Justice Requires Dismantling The System That Has Long Killed Black And Brown Bodies
After three weeks, the criminal trial of Derek Chauvin came to an end last Tuesday. A tears rolled down faces crowd gathered in the Twin Cities. There was jubilation in the streets, an overwhelming sigh of relief. They chanted justice.
The jury’s deliberation was not long, leaving some that perhaps it was not enough time. To even think the worst perfectly exemplifies how rotten our system is. We expect so little because police accountability is slim to none.
Upon the announcement, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi released a statement saying, “Thank you, George Floyd, for sacrificing your life for justice. For being there to call out to your mom.”
She continued her statement saying, “because of you and because of thousands, millions of people around the world who came out for justice, your name will always be synonymous with justice.”
Pelosi immediately received backlash for her remarks. George Floyd did not die for a cause. He was not a martyr nor a pawn in the dismantling of white supremacy. He was a victim of it.
The ends do not justify the means. One sigh of relief does not compare to the numbness and contempt for a system that will strike again. That verdict was the bare minimum a system can do for George Floyd’s family.
A glimmer of hope consumed by systematic madness.
The system of policing is rooted in white supremacy.
The history of policing in American society is inherently racist. The issue is not about differentiating good cops from “a few bad apples.” It’s about acknowledging a system that was created to target Black and Brown communities.
During slavery, the role of law enforcement existed within slave catcher roles heavily prominent in the South. Following the passing of the 13th Amendment came the rise of Jim Crow, a codified system of racial apartheid. Now, modern-day policing is crafty but nevertheless remains brutal.
According to a Washington Post database, nearly 1,000 people are shot and killed by police annually.
In 2021 so far, 335 people have died due to police violence.
In the past year, the nation was rocked by Black “trauma porn” that sparked outrage and protests.
The streets were filled to the brim as bodies marched in solidarity for Black lives, chanting “no justice, no peace.”
Following the Chauvin verdict, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said, “I would not call today’s verdict justice, however, because justice implies true restoration. But it is accountability, which is the first step toward justice.”
Out of all police killings that took place between 2013-2020, 98.3 percent of officers are not charged with a crime.
Derek Chauvin is the first white officer in Minnesotan history to be convicted for the murder of a Black man.
Accountability does not equal justice.
The steps to reform can’t be simplified by one thing. But in order to see some change, we must end a legal doctrine called ‘qualified immunity.’
Qualified immunity is the rule that protects government employees from civil lawsuits that accuse them of violating a plaintiff’s constitutional rights unless the violation was “clearly established.”
How does one know if an action warrants qualified immunity? Appellate courts use a two-part system to consider whether immunity for excessive force should be granted.
- First, courts must consider whether police used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. If not, qualified immunity is immediately granted.
- The second step requires courts to determine whether a cop should have been aware that their actions were unlawful. If so, the case goes to trial.
In 2020, Reuters released a special report examining 252 cases from 2015 to 2019 where plaintiffs wanted to abolish qualified immunity.
More than half of the cases from this report saw granted immunity for excessive police force. Since 2005 courts “have shown an increasing tendency to grant immunity in excessive force cases,” and the numbers keep escalating.
As the nation awaited a verdict another shooting occurred.
Minutes before the verdict was announced police were called to investigate a disturbance in Columbus, Ohio.
Responding to an altercation involving a knife and two other girls, Ma’Khia Bryant was shot four times by police.
Rushed to the hospital in critical condition, Bryant died from her injuries. She was only 16. She was a child.
Police released bodycam footage that appeared to show Bryant’s attempt to stab another girl when she was fatally shot.
In a news conference, Mayor Andrew Ginther said “the officer took action to protect another young girl in the community.”
But was the deadly force necessary?
Police training includes an often misunderstood rule called the “21-foot rule. The 21-foot-rule states that an officer is in potential danger when they are within 21 feet of an armed person with a knife.
To be clear, this distance is not a green light to use deadly force. Instead, it is an informal rule that is meant to establish a “safety zone. However, this instead serves to dissuade de-escalation tactics. It creates a mentality that justifies unnecessary deadly force.
Four shots, let alone one, was too many. Ma’Khia Bryant should’ve been able to live to see another day.
What about de-escalation training?
In high-risk scenarios, the police arrive under the presumption that they are able to de-escalate a situation without excessive force. But one can’t count on training alone to prompt police reform and behavioral change.
The sight of a potential weapon often incites a fearful and forceful reaction from police officers who are reactionary and guarded.
Regardless of whether a weapon is identifiable or not, the primary intention of police intervention is supposed to be the preservation of life.
Not all precincts view de-escalation training the same, nor is it afforded the same dedication as other use-of-force training.
In a 2015 survey by the Police Executive Research Forum, each recruit received only eight hours’ worth of de-escalation training. This includes crisis intervention, de-escalation, use-of-force policy, and electronic control weapons. This is in comparison to the 58 hours spent on firearms training and 49 hours spent on defensive tactics.
For mental health-related cases, behavioral patterns and implicit bias can overshadow aiding that individual.
Nationwide, those who suffer from severe mental illnesses are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter. Factor in racial bias and the risk to dial 911 amidst a crisis is considerably higher.
Unfortunately, legal policies in some states mandate police interaction before family members can get their loved ones to receive treatment.
In Georgia, a person must pose an “imminent threat” to themselves and others before being involuntarily hospitalized. An issue that may prompt excessive force with police interaction while also delaying a loved one’s urgency for immediate treatment.
However, in places like Chicago, a pilot program was proposed to have police and mental health professionals ‘co-respond’ to such incidents.
Nevertheless, mistrust will continue to permeate each interaction.
Ideally what is justice?
Justice would be that George Floyd, someone’s father, brother, loving partner would still be alive. It would be that Daunte Wright could eventually turn 21 and be with his son. Justice is Breonna Taylor waking up the next morning. It is Adam Toledo being able to grow up.
Tamir Rice like so many other children deserved to be able to play with toy guns. Daniel Prude was having an episode and needed help. Elijah McClain was introverted and minding his business.
Justice is being able to walk on the streets at any time of day without fear. It is being able to drive without fearing a cop might kill you at a traffic stop. Justice is simply being able to breathe.
No warrant, misdemeanor, or previous record should incentivize force.
This fragment of ‘accountability’ does not diminish the lack of mercy and preventability of each injustice. The trauma and anger will not go away as parents still have to teach their children what to do when they encounter a police officer.
“Justice” is defunding the police, holding them accountable, and eliminating qualified immunity. It is abolishing a racist system that has failed time and time again.
Until there is justice, there is no true peace.
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