Monday, December 01, 2014

We're Watching You

In the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri riots, President Obama has requested $263 million from Congress to improve police training and pay for body cameras.

The cameras can provide evidence in situations like the Michael Brown shooting.  This check on police power is also hoped to increase trust between civilians, specifically minorities, and police.  The money would fund 50,000 body cameras.

Obama's request comes on the heels of nationwide protests in the aftermath of the decision not to charge Officer Darren Wilson for Brown's death. Wilson has since resigned, saying he had feared for his life.

Part of the President's plan is to addressed the "militarized culture" in domestic police forces.  He specifically calls for a more appropriate use of military equipment by police and a task force to build a "sustained conversation" across the US.  This task force will be chaired by Charles Ramsey, Philadelphia's police commissioner.

In a similar move, Missouri's governor, Jay Nixon, has convened a commission to make recommendations on issues resulting from the Ferguson shooting.  This commission will look at issues relating to public interaction with law enforcement and community stability.

In the midst of these actions, protests have continued.  Activists called for students to walk out of school and employees to walk off the job today, sparking protests nationwide.  Today, US Attorney General Eric Holder was interrupted while speaking in Atlanta.

Holder plans to announce "rigorous new standards" for federal law enforcement to prevent racial profiling.  He is launching a series of conversations to discuss the issues brought to light by the Ferguson shooting.

Holder also revealed that he has opened two civil rights investigations in Missouri.  The first is into whether Wilson violated Brown's civil rights.  The second is into the track record of the police department with minorities.

The Ferguson incident has garnered attention in unlikely areas.  When the St. Louis Rams played Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, several players repeated the "hands up, don't shoot" gesture used by many protesters in Ferguson.  This refers to eyewitness accounts that say Michael Brown was surrendering at the time he was shot, with his hands in the air.  The St. Louis Police Association said of the move: "The gesture has become synonymous with assertions that Michael Brown was innocent of any wrongdoing and attempting to surrender peacefully when Wilson, according to some now-discredited witnesses, gunned him down in cold blood."  The controversy lies in disputing accounts and a lack of evidence to prove Wilson of wrongful action.

Despite the many issues highlighted by Ferguson, stories of unity have come through, and the potential for an improved situation can be seen in the momentum these protests have gained and actions, like the introduction of body cameras, by prominent members of communities nationwide.

In the wise words of Chris Rock, "White people were crazy - now they're not as crazy."


Anonymous said...

Technology won't solve social issues like systemic racism built in our law enforcement, local police patrols in our country historically started as Slave patrols, even the history of law enforcement is linked to historical issues regarding race. I think it is easier for the administration to say comprehensive reform and point at militarization than it is to point at insidious racism in our country. European countries have police forces, England policed 57 million people and fired only 4 bullets in the past two years. That is less bullets than were used to shoot unarmed Mike Brown. Suggesting we need to give more technology is great, how about we also pull back the tanks, the military helicopters from local law enforcement at least.

How about we also reexamine police training regarding use of force? Unconscious bias training? How about diversifying the police force so that in predominantly black neighborhoods you don't have only 3 black cops? Ferguson wasn't made overnight, decades of policy making led to this sort of frustration. Communities have been strained. Reports such as the Kerner commission highlighted the struggles of African-American communities in our country in the past, perhaps we need to reevaluate and investigate how those inequalities still exist in the school to prison pipeline for example.

President needs to do more than just look at militarization. But he can't. He is the ultimate paradox of racial realities in the US. Sure we don't have Jim Crow signs up anymore. Sure we are no South Africa during Apartheid...but think about it, we are actually worse now than conditions were in Apartheid South Africa for African Americans. The income gaps, the overall standard of living between African Americans and White has increased greater than the gaps in Apartheid South Africa.

We as Americans remain delusional. We can't solve problems we don't think exist. Like President Obama said after the night of the grand jury decision "There are still problems and communities of color aren't just making these problems up".

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