America Really Needs To Police The Police – And The Internet Is Up To The Challenge
Police in the U.S. have killed at least 2,614 people since August 9, 2014, when Mike Brown was killed by cops in Ferguson, Missouri. It is an ugly statistic made worse by the fact that people of color, especially black men, have to face the ever present menace of police violence. Every. Single. Day.
So it was only a matter of time before killer police got other police killed. The horrific murders of five Dallas police officers on Thursday plays into this tragic cycle, and it’s very sad that these officers, through no fault of their own, were targeted.
The officers were on duty at a demonstration in downtown Dallas, where people were peacefully protesting the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Both men were shot to death by law enforcement earlier this week. It was shortly before 9 p.m. when the shootings began and the panicking crowd fled for cover.
The shootings were finally brought to an end when a Dallas police bomb squad killed the alleged sniper, Micah Xavier Johnson, with a robot.
Rarely do I ever agree with conservatives, but in an article for Red State, Leon H. Wolf brings up a valuable point.
“Now imagine, for a minute, that your parents instead grew up as black people in the 50s or 60s in one of the many areas where police were often the agents of—let’s call it what it was—white oppression. How might that have changed, for understandable reasons, the way not only those people but also their children and their children’s children interact with the police? More importantly, how might it impact the belief that police will ever be held accountable for abuses of their power?”
He notes that most police likely do their jobs with professionalism, but draws a line between that and “the mistrust between police and minority communities, especially in certain areas of the country.”
And the proliferation of cell phone videos confirm what many people have long kept in their minds—that police treat people of color much differently than they do white people.
“And here’s the most important part: when they do so, they never or almost never face punishment,” Wolf writes.
This is true.
While he doesn’t want to rush to judgment regarding the deaths of Sterling and Castile, he notes that from what we have seen from the videos, “they look bad. Very bad.”
“They look, at least at first glance, to confirm a lot of biases that people have,” Wolf writes. “They look like a scenario that has played out all too often that the white community either doesn’t believe ever happens (or at least believes is at most a freak occurrence) and minority communities believe is a systemic occurrence. And they look, most importantly, like many other scenarios in which officers have skated either scot-free or with a slap on their wrist.”
Well, dear white people: Wake the hell up already!
Yes, the killings of five police officers is horrible, but every time one of our black brothers or sisters sets foot out of bed in the morning, they face the chance of winding up on the wrong side of a cop with a gun. Something that white people rarely ever have to think about.
This is where the social media comes in.
When Police Kill Black People, The Internet Is Watching
And so is The Washington Post, which has been keeping tabs on this. Fortunately.
In 2015, police fatally shot nearly 1,000 people, according to the Post’s ongoing count. In 2016, cops have shot and killed an additional 506 people. It also found one sad statistic that probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most, if not all black people:
“Unarmed black men are seven times more likely than whites to die by police gunfire,” the newspaper wrote last year.
This is a depressing statistic, but there is power in knowing this.
The Guardian is also keeping count, and their numbers show 561 deaths, including 526 shootings. These efforts are certainly important, but they pinpoint the fact that because there isn’t a comprehensive federal effort to track these shootings, the full scope of the problem is obviously unknown. If there is going to be any positive change, this is as good a place as any to start.
Which is exactly why these attempts, coupled with video footage showing police violence towards people of color are so important. They drag the shocking, horrific violence before white America, forcing us to see it as it is, but it is also a tragic reminder for all black Americans of the ugliness they have to deal with every day. This new technology is forcing people to finally see inequality and racism for what it really is in the U.S.
Black Lives Matter has largely organized much of its movement on the social media, where videos of police shootings are published and shared.
But this begs the question: Where do we go from here? We see these terrifying, awful videos—most recently with the shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and they are gut-wrenching and it keeps happening. Over and over again. Mike Brown. John Crawford III. Akai Gurley. Tamir Rice. Walter Scott. They have all become names in a Google search. And as bad as this is comes the news that in one out of five fatal shootings the names of the police officers involved are never revealed.
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But there’s reason for hope, notes The Atlantic.
Ethan Zuckerman is the director of the MIT Center for Civic Media. As a scholar, he’s done a lot of writing about online activism and the importance of monitoring what he terms “the equitability of activism” in the physical and digital realms.
“Monitoring’ sounds passive, but it’s not—it’s a model for channeling mistrust to hold institutions responsible, whether they’re the institutions we’ve come to mistrust or the new ones we’re building today,” he wrote in a blog last year.
“When the Black Panthers were founded in Oakland, CA in the late 1960s, they were an organization focused on combating police brutality. They would follow police patrol cars and when officers got out to make an arrest, the Panthers—armed, openly carrying weapons they were licensed to own—would observe the arrest from a distance, making it clear to officers that they would intervene if they felt the person arresting was being harassed or abused, a practice they called ‘policing the police.’”
This type of monitoring benefits greatly from technology, whether it helps build a website dedicated to counting fatal shootings by police, forming an organization for videotaping crimes, or coordinating digital networks to share videos of deadly police confrontations, he notes. This, he writes, “allows many people working together to monitor situations that would be hard for any one individual to see.”
“The one stance that’s not acceptable as far as I’m concerned,” he added, “is that of disengagement, of deciding that you’re powerless and remaining that way.”
Zuckerman is right. This is no time for complacency. If we keep up the pressure in the social media, perhaps some day, when I Google the name of a black man, it won’t be because he was murdered by cops.
That would be a refreshing change.
Photo courtesy of Scott Olson/Getty Images