The Issue at Hand
The shots that killed Mike Brown were heard around the world as citizens took to the streets and loudly called for the killer cop to be charged with murder. Many witnesses said they saw Mike Brown with his hands up; the cop seemed to be the only one that felt threatened. The cop wasn’t indicted and people around the country were confused and angry. This incident became the first of many highly publicized examples of police brutality against people of color in America and a foundation narrative for the fact that police are rarely charged with murder for on-the-job killings.
As an outsider looking in, I see police killing citizens with the backing that they felt threatened which would make sense if all of the evidence pointed to a tangible, real life threat. As an outsider looking in, I see a strong need for police reform, but mostly I see a broken system. Let’s look at a few of those things that have got us here:
There is an over-policing of Black communities: Black youth and adults report a higher rate of harassment by police than other groups. Methods like broken window policing and stop and frisk have placed urban environments under a microscope, which over time has contributed to engraining racial biases in how police do their work. There is also a cycle of distrust between both communities of color and the police and part of that is due to the history of police presence in urban neighborhoods.
The New Jim Crow: Mass incarceration refers to the stat that around 2 million people are in this country’s jails or prisons, a number that increased rapidly within the last 30 years. A large percentage of those people are of color with the largest percentage being Black men. The “Prison Industrial Complex” is more than just a hot-button topic or a concept when it is destroying communities by dehumanizing them.
Racial biases in sentencing: In 2012, a study found that Black men were at least 30% more likely to go to jail for the same crime committed by a White man. Enough said.
President Obama gave a great speech at the NAACP Convention this year, recognizing that there needs to be serious criminal justice reform because of how the system is leaving Black and Brown communities with significant disadvantages. What’s unfortunate about this is that Obama is also on his way out.
The future for our criminal justice system is bleak, in my opinion, because of the strong ties built between money and government on every level. In a utopian society I see crime combatted with rehabilitation and sentencing that actually fits. But we won’t get anywhere near that as long as traditions of racism are as interlocked into the system as is.
How People Can Get Involved
The key to making a difference is to be educated, first and foremost. Second, use that education to share with your family and greater community, be vocal and spread the message. I will always advocate for that.
In the case of criminal justice reform, now is a great time to research, start, or join civilian review boards in your city or county. We have the power to hold the system accountable.
KNOW. YOUR. RIGHTS. I can’t stress that enough, unfortunately we see evidence of the system, police specifically, still violating peoples rights and some of those situations end up deadly – RIP SANDRA BLAND – but we still need to know them and share that information with our communities and family to have safer police encounters.
The criminal justice system in our country is one horribly tangled web with no easy solution. What are some ways you could recommend people get involved to help counter the ills of this system?