Police killings, race hatred, protests and ever increasing tension, division are ripping the United States apart. The president and leaders want to talk but words are not enough.
The opportunity for the country’s first Black president to jumpstart a substantive, no-holds barred dialogue about race, law enforcement and police interactions with Black and Brown communities has apparently flamed out, leaving little hope for real change as the 2016 presidential election now looms on the horizon.
In the aftermath of the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La. and Philando Castile on the outskirts of St. Paul, Minn., both at the hands of police, the acquittal by a judge of a fourth police officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, the decision not to charge officers in connection with the deaths of Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Mo. and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, Black critics of President Barack Obama’s responses to these tragedies say he has failed to use his “bully pulpit” to adequately confront these issues.
“Obama and his cheerleaders should take responsibility for being so reluctant to engage with these issues. It’s not a question of interest group or constituencies. Unfortunately for so much of the Obama administration it’s been a question of ‘I’m not the president of black people, I’m the president of everyone.’ But this is a question of justice. It’s about being concerned about racism and police brutality,” wrote Dr. Cornel West, a leading Black intellectual and activist, in the UK-based Guardian newspaper.
But what if anything can or will change under Democratic President Hillary Clinton or Republican President Donald Trump?
“This November, we need change. Yet we are tied in a choice between Trump, who would be a neo-fascist catastrophe, and Clinton, a neo-liberal disaster. … I have deep empathy for brothers and sisters who are shot in the police force. I also have profound empathy for people of color who are shot by the police. I have always believed deliberate killing to be a crime against humanity,” said Dr. West, who teaches at Princeton University. Dr. West and others pointed to the fact that Mr. Obama attended the July 12 memorial services for five Dallas police officers, that officials said were slain by Micah Xavier Johnson versus the telephone calls he placed to family members of Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile as an example of inequity in the value and importance of Black lives.
Dr. West blasted Mr. Obama for not going to Baton Rouge or Minneapolis, opting instead to go to Dallas.
“You can’t do that. His fundamental concern was to speak to the police, that was his priority. When he references the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s to speak to the police,” said Dr. West.
“Obama has power right now to enact the recommendations made after Ferguson. Better training, independent civilian oversight boards, body cameras. But he has not used executive orders to push any of these changes through,” he added.
Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, author, consultant and commentator, posed a direct question toward the president. “When are policemen going to go to jail for the murder of Black people? When is that going to become a priority because the bottom line is there is no incentive for change to happen until that starts to occur,” she said.
In what was billed as a “national conversation” on race and policing, an Obama town hall meeting was met with tepid enthusiasm and biting criticism by those who called it a farce in the waning months of his presidency.
Dr. Jones-DeWeever tuned in for the July 14 program that aired on ABC, simulcast on other networks and online and moderated by David Muir of World News Tonight and Jemele Hill of ESPN but came away “exceedingly disappointed.”
“I left that experience believing more than ever that in many respects, to many people in this country the lives of Black people don’t matter at all,” said Dr. Jones-DeWeever, calling it a one hour police public relations and propaganda campaign.
Erica Garner, eldest daughter of Eric Garner who died at the hands of police resulting from an illegal chokehold, expressed frustration with the town hall. She accused the network of silencing her.
“I need all of you to know that this #ABC town hall that will air at 8p.m. is a sham. They shut out ALL real and hard questions,” Ms. Garner posted on Twitter.
Law enforcement, politicians and family members of those that have died in police custody and family of officers slain in the line of duty participated in the town hall. It followed the fatal shootings and the wounding of police officers in Dallas.
Critics said the continuing focus on how Black people should respond and interact with police instead of police accountability is steering possible solutions in the wrong direction.
The program completely glossed over the responsibility and accountability by police in their duties to protect and serve communities, explained Dr. Jones-DeWeever, who is also the mother of two sons, ages 20 and 13.
“Even if you look at the loss of life in the Dallas situation just generally speaking, to equate the danger that the police face as it relates to that, as well as what we know is going on in this country particularly around Black and Brown communities with the police, it’s a false equivalency,” she continued.
Even with recent police killings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, according to reports, there have been 66 law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty this year, 31 by gunfire compared to 531 people shot and killed by police, 211 of those victims being Black and Latino.
From 2009 to 2015 under President Obama’s administration there were 62 police fatalities, lower than 101 under Ronald Reagan, 90 under George H.W. Bush, 81 under Bill Clinton, and 72 under George H. Bush.
Claude “Paradise” Gray of the legendary hip hop group X-Clan said until honest conversations are had, the problem will continue. “Everyone in the media was focused on ‘stop snitching’ but yet the mother of stop snitching is the ‘blue wall of silence,’ ” he explained, referring to the hesitancy or outright failure of police officers to report one another for wrongdoing and illegal activities.
Damon Jones, New York representative of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America, said Black police organizations like the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) and National Black Police Association have roles in fighting for change on the local, state and federal levels. However Black men and women in blue can’t look at membership in these groups as just an opportunity to get promoted, he said. These groups must be used as catalysts for real change, Mr. Jones said.
Mr. Jones said his group considers itself Black law enforcement activists and includes Black law enforcement professionals like police, sheriffs, marshals, correction and probation officers and includes civilians with a national membership of around 400 people. The group is very outspoken about the role and responsibility of police, especially their functionality in Black communities. Mr. Jones has 27 years’ experience working in the Westchester County Department of Corrections in New York.
In the last few months of Mr. Obama’s presidency, Mr. Jones said although he loves his “brother” he is not optimistic anything will change. The narrative must change from police brutality to police criminality, explained Mr. Jones.
“When a police officer or law enforcement officer violates their policies and procedures and violates their training, it is a crime and the president and local, state and federal elected officials have not gotten to that point where they recognize that,” he said.
A lot of what needs to change needs to be done at the local level agreed Dr. Jones-DeWeever but one of the things Mr. Obama can enact before he leaves office is an Executive Order that withholds funding if certain directives are not followed. There is nothing in the recommendations in Mr. Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force report that talks about police accountability, she said.
Under a Trump presidency, Dr. DeWeever predicts nothing would change and would more than likely get worse saying the Republican leader projects and encourages a culture of violence.
Under a Clinton regime she thinks the presumptive Democratic nominee “would be better” than Mr. Trump but is not sure how aggressive the former first lady would be in addressing and implementing real change—especially given her support of the infamous 1994 Crime Bill signed into law by her husband. The bill ushered in a new era of Black mass incarceration.
During her address to the NAACP National Convention in Cincinnati on July 18, Mrs. Clinton spoke on the need for police and criminal justice reform and acknowledged the fear many Blacks have of police.
“I would like to point out to the president and to everyone else, what did we do to become the bad guy? We weren’t the ones that kidnapped anybody, brought them to a foreign land, forced them to work as slaves for hundreds of years and then came up with Jim Crow and Black Codes and Slave Codes and all kinds of laws to criminalize us after slavery so that we would continue to be in the Prison Industrial Complex because of the 13th Amendment,” said Mr. Gray.
“What did we do to become this bad guy that there’s no fear that we should be shot on sight?”
For additional analysis and commentary shared by Jones Dr. Jones-DeWeever, Mr. Gray and Mr. Jones, on this issue visit simplystarla.blogspot.com. (Final Call)