A Year After Ferguson, Little Has Changed

It has been a year since the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri galvanized the nation and the world. Any fears that the passage of time would relegate the issues of police abuses inflicted upon people of color and the importance of respecting the intrinsic value of Black lives to the back burner have proved unfounded.

Part of the reason for continued attention is constructive and positive. The growth of #BlackLivesMatter and other grassroots movements as well as the essays of Ta-Nehisi Coates and other commentators have all contributed to keeping these issues in the public eye. But sadly, the issue of the inappropriate use of force by law enforcement against unarmed Black people has been kept current by the relentless repetition of those deaths over the time since the killing of Michael Brown. Sadly, Ferguson no longer refers to a town in Missouri. It has entered the popular lexicon as a synonym for police brutality against Black people. 

Two of the most recent controversial #BlackLivesMatter incidents illustrate the host of reasons for the continuing and growing need to take steps to confront the systemic reasons for the killing of Black people after interactions with the police. The death of Sandra Bland, whether or not it was by her own hand, was the result of a chain of events precipitated by the overly aggressive and unnecessary actions of a police officer. Her death reaffirms what many have been saying for a long time: It’s not only Black men who are subject to abusive policing and that the deaths are the result of an inappropriately aggressive and confrontational style of policing too often used in or against members of communities of color. The shooting of Sam Dubose in Cincinnati following on the heels of Bland’s death provided another reminder of the tragedy that can result from an overly aggressive and completely inappropriate policing style.

Perhaps the speedy indictment of Officer Tensing for DuBose’s death is a sign of progress during a time when criminal prosecution of officers whose actions result in the deaths of Black people are by no means guaranteed.  Cincinnati Prosecutor Joseph Deters should be praised for bringing about the indictment so quickly and for the outrage that he expressed in announcing it.

But other parts of the announcement were highly unsettling.

His description of the event as “something that does not happen in the United States” casts DuBose’ death as an isolated and anomalous act of a single police officer. This statement is jarringly at odds with the dozens of similar incidents all across the country over the last year. Frustratingly, at least two of Tensing’s fellow officers corroborated the story so clearly disproved by the videotape.

It appears unlikely that either case would have received the notice that it did without the videotape evidence questioning the veracity of the reports filed by the officers in these cases. Body cameras are important but only as a first step. Personal accountability for inappropriate use of force is more important.

How many cops involved in #BlackLivesMatter incidents have gotten off scot free? This question isn’t only important for accountability’s sake, but also to ensure bad cops cannot hurt anyone.

We cannot continue to wear blinders when it comes to the continuing problems in law enforcement in the United States. These tragedies are the predictable outcomes of a policing culture which too often mistakenly judges the danger that Black people represent, that fails to respect the humanity of Black people, that resorts to the use of deadly force reflexively, and that closes rank around officers whose actions run afoul of the law and proper police actions.

Acknowledging that culture is the necessary first step along with accountability for all law enforcement agents. Police officers are charged with enforcing the law, but note — they are not the law. When officers violate that law, they should be held accountable, including any officer who deliberately colludes in an attempt to obscure illegal actions by a fellow officer. When they are not, they make a mockery of the law.

As is often the case, the satirical publication the Onion best captures the problem at the core of the misconduct of too many law enforcement agents in the piece, “Do You Know Why I’m Pulling You Over, Being Wildly Aggressive, And Charging You With Assault Today, Sir?”. With particular regard to the policing of communities of color, we must learn from the post-Ferguson era. We must work to eradicate the corrosive culture that often exists by collecting data, appropriately using recording devises, training and holding law enforcement responsible for violations of the law.

But before we can do any of that effectively, we must face up to the fact that, for too many people and on too many occasions, Sam Dubose’s story is one of the defining narratives of the United States.

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MsSyRee

We as the people need to come together as one ,and; we must Fight for the injustice of Black lives because we do matter. The 13th Amendment , that they (oppressors) uses everyday to deprived and stripped blacks from our wealth ,and to further keep us enslaved working for the same system that destroys our humanity with the convictions of not being treated fair. For our equal rights. We are not seem as equal or free because we are a oppressed race who feels dominated and brainwashed by a white washed society who controls us with their system through power and greed.Affirmative actions needs to be understood.

Philip Brett

Things sure have changed a year ago I was a liberal who thought black people were treated unfairly. Now I've turned around and Black lives don't matter at all to me.

Bill Cruse

Yes, amen! I'm in!
Thank you again for excellent perspective. "We must work to eradicate the corrosive culture..." Yes. The proper use of recording devices (and not tampering with the videos after the fact as might be the case in Bland's traffic stop), and training and holding law enforcement accountable is important. And I wonder if we also need to address the foundational issue. Why do we need to use recording devices at all? Why do I, as a white male, also now fear being stopped? What has caused this trajectory? I worry that we will only put another band-aid on a wound that isn't healing.
How do we heal the deep wounds of a culture that is OK with oppression unless we're the one being oppressed? There is so much fear of "the other" that we no longer have trusting relationships, and we're afraid to explore implicit culture and explicit history that landed us where we are.
How do we create opportunities for us to look in a mirror, gain self-awareness, and curiosity about ourselves and others instead of avoiding this life-giving knowledge?
If we, citizens and law enforcement, law makers and spiritual leaders, if we all engaged, then maybe Sam Dubose's story will not be "one of the defining narratives of the United States." And then law enforcement will hold itself accountable, and we can trust one another and work for the common good and the common wealth.
Thank you for inviting me to think and hope.

Anonymous

If black people would act civilized they will be treated civilized. If it wasn't for the police protecting us from black people and they large amount of crime they do we would all be in trouble.

RRR

Mr Parker: Do you remember that Michael Brown had robbed a convenience store, roughed up a clerk, and assaulted a police officer, including trying to take his gun from him. Do you remember that at all, or does that not matter in your biased viewpoint? Don't you think that FACTS should be considered, or does the ACLU believe that their perception of the events should be the rule of law?

RRR

Mr Parker: Do you remember that Michael Brown had robbed a convenience store, roughed up a clerk, and assaulted a police officer, including trying to take his gun from him. Do you remember that at all, or does that not matter in your biased viewpoint? Don't you think that FACTS should be considered, or does the ACLU believe that their perception of the events should be the rule of law?

RRR

Mr Parker: Do you remember that Michael Brown had robbed a convenience store, roughed up a clerk, and assaulted a police officer, including trying to take his gun from him. Do you remember that at all, or does that not matter in your biased viewpoint? Don't you think that FACTS should be considered, or does the ACLU believe that their perception of the events should be the rule of law?

Carlton Johnson

No much has changed. Did you know v there is a group that is getting even worse treatment? http://thefreethoughtproject.com/police-killing-native-americans-higher-rate-race-talking/#kO7dltETcukxAFkU.01

Anonymous

we need you to act civil. otherwise, just go a head and kill all the white people and then there wont be anyone else left for you to blame for your oppression,

Brian Connolly

Before videotaping became common you can imagine the frustration of people trying to tell the truth!

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