Being a Witness Is Not Enough
By Ellen Kubit
If you pay any attention to the news lately, you would think that the country is suddenly in the midst of a police misconduct crisis. Every month or so, we learn about how a police officer killed someone of color: Michael Brown, John Crawford, Eric Garner, Tanisha Anderson, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Tony Robinson, and unfortunately, far too many more.
And yet, if you spoke to any member of a highly policed community, they would tell you that these examples of police brutality are simply business-as-usual. They would tell you that police violence towards their communities is a way of life. They would tell you about how our history is filled with Michael Browns, Tamir Rices, and Freddie Grays. It’s that the rest of America hasn’t always paid attention.
Documenting the Injustice
Many people believe that the recent videos capturing police violence have helped to bring awareness to rampant misconduct. The videos of Tamir Rice’s and Walter Scott’s murders are two examples. People all over America have watched these videos, read the stories, and realized how the actions and culture of the police have led to death and tragedy for people of color.
But we have all seen videos like these before.
The first example that comes to mind is the footage of law enforcement using water cannons, attack dogs, and physical violence against the marchers of Selma during 1965. At the time, these televised scenes brought the reality of racism and police brutality directly into living rooms nationwide.
And what about Rodney King? The video of the Los Angeles police officers brutally and relentlessly attacking King in 1991 was played all over the world.
And we certainly can’t forget last year’s video of Eric Garner being choked to death as he tried to shout, “I can’t breathe!” Sure, the video reached millions of people, but the grand jury ultimately decided not to indict the officer whose actions killed Eric Garner.
With these nearly 50 years of documented footage of police violence, why do we continue to learn about a new police killing every week or so?
Moving Forward…Once and For All
Police misconduct towards people of color is an extension of the institutionalized racism our country was built upon.
Slavery, Jim Crow, zoning, voting, education, reproductive health care, the “War on Drugs,” and police brutality have been used, and still are, to legitimatize unconstitutional discrimination. Communities of color have been under siege since the founding of this country.
To learn more about Black Lives Matter movement, read our issue post.
So we must remember these most recent examples of police misconduct are not the first, but we do have the opportunity to make them the last. Of course, one way is to be a witness to these events and document them by using our cell phones to record police encounters. At the very least, these videos can raise awareness of what happened. But we can do more to make real change.
Take the stand that “enough is enough” when it comes to excessive use of force by the police. Demand immediate and substantive reforms from our local governments and police departments.
Black lives matter. Do more than just be a witness, get involved.