Bankole: In search of black-friendly law enforcement
‘I am not poison, no, I am not poison. Just a boy from the hood that. Got my hands in the air. In despair, don’t shoot,” Jay- Z, the mega hip-hop star, sings in emotional lyrics decrying lives cut short in deadly police encounters.
Those words protesting overbearing law enforcement represent the lamentations of many young African-Americans across the nation, who remain extremely worried and helpless about any future encounter or traffic stop with law enforcement.
In a nation founded on the creed that all are created equal and are guaranteed constitutional protections, black lives should not be regarded as some sort of poison that must be removed from the face of the earth.
The list of those who have suffered tragic deaths at the hands of police keeps getting longer and there seems to be no end in sight.
Following a March 18 incident in Sacramento, an independent autopsy revealed that 22-year-old Stephon Clark was hit with eight bullets in his grandmother’s backyard when officers responded to vandalism complaints in the neighborhood.
Clark had only a cellphone with him when the officers fired at him, and his death has once again sparked a national debate about police use of force.
Even the 50th anniversary death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. last week did not escape the reality of police use of deadly force when engaging black men.
As the world paused to reflect on King’s fight for racial equality and his message of non-violence, another black male was fatally shot in New York by NYPD officers.
Saheed Vassell, a 34-year-old welder and father of a teenage boy, reportedly had a metal pipe pointed at the cops who fired 10 shots, hitting him multiple times.
Unless law enforcement leaders step up to directly address the use of deadly force, these incidents will serve only to further deepen mistrust between blacks and law enforcement.
No amount of forums or PR stunts in communities of color will improve this situation unless officers start demonstrating some restraint when responding to calls, especially in situations where there are no threats to their lives.
The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives sees an urgency to address this issue in a policy paper it issued last year admonishing police officers.
“It is the policy of this law enforcement agency to value and preserve human life. Officers shall use only the force that is objectively reasonable to effectively bring an incident under control, while protecting the safety of the officer and others,” NOBLE stated.
“Officers shall use force only when no reasonably effective alternative appears to exist and shall use only the level of force which a reasonably prudent officer would use under the same or similar circumstances.”
The group further states, “The decision to use force requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officer or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.”
If officers follow through with what NOBLE is advising, incidents such the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland for holding a toy gun in a playground could be avoided.
Because boys like Rice should not be robbed of their youth.
They should be allowed to be boys just like their white counterparts.
Yes, often blacks are told to believe in the system. But if the system isn’t working for equal justice under the law, it is time to reform the system.
That is not too much to ask.
It is a justice imperative, a belief that everybody ought to be treated innocent until proven guilty.
Even the mass shooter Nikolas Cruz, who terrorized Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, leaving 17 dead, was arrested without incident. He is entitled to his day in court.
Blacks should not be the exception.
Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Superstation 910AM.