You are eight times as likely to die from brutal police force than you are to die from a homicidal attack. When, and how, is the state-sanctioned violence going to end?
Tamir Rice, 12 was playing with a toy gun in a store when he was shot dead by the police due to the “threat he appeared to pose”. Michael Brown, 18, was walking back home one day when the police shot him six times to death. Darrien Hunt, 22, was holding a fake Samurai sword at a Japanese Comic Con when the police gunned him down to death. These cases happened within the past ten years, but are only a small handful of the cases of police brutality in America every year: Jim Fisher, a former FBI agent, estimates that the police in the United States shoot at least 1,000 people, killing at least 607 of them. Shootings by police accounted for almost 10 percent of homicides (LA Times). Horrific incidences like these are disregarded as one-off accidents, when, in reality, these statistics and stories show that “accidental” police shootings are a systemic violence and not coincidences.
Around the nation, protesters are rallying for anti-police brutality laws and anti-racism in the legal system. With the amount of injustice and distrust created by police violence, the progression of human rights in America is incumbent upon police reform. Freedom to walk down the streets should be boundless and not contingent on whether it will result in being mercilessly shot by the police.
The police in America aren’t just armed: they are essentially militarized.
As with every stable democracy, no individual body should possess such great mechanical power. The police in America aren’t just armed: they are essentially militarized. In other nations, American policemen would be regarded as heavily armed as soldiers sent out to war in Baghdad or Aleppo. The Call of Duty culture seems to persist in the justice system where it is the norm to see police officers respond to small situations using “top-grade military equipment like tear gas, rifles, and automatic weapons” (The Economist). The atmospheric fear of totalitarianism rising with such a relentless police force is at the heart of America’s troubles: power corruption and violence.
I’m not dismissing the great work and sacrifice that noble policemen take on to keep Americans safe and sound, but criticizing the lackadaisical, excessive approach to doling out destructive weapons to policemen who were only minimally trained. In 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union found that the value of all military equipment in police departments in America was equal to over $450 million in federal cash.
“It is no longer acceptable to Americans … that police officers are accidentally brutally shooting and killing citizens. We need police training and better reform,” remarked Democrat Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in an impassioned interview on MSNBC. Ol’ Berns is right: we need to collectively realize that criminal justice is deeply flawed as it severely disadvantages minorities and gives police officers too much power and leeway with “mistakes”.
Despite a legal decree in 1994 for federal governments, the Justice Department and local police departments to tally up the numbers of innocent shootings, there is a lack of statistical reporting of accidental police shootings, reflecting the low accountability in the Justice Department. Without these statistics, it is difficult to corroborate any lobbying campaign against police gun laws. Thus, to increase public awareness and to legally push for police reform, greater transparency in the Justice Department is necessary.
What is then necessary is a comprehensive action plan to reduce police brutality?
The way police officers are trained, that the hard-and-fast rule in any situation is to draw their gun, is the main problem. By training policemen to rely on their guns rather than use their experience and judgment, this cultivates an irresponsible mindset towards protecting civilians and an unhealthy dependency on guns. What would American policemen be without their guns? A policeman’s best asset is not his or her weapon, but physical and mental ability, his or her ability to call for immediate backup and ability to think on his or her feet. The system needs to train police officers to be holistically competent without a gun and to have them pass aptitude tests, like racial discriminatory subconscious association tests to prevent racial bias.
Police officers should be selectively armed based on the criminal context and severity of the situation. A sudden mass homicide case clearly makes greater calls for police officers to be armed with AK-47s than a patrol trip to the grocery store. If a homicide is occurring, the unarmed police officer on duty must then call for instant backup for officers with guns. This technique works in the United Kingdom — while in America 32.57 people per million are killed per year using firearms, in the United Kingdom, only 0.0341 people per million are killed by firearms every year.
After all, the way the system heavily equips policemen with arms critically demonstrates the legal system’s suspicion of citizens, which in turn fosters a negative attitude towards policemen, creating a vicious cycle of systemic violence. The logic is simple: the more we allow guns to be doled out freely amongst Americans, the more violence and crime will occur, the more policemen are armed and the more accidental police shootings occur. Politicians and citizens alike need to start realizing that the longer our silly political debates hold on, the greater collateral damage will occur to innocent citizens who are deprived of the security they deserve.
To borrow a line from Donald Trump, “America will be great again,” with these reforms.