By Charlene Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
(FinalCall.com) – In 2014 Black America’s suffering increased at the hands of angry White men in black and blue, who are sworn to protect and serve. But responses to police killings and attacks must be stricter and stronger because police reforms have not worked, analysts say.
“The police represent the state. They are not there to serve the interest of the people, so we have to start with that concept,” said Elaine Brown, a former Black Panther leader. The long-time activist said she couldn’t point to any police reforms that have worked, but she offered some that wouldn’t be difficult to enact, starting with community policing and residency as a priority for qualifying officers.
Officers also need to get out of cars and walk streets, instead of patrolling all day and then jumping out on people and shooting, she added.
“Ain’t nobody going into Beverly Hills slapping nobody upside the head and shooting people because they ran out the store, but kids are stealing all day long in Beverly Hills. But the police are out there. They’re Officer Friendly. Everybody knows them,” Ms. Brown said.
“But in the case of the Black community, given our oppressed and depressed status, then we should have police that understand that community. So if they don’t live there, they should at least be walking the beat, so they know Mr. Jones is going to get drunk on Friday night, so there’s not a reason to kill him, or those boys are doing whatever it is they’re doing, but it’s a question of community control,” she said.
Part of community control can be reflected in simple reforms, but not cameras, she said. “We already know what that does: Nothing. Although that’s helpful at the end of the day if the camera’s turned on, if they’re not lying and fixing up stuff, acting like it didn’t work that day, and all of that other stuff they do,” Ms. Brown argued.
People need a police force that actually has a relationship in the community, but many forces are strikingly different, like Oakland, where at minimum 80 percent of the police are White and don’t live there, Ms. Brown told The Final Call.
In Ferguson, Mo., the epicenter for protests against police killings and brutality, Blacks make up more than 67 percent of Ferguson’s population, yet there are only three Blacks on its 53-man police force. “You’ve got racial divide. You’ve got White cops policing Black communities … and that’s not to say that the Blacks don’t often participate in this stuff; but generally speaking, if you live in the neighborhood, you ain’t going to be shooting Billy Bob like it ain’t nothing. You’ve got to go home. It’s just a practical question really,” Ms. Brown argued.
The irony, she said, is the recent spate of police killings didn’t occur in the South, but rather in places like New York. Then there was the non-indictment of officers in the Aug. 5 police killing of John Crawford in a Walmart in Dayton, Ohio, which has many feeling it’s “open season” on Blacks.
Between Michael Brown, Jr., the unarmed 18-year-old shot to death in Ferguson and John Crawford, killed in the toy gun aisle of a Wal-Mart, there were other Black and Latino men, youth and women slain by police.
Even the outgoing U.S. attorney general admits crime reduction is tied to public trust. In early December, Attorney General Eric Holder said President Barack Obama had instructed his team to draft an executive order creating a Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The task force will prepare a report and recommendations within 90 days of its creation.
President Obama has also proposed a three-year, $263 million investment in 50,000 body-worn cameras for police officer, expanded training for law enforcement agencies, and additional resources for police reform, including additional opportunities for the Department of Justice to facilitate community and local law enforcement engagement.
“Particularly in light of recent incidents we’ve seen at the local level and the concerns about trust in the criminal justice process which so many have raised throughout the nation, it’s imperative that we take every possible action to institute sound, fair and strong policing practices,” Atty. Holder said.
The Justice for Mike Brown Leadership Coalition’s Five Point Plan of Action calls for creation of civilian review boards, use of cameras and cell phones to document encounters with police and creation of a national database to document charges of police harassment and brutality.
The National Urban League’s 10 recommendations include review and revision of police use of deadly force policies, widespread use of body and patrol car dashboard cameras, and appointment of special prosecutors to investigate police misconduct.
Many aren’t convinced such “reforms” will do much good. “Let’s just say they did work. The lapel cameras can show a police officer in the wrong, and, they go before a grand jury. We’ve still got to get past the grand jury level. We’ve still got to get past a district attorney who is going to prosecute that police officer … his best friend,” commented Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson.
Despite reforms gained by his family and the Oakland community after former Bay Area Rapid Transit officer Johannes Mehserle fatally shot his unarmed nephew Oscar Grant, III. on a station platform on Jan. 1, 2008, not much has changed, said the activist.
If by chance people get past a prosecutor, they still have to deal with juries that are so overwhelmed with White supremacy that Blacks, Whites and Latinos tend to rule in favor of police, Mr. Johnson continued.
People can still be forced to peel away layers of the criminal justice system, only to be denied justice by a judge who overturns a just jury verdict, as did L.A. Judge Robert Perry in his nephew’s case, Mr. Johnson said.
“We’ve seen it over and over again … in reality, it’s no fairness. It’s just protection of police officers, so the simple reforms of a police officer does not take away the ill-effect of the criminal justice system. This whole system has to be revamped,” he told The Final Call.
The Justice for Oscar Grant movement was able to get lapel cameras for officers, additional training on handling mental health patients, a law allowing for an independent auditor that would report directly to the BART Board and investigate public complaints, an 11-man citizen review board to participate in disciplinary actions and 81 recommendations tied to police use of force, training, and community engagement. The suggestions came out of an independent review of BART by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
“Whether those reforms have done anything or actually helped, I’d have to say from what I’m seeing on a consistent basis, no,” Mr. Johnson said.
The oversight review board and the auditor were never adequately funded by BART and both are controlled by the police chief, who can deny any claim, he continued. While people can appeal to the department’s general manager, normally, the general manager will side with the chief, so no real improvements have been made, Mr. Johnson said.
“In many respects, we still have no real ability to implement any kind of punishment or terminate a police officer when they’re actually in the wrong,” Mr. Johnson said. As for lapel cameras, officers still aren’t turning them on when needed, he said.
BART police are supposed to activate cameras before making contact with anyone, but in Dublin, Calif., where one officer was shot by another during a probation search, none of the officers present either wore or activated their cameras, he noted.
“These officers are turning them on and off at will to cover themselves when they know they’re in the wrong. Again, here we have another failure of some type of reform when it comes to cameras not working. Officers can’t be held accountable if the lapel cameras are not turned on, or, if they’re turned off during encounters, there has to be real harsh discipline, and that isn’t taking place,” he said.
In mid-April, activists pressed to no avail Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck to find and discipline officers who broke antennas on police vehicles and interfered with audio recordings made while patrolling predominantly Black and Brown communities.
Officers removed 72 of approximately 160 antennas from cars that patrolled South L.A. the L.A. Times reported. Officials didn’t investigate who broke the antennas, nor did department officials, but they did issue warnings and put an antenna tracking plan in place for each shift.
In the midst of #BlackLivesMatter protests over the non-indictments in the Michael Brown, Jr. and Eric Garner killings, activists noted that police murders of Blacks have a long history and are not something that occurred overnight.
Calls for reform aren’t new either, activists note.
“First of all, they don’t need no reform. They already know the law,” insisted Amen Rahh, professor emeritus of Africana Studies at California State University-Long Beach. “It’s the whole criminal justice system, not just the police beating you and shooting you. It’s the justice system that lets them go when they do it.”
“They don’t need reform to treat White folks. Why they need reform to treat us? They just need to have a balance, and they must pay a price, a national price, whenever they hurt any African American anywhere.”
Prof. Rahh recommended using an independent Black political party to push legislation that punishes abusive cops and hold hearings on violations of law. Blacks also need a national economic policy and must pursue their own agenda to survive, he added.
“As long as we’re marching for peace, reform and policy change, they’ve been dealing with that for years. They don’t care about that, because they’ve been killing us all the time … but we must push our agenda, a Black national empowerment program, from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s teachings. He always taught us to be organized as a people and to develop unity,” Prof. Rahh said.