically different from the same acts committed by normal citizens. A father who slaps his son for no good reason, however wrong that may be, is very different from a cop who slaps a citizen for no good reason.

This country was created, in part, because the founders were outraged by arguably slight infractions – taxes on tea! – on their liberties and dignity. Is it really so unfathomable that African American citizens should be outraged or distrustful of government when they have good reason to believe the state is murdering young black men?

Eve Ensler says something similar.

It is time for a collective reckoning, a moral accounting, a radical self-appraisal and calling out, fellow white Americans. Our explicit and implicit participation in crimes against black people has gone on for too long.

Because nothing will change until we are all willing to shut up and listen and serve, willing to stop making it about us: our feelings, our hurts, our guilt. Until we are willing to say this structure that we created and mastered has failed, to stop saying that agonizing and aggressive phrase “all lives matter” when we know full well they don’t, even to many of us.

Katie Zhu says that the minority Asian community should move out of the sidelines.

Since the police shooting deaths last week of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, black Americans have protested at the danger they find themselves in simply because of their skin color. There have been vast and ongoing protests, including one in Dallas, Texas, that a lone actor used as an excuse to kill five officers.

Everyone must work together to end the systemic racism that has plagued black people here since slavery. But other minority groups, including Asian Americans, have largely watched from the sidelines rather than screamed in the streets.

But something I’ve grown acutely more aware of in recent years is the dissonance between the typical immigrant mentality and the deeply rooted racism in America – and how these divisions keep us all down when we should be helping lift one another up.

It is said that it was the televised images in the 1950s and 1960s of police turning on fire hoses and attack dogs on civil rights marchers that included women and children that shocked white Americans watching in their living rooms into realizing how bad things were then. Maybe a similar sea change in attitudes is under way now that will lead to major reforms in police and legal practices.

We already see a backlash against things like civil asset forfeiture, bail that is so high that people have no hope of paying and thus end up in jail for a long time before they even get to trial, and charging people with minor offenses in order to generate income for police departments and local governments, all of which disproportionately hurt poor people. Let’s hope those movements gain ground.


  1. dphuntsman says

    While all of your comments are true…….The American people have a justice system, methinks, for two basic reasons: truth, and justice, or something approximating those two. Yet, in this country, it is a truism across the board, that a rich person who is guilty, is treated much better than a poor person who is innocent. And that’s not a justice system. Our problems are pretty systemic; and tinkering at the edges won’t fix them.

  2. says

    It has always been assumed by larger society that the police are truthful. Now video is showing this is not the case, as certain groups have known but not been able to prove previously.

  3. lanir says

    @dphuntsman #1: That’s quite true and honestly sounds reasonable at first. We really should be fixing the whole thing.

    But don’t fall into the trap of thinking we have to fix it all at once or not at all. Because that supports inaction, which directly supports the status quo. There is no way to fix it all at once because it’s too big. So support any worthwhile changes that promote basic human rights and dignity even if they don’t appear to affect you. They will. When some people can be outright murdered freely it makes it that much easier to do any lesser thing to anyone else.

  4. Rob Curtis says

    I met a friend after work today and ended up driving by the spot where Philando Castile was killed. there is a monument of flowers and other remembrances there. I teared up at the thought that some police do bad things and face few repercussions and innocent people are the victims. To protect and serve indeed.

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