American police still has a license to kill.
In 2015 the American policemen killed 1000 Americans.
40 percent were colored. 25 percent had psychological problems.
All in pure self-defense? No other means to stop them?
For a country with almost half the world’s guns, but only 5 percent of its total population, deaths from firearms have come to be seen as an unavoidable feature of life in America.
However, this is not a piece about gun violence. America has the ability to resolve that insanity, yet it seems determined to avoid the solution. Gun control is simple and manageable, and it’s something that’s been tried and tested in countries across the world.
Where there is a less clear roadmap to a solution is on the matter of police violence. This increasingly common phenomenon is made only more haunting by the absurdity of it. The most vulnerable peoples within American society are being killed in greater volumes, by those tasked with serving and protecting these very people.
Horrifyingly, police shootings in the United States have grown at such a rate that they now number almost three per day.
And as the use of mobile cameras both on police and civilian bystanders becomes more and more common, these activities are no longer being undertaken in the shadow of secrecy. Indeed, of the 18 felony cases filed against officers this year, 10 were brought using video evidence – suggesting that the increasing use of recording devices will lead to a complementary increase in accountability.
Despite this, less than 6% of all fatal shootings by police are captured on video, meaning that while this evidence has become an important accountability mechanism for some, it is still far away from becoming commonly used.
Police regularly refuse to release videos publicly, arguing that it can influence jury pools. Officials also rightfully point out that while video evidence may appear to show police acting carelessly or rashly, the decisions made by officers are done quickly, and at great risk to their personal safety.
So with the need to facilitate the safe and effective work of those tasked with protecting the community, but with the equally growing need to safeguard the community from their own officers, how does America move forwards? How can the nation ensure that the rate of killings at the hands of its officials begins to slow immediately, and how can they work to restore faith in the activities of these officers?
Well for one thing, recent events have been a reliable trigger for public action. Like the death of Michael Brown in August, which led to mass protests, or the killing of David Kassick that led to a petition gaining thousands of signatures, the community has now become an active stakeholder in the methods of its own authorities.
As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to grow and assert itself on the national stage, results seem to be emerging slowly but surely. After the truly awful mismanagement of a controversial police killing in Chicago in 2014, Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired his chief of police in response to public calls for action.
Emanuel’s position still remains under threat, as he was criticised for acting too slowly in response to this event. As he cuts his vacation short in order to tend to yet another political fire, attention in Chicago is focused closely on how he manages his officers on this important issue.
The success of protest movements responding to these tragedies have been judged on their outcomes. The recent Chicago example shows that results can be achieved, as major political figures can be held accountable when the public bands together to demand action.
Indeed, not only has Emanuel fired several of his major appointments, he has also directed the Independent Police Review Authority to assess police crisis intervention policies, as well as enacting a new policy requiring officers involved in shootings to be assigned to desk duties for 30 days after any such incident.
New training programs have also been introduced in an attempt to reform police mentality from “warrior” behaviour, to a more “guardian” orientated mentality. This change has been led by a key member of the ‘Presidential task-force for 21st Century policing’, another reform aimed at facilitating a gentler approach to community security in the country.
Despite these efforts, there has been a strong pushback from the police community. Many fear that a gentler style of policing could lead to an increase in the number of deaths for officers on duty. Some point to the increased prevalence of automatic firearms and a need for police to respond to this. Others reflect on the fact that after 9/11, homeland security received greater funding, thereby increasing the incentive for academies to turn out stronger, tougher graduates. Whatever its cause, clearly there are still concerns that moving towards a gentler model of policing could have unintended consequences.
Nevertheless, many argue these changes are not enough. If this is all that is to come from senseless killings and subsequent demonstrations, then America is heading to a very dark place. With civil rights protests interrupting rallies from Presidential candidates Sanders, Trump and Clinton, it might even be argued that the ends don’t quite justify the means. At a time where Americans are rating race relations as their worst in recent years, visible divisiveness may well be the last thing that the country needs.
Indeed, so serious have these tensions been, that threats by white supremacists against the group have moved from the online arena, to the real world. At a recent Black Lives Matters protest, five protesters were shot. At another rally, live explosives were found close to the venue.
These consequences are real, and they’re significant.
As police shootings continue to climb, and violent tensions stir at civil rights rallies, the United States faces a difficult future. Clearly this means that the actions of protesters are being heard. And they have a legitimate right to make their voice heard. But with the policy responses revealing themselves to be tepid at best, there seems to be no real resolution.
Moving beyond this issue will require real leadership. We haven’t seen enough of this yet, so let’s hope that 2016 is truly a new year.