Holding Police Accountable for Misconduct in Communities of Color

Fruitvale BART Station is where I begin and end my day. The infamous platform in Oakland, California, where BART police murdered Oscar Grant, a fully restrained, unarmed African American who was celebrating New Year’s Day with his friends and girlfriend. Johannes Mehserle, the police officer involved in the shooting, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to the minimum two years in prison, but being that he had “time served,” he would only spend seven months in jail with possible bail. For murder. And he practically walks away with a slap on the wrist. This tragedy and many more that followed sparked the movement of national protests and social media hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter. Police are not being held accountable for their killings of unarmed people of color. Police are also unfairly targeting Black people.

The justice system has shown a pattern of taking the side of law enforcement, even when they are clearly in the wrong.

Eric Garner, 43, died while being held in a chokehold by plainclothes officers on camera. Court Verdict: No indictment.

John Crawford, 22, shot dead in Walmart by police officers who received a call saying he was holding a gun and pointing at people, later to find out it was a toy gun that he picked up off the shelf of Walmart. Court Verdict: No indictment.

Jerame Reid, 36, was shot seven times when pulled over for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign, resulting in his death. Verdict for the two police officers: No indictment.

Police are not being held accountable for their wrongful crimes and abuse of authority towards Black people. According to Mapping Police Violence, only three out of the 240 killings of Black people in 2015 resulted in officers being charged with a crime. This shows justice is not being served for people of color.

Police are excessively violent toward people of color. Their first instinct when dealing with confrontation between a Black person is to aim and shoot. According to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), African Americans, who make up only 13 percent of the population, are victims in 26 percent of police shootings. This data suggests that African Americans reasonably should be concerned with encounters with law enforcement.

People of color have been targeted by police for far too long. Although police killings of African Americans 25 and older have declined by 61 percent since the late 1960s according to CJCJ, the likelihood of being killed by police for younger African Americans remain 4.5 times higher, and for older African Americans 1.7 times higher, than compared to the national average for all races. Police killings did go down, but they are back on a rise. Let me remind you the 1960s was the civil rights movement when Black people peacefully protested and boycotted for equality while police attacked them with high pressure fire hoses, bats, vicious dogs and deadly beatings. History repeats itself, right? From the looks of it, we are traveling back in time to fight for our rights yet again.

This matters because innocent lives are being taken everyday due to stereotypes and their skin pigmentation. Police should be protecting communities and neutralizing situations, not escalating them. We need to continue to protest and utilize social media. It’s up to us, as citizens, to unite and bring awareness of police brutality or it’ll just get worse. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” We do not need to mimic the actions of police, but we do need to show them that we are serious and will fight for change. To be a part of the movement to end police violence, join activists such as Cornel West and Carl Dix of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network in #RiseUpOctober.

Be the change you wish to see in the world.