Enough is Enough: Police Reform Now

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It seems as if every week a new video surfaces online showcasing another act of excessive force used against black Americans, angering, horrifying, and shocking viewers throughout the nation and all over the world. For many in the black community, police brutality has been a part of their everyday lives, and finally, the world has a glimpse of what it is like to be born suspect in America.

Despite activists and allies calling for police reform – hands up, don’t shoot; I can’t breathe; black lives matter – how much longer can we wait for change? How many more men, women, and children need to be traumatized and victimized before something is done about police brutality? How many more offending officers will be put on administrative leave or simply resign with no criminal charges brought against them for using excessive force?

When a 15-year-old girl in a swim suit is body slammed and pinned down by a corporal officer in McKinney, Texas we have to ask: when is enough, enough?

Victims, witnesses, and bystanders have used technology as a powerful tool to broadcast these transgressions far and wide. Recording these events empowers the community and may increase the likelihood of holding offenders accountable (or at the very least it raises awareness that these offenses are happening).

As President of the National Bar Association, Pamela Meanes, said of the McKinney pool party fiasco, “You’ve heard the saying, ‘I feared for my life. He reached for my gun. I thought they would attack me.’ I wonder what the narrative would have been if there were no tape in this particular case.”

In the McKinney video, viewers clearly see that a group of black teens in bathing suits, shorts, and flip flops posed no threat to Corporal Eric Casebolt who chased, terrorized, and handcuffed them. At one point, he even wielded his gun on two boys. No excuse or justification for Casebolt’s actions can trump the video evidence.

Though not all police abuse their power, these countless acts of police brutality used against the black community can no longer be ignored or merely labeled as isolated incidents.

September 2014 I wrote an article about why police should wear body cameras.  Despite evidence showing that body cameras help reduce use-of-force incidences, every officer in the US is still not equipped with a body camera because why?

Last month Virginia Officer Shaun Jergen’s body camera showed him tasering and pepper-spraying David Washington, an unarmed, unresponsive black man, who was having a stroke.

Jergen, who has since resigned from his position, denies wrongdoing, but Fredericksburg Captain Rick Pennock admitted that Jergen had used excessive force. “The use of force demonstrated in the incident involving Mr. Washington was not in compliance with department policy or training," said Pennock in a statement.  

Unlike McKinney, there was no bystander who videotaped this incident. Without Jergen’s body camera, we would have never known what had happened to Washington. The responsibility to ensure that officers do not abuse their power should not be on a victim, bystander, or witness who happens to pull out their camera phone; the responsibility should be on the officer.

I said it last year, and I will say it again: police body cameras are pro-police and pro-citizen. They promote transparency and can help restore faith in the criminal justice system. Officers who abuse their power disgrace their badge and besmirch the integrity of the men and women who serve and protect.

In a CBS poll conducted this year, Americans were increasingly likely to say that police are more apt to use deadly force against a black person. In addition, 61% of Americans say that race relations in this country are generally bad, while 44% of Americans think race relations are worsening.  The bottom line: America has a race problem. Police brutality against the black community is only a symptom of deeply rooted racism in our country.

As the rift between communities of color and the police continue to widen, we can no longer wait for change. Though race relations can’t be fixed overnight, enough is enough; we need police reform, now.

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