It’s only when a Black man is in a viral video on Twitter that you listen. When you see life fade from his eyes as a cop grinds his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes—that’s when you listen. When your Target burns down, you listen. But when, I ask, will police officers listen? To the cries of George Floyd’s family, the cries of Minnesota, the cries of every Black person across the world? When will they listen?
Last year in the United States, there were only 27 days when the police didn’t kill someone. American police’s use of deadly force has risen dramatically each year, and yet no change occurs. We protest, we spread hashtags, but time and time again we see unarmed individuals—particularly Black men and women—die at the hands of police. So why has there been such little progress?
Tough on Crime Equals Tough on Blacks
In the South, almost all police departments began as slave patrols. During Reconstruction, these patrols aimed to monitor former slaves and preserve white supremacy. The idea that law enforcement has to “manage” Black people is still widely believed across the nation, and pushes stereotypes on to Black children from the minute they’re born.
This concept of management was exacerbated in 1971, when President Richard Nixon declared a “War on Drugs” with definite racist ulterior motives. He tore down Black community leaders, convinced the public that Black people were the problem, and brought hostile law enforcement into Black communities.
President Bill Clinton then passed the 1994 crime bill that continued racist policing justice reforms, most notably the three-strikes laws—which imposed an automatic life sentence for those with two prior convictions on their record. The three-strikes law largely heightened the incarceration rates of Black and Hispanic men.
Implicit Bias Training and Body Cameras Aren’t As Effective As We Think
Implicit bias training has become a requirement in recent years, following the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement. Training focuses specifically on racial relations between police and Black people—but it isn’t uncommon for officers to be hostile during lessons. Police officers are armed with their own stereotypes and wrapped in power and authority; they’re more dangerous than your average civilian. Implicit bias training might be an improvement, but it’s still too new to know if it really works—and as of now, the tensions between police and Black people remain the same.
In New York City and Minneapolis, officers are required to receive eight hours of implicit bias training—but no matter how many hours of training they receive, can it truly erase the stereotypes woven deep into their minds about African-Americans fed to them by television, books, and their families?
Like implicit bias training, body cameras are another solution designed to monitor police force in communities of color. But prosecutors and police officials have realized that they don’t want all footage made available to the public; consequently, laws have been created to restrict the release of body cam footage.
Body cameras were supposed to be the Hail Mary, but when no one except for police can see the footage, it’s useless—the cameras become another policy tool providing a narrow point of view. Again, videos can only do so much—the problem of policing in America won’t go away simply because cameras are around.
The families of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others deserve justice for the unlawful killings of their loved ones. There will never be one cookie-cutter solution to ending police brutality, but to see protesters all over the country—from Los Angeles to New York to Minneapolis to Atlanta—filled with fervor about the treatment of Black lives in America shows that this generation has the power to reach greater horizons and break racial bounds.
By Sanai Rashid