Every two days. Forty-eight hours, 2,280 minutes, 172,800 seconds. That’s how often, on average, a person of color is killed by a police officer. Despite what we've seen in the recent news, police killings are not stopping.
On Tuesday, Alton Sterling was killed while selling CDs in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Philandro Castile, who was shot and killed by a St. Anthony, Minnesota, police officer on July 5th, became the 561st person killed by the police since 2016 began. There is more awareness of police brutality and more being done to try to combat it than ever before...but it’s not working.
Castile was pulled over for a broken taillight, something so often used as an excuse to stop drivers it has become a sad cliche. He was a cafeteria worker for a public school, riding in the car with his girlfriend and her young daughter. And now that man, who knew the name of every child he worked with, has become a statistic in an ever more alarming racial conflict.
In June, I wrote about how Arizona recently passed a law making it easier for police to stop motorists for a broken taillight. Is this police overstepping their authority? Many worry that too much interaction between police and motorists is leading to even more violence. After all, a stop described as ‘meaningless’ directly led to Castile’s death.
What Started With Ferguson
Less than two years ago, on August 9, 2014, the unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri. This event sparked protests around the nation and started the Black Lives Matter movement that swept social media. Police were in the spotlight, new training and accountability programs were implemented in departments around the nation, and the use of body cams and other regulatory equipment became the norm.
The Need for Change
And the scary thing is, nothing's changing. I wrote about this in February. I wish I was wrong when I predicted more killings, but the numbers don’t lie. More than a thousand people are killed each year by police. Instead of lowering the number of deaths, the increased scrutiny seems to have actually increased them. Though reports may be due to more scrutiny and the prevalence of smartphone videos rather than more actual deaths, it remains clear that something must be done.
Something has to change. All over the media are reports of racial strife and violence. And the police violence puts the police themselves at great risk, as was shown to such devastating effect this week. On Thursday night, violence erupted at a protest rally in Dallas, Texas. The result was five police officers dead, seven more wounded, along with two civilians. The shooter, Micah Xavier Johnson of Mesquite, Texas, is said to be influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement. However, as more is learned about the shooter, it seems clear that he was a deranged man looking for an excuse to kill. Regardless, killing police is clearly not the solution. Unfortunately now because of the killings in Dallas, we are at a situation where both sides of this issue are talking past each other, yet again.
Retired Dallas police chief Donald Grady II spoke eloquently with Atlantic reporter Juleyka Lantigua-Williams about his 36 years in law enforcement. As a black man who worked as a police officer, he is able to see both sides of the story, and what he sees worries him greatly. He said that “rather than talk about things reasonably, logically, we have the police ratcheting up the rhetoric and we’ve got members of the community ratcheting up the rhetoric and that doesn’t resolve any issues at all.” Racial tensions in our culture, on both sides of that blue line, are to blame. Grady continues, “Minorities are typically viewed as the dangerous classes, and they’re seen by too many police officers as symbolic assailants. Society has perpetuated that myth forever.”
But where does it end? The country has a problem with police brutality, but shooting officers is not the answer. More accountability for officers sounds good, but it hasn’t helped. President Obama, when responding to the shootings of Sterling and Castile, said that the violence is “symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal-justice system.” People on all sides of the issue are crying for change. Tensions are increasing, reminding many people of the years leading up to the race riots in the late 1960s. Our country isn’t moving forward, we’re going backward. And one thing remains glaringly clear in the midst of this muddled mess: American needs to address its racial tensions now, before more people die.