Commentary: Presidential Candidates Miss the Mark on Police Brutality Against Black Americans

In the thickness of this month’s series of police involved shootings, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump took the stage for the first Presidential Debate on Monday, September 26th. The vice presidential candidates had what will be their only debate on Tuesday October 4th, and the next Presidential Debate will take place October 9th.

When NBC moderator Lester Holt asked Trump about what he would do to heal tensions between black communities and police, Trump simply replied, “We need law and order.”

Clinton offered vague plans for mending the relationship between law enforcement and Black Americans.

What stood out most to me were the post-debate comments made by NBC reporter Tom Brokaw. Brokaw described what he believed was an objective critique of both candidates and threw around a debasing phrase that so often makes its way into the conversation on police brutality:“[Clinton] was not critical at all of black-on-black crime.”

Brokaw said that “there are a lot of people who are very troubled by Black-on-Black crime”. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard claims that crushing “Black-on-Black crime” is a solution to a systematic attack on the Black community.

Hefty statistics show that 93% of Black people murdered are killed at the hands other Black people. At the same time, 84% of white people murdered are murdered by white people. Violent death is therefore most common at the hands people from the victims’ own communities, Black or white. The reality is that intraracial violence is not only found in the Black community, and it is not the cause or solution to police brutality.

Citing Black-on-Black crime during talk about police brutality ignores the main point: Police are charged with protecting and serving all American communities. Instead of considering ways to rehabilitate communities that were built on the premise of overpopulation, alienation, and abandonment, we throw the responsibility for fair treatment by police onto the group of people who have become products of the system.

Police officers have claimed that the Black Lives Matter movement is discouraging police officers from doing their job because they feel targeted wearing guns, protected by bulletproof vests, in the militaristic gear that have replaced traditional public service uniforms, they feel targeted.

It doesn’t matter that police feel like people are constantly hurting their feelings; it doesn’t matter because their feelings are not more important than the lives they are responsible for.

It coddles police comfort as the pinnacle for justice instead of the value for all human life.

In the PBS documentary, “Policing the Police” (a concept first introduced by Black Panther Party co-founders Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale), Jehlani Cobb speaks with the president of Newark, New Jersey’s largest police union, James Stewart. “Who’s gonna want the job?” Stewart asks. “After Taco Bell says no and after Sears says no and McDonald’s won’t have you, ‘Well maybe the Newark Police Department is hiring.”

Not only is police hiring not focused on paying salaries that recruit the best and brightest, or at least individuals who are motivated by fair pay to perform to the best of their abilities (CNN recently reported that Dallas Police officers are leaving due to low pay), but also, they are trained to shoot to kill. CNN recently reported that officers are trained to “shoot to stop,” which too often results in the death of unarmed Americans, disproportionately Americans of color.

It coddles police comfort as the pinnacle for justice instead of the value for all human life.

The threat of police becoming “discouraged” cannot be lorded over black people as a consequence for our desire to live. This country owes every citizen protection, or, at minimum, the opportunity to survive a police encounter.

To say that the Black community has to reach some sort of standard before being worthy of police respect and protection reinforces the belief that Black lives are disposable, not worthy of police pay that inspires respect for all Americans, and not worth training that empowers police to prioritize preservation of life.

Instead of asking about “black-on-black crime”, let’s ask about why we fund prisons and police more than education. Let’s ask about why the responsibility of de-escalation is written in the police handbook, but handed over to citizens.

our job is to understand that we don’t have to “fit The Look” in order to be deserving of life

Who are the people policing the communities of frequent crimes? Let’s assure that these people actually want to be there. Extricate the idea that policing is a regular job. If an officer polices a community that they have openly voiced disdain toward, it can be assumed that certain things will unravel. We cannot simply shame the officer for voicing a hateful thought, we must recruit and place police in communities that they are inspired to protect..

Hire outside, unbiased, workers like psychotherapists to come in and work with these officers. Therapists can identify officers’ backgrounds more thoroughly than what is revealed through fingerprinting and resumes. Where did officers grow up? Have they been around many people of color? Were they a part of notoriously racist fraternities? How do they react with their peers? Do they want to protect all, regardless of race or location?

To my Black community that wonders what we should do next, our job is to understand that we don’t have to “fit The Look” in order to be deserving of life. We don’t need spot clean records, our boys may be holding toy guns (like white counterparts), our kids may steal (like white counterparts), and our girls may be angry (like white counterparts). This does not disrobe us of the sacredness of life. Everyone in America is responsible for the way we act in this pivotal point in history.

We are not alone, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

 

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