September proved to be a killing month of African Americans at the hands of police. Thirteen year old Tyree King running away from police in Columbus, Ohio, Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma with hands upon while being shot, Keith Lamont Scott, suffering with a brain traumatic injury in Charlotte, North Carolina and Alfred Olango, suffering from an epilepsy attack in San Diego County, are the most recent and notable names known in the media. The Guardian and Washington Post have kept as accurate a tally as possible since there is no federal database of police shootings and killings. In 2016, almost 800 persons have been killed at the hands of police. In 2015, it was 990. It averages roughly 1000 lives taken each year by police. From the period of 2005-2015, 54 police officers were charged with either manslaughter or murder. That averages out to 5 police officers charged per 1000 killings each year.
It seems as if the recent wave of police killings of unarmed blacks are coming fast and furious in September. It really never seems to let up, leaving many African Americans and those persons standing on the side of justice, swirling with an array of emotions from anger, sadness, sorrow, numbness, stress, tension, anxiety and a host of every other imaginable emotion. I know at times, I have gone through the entire gambit of emotions.
There is much talk and little action being done. While Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spoke on the recent killings, neither said what they would do as President to change the culture of racism and injustice. Trump during the first Presidential debate stated he would bring back stop and frisk. Stop and frisk measures were declared unconstitutional because the outrageous practices racially targeted blacks and Hispanics, in addition to doing nothing to deter crime. Trump proudly announced his endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police which actively supports police officers who have shot and killed innocent persons. And Clinton mentioned during the debate that systemic racism must be addressed. How to stop the killings of unarmed blacks is the big question.
The silence among fellow police officers is what is most troubling to me. Silence is the same as condoning the shooting deaths of unarmed African Americans. Charlotte’s Police Chief said the video of the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott did not “definitively” show a gun was shown. Few officers ever speak out against injustice. In the shooting death of Walter Scott last year in Charlotte, NC another police officer supported former officer Michael Slager’s account that Scott had a gun pointed. It was not until video taken by a bystander revealed both Slager and his partner lied. Scott was running away at the time with his back towards the officer. More officers need to speak the truth. If as some contend, that it is only a few bad ones, one would think other officers would be more vocal and speak out. The code of blue appears more powerful than standing with justice. Zero tolerance by police departments is another way to bring justice to an unjust situation. Police are being provided with body cameras but many somehow conveniently find it impossible to always wear them or turn them on. There are now police officers who are finding ways to prevent a dash camera from video. If police were given no warnings to wear and turn on body cameras or else termination, perhaps they might remember to wear and use them. Instead police are given free pay and leave time when a killing occurs and placed on administrative duty—a paid vacation or desk duty.
I know that I am sick and tired of seeing innocent lives taken at overzealous and racist police officers. As Desmond Tutu once said, “ If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” And for most police officers, they have become implicit in the killings of innocent and unarmed African Americans by choosing to remain silent or condoning their fellow officers’ actions. So they have chosen to stand with injustice rather than truth. As long as police are silent and victims appear powerless, there will be more unrest in America until the boiling pot completely boils over.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal commentator, speaker and former Baltimore prosecutor. She frequently appears on MSNBC, BET, CBS, C-Span, PBS among other news outlets. Her Op-Ed articles appear in the Huffington Post, Washington Post and Baltimore Sun.