Editor’s note: Three events in three consecutive days last week thrust race and police-community relations to the center of the national stage once again.
On Tuesday, in Baton Rouge, La., police officers responding to a 911 call by a homeless man wrestled 37-year-old Alton Sterling to the ground and fired shots into his chest. Sources report that the homeless man had repeatedly asked Sterling, who was selling CDs outside the store, for money, and that Sterling showed his gun to the homeless man and told him to leave him alone.
On Wednesday, in a St. Paul, Minn., suburb, 32-year-old Philando Castile was pulled over on a traffic stop and asked for his license and registration. He told the officer he had a firearm he was licensed to carry. The officer shot Castile, at which point Castile’s girlfriend in the car began live-streaming the incident on Facebook.
Both Sterling and Castile were black.
On Thursday, in Dallas, five police officers were killed and seven others injured during a protest against the prior two days’ shootings. A gunman told a negotiator that he wanted to kill white people over the deaths of Sterling and Castile. The gunman, killed by a detonated police bomb, was later identified as 25-year-old Micah Xavier Johnson, a former Army Reservist.
The nation is just beginning to make sense of this series of fatal encounters. Today we share some thoughts, both by national writers and members of our local communities, and invite others to add to the ongoing conversation by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
— Connie Post
FROM THE LEFT
When will the Killing Stop?
New York Times Editorial Board
Videos of two fatal shootings of African-American men have again documented what appear to be almost casual killing by the police. They prompt the deepest shock at what the nation has witnessed over and over again: a chance encounter with the police and an innocent black life ended.
On Thursday night, a peaceful march in Dallas against the shootings ended in violence when snipers on rooftops killed five officers and wounded seven others. One suspect, who was killed in a stand-off with police, said he wanted to kill whites, according to the Dallas police chief. This horrendous attack on the police and the two killings this week demand sober reflection by the nation’s political and law enforcement leadership.
Of the two videos, the first showed Alton Sterling on Tuesday pinned to the ground outside a store in Baton Rouge, La., when he was shot in the chest and back at close range by police officers.
The second showed the death of Philando Castile, who was stopped for an alleged traffic infraction in a St. Paul suburb and was shot several times by a police officer. The video, which was taken by his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was sitting next to him in the car, starts seconds after Mr. Castile was shot. “He was just getting his license and registration, sir,” Ms. Reynolds calmly tells the officer. She says to the camera that he was not reaching for the gun he was licensed to carry….
For African-Americans, the threat of police abuse — in the form of random stops, assaults and violations of civil rights — has long been part of life. Yet this grievous reality became a national issue only with the 2014 killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in an encounter with a white officer in Ferguson, Mo.
After a year and a half of racial upheaval in Ferguson, the local government there agreed to reforms of a law enforcement system that Department of Justice investigators found regularly violated constitutional rights. Minority citizens were routinely harassed by police officers and shuttled through a court system that further exploited and victimized local residents.
Unfortunately, after Ferguson, police shootings of black citizens have continued, with the police too often maintaining their wall of resistance with the help of local prosecutors….
The latest killings are grim reminders that far more reforms are needed to make law enforcement officers more professional and respectful of the citizens they have a duty to protect. Intensive training, stricter use-of-force standards and prosecutions of officers who kill innocent people are necessary to begin to repair systems that have tolerated this bloodshed.
And beyond that, with killings happening in cities, suburbs and rural communities, there needs to be leadership in every police department in the country that insists on cultural and attitudinal change. Credible civilian oversight of the police has to be a factor if community trust is ever to be restored. The latest ghastly images show how much has not been done, two years after Ferguson.
FROM THE RIGHT
The Uncomfortable Reason Why It Came to This in Dallas
Leon H. Wolf, RedState
Here’s the reality that we don’t often talk about — that societies are held together less by laws and force and threats of force than we are by ethereal and fragile concepts like mutual respect and belief in the justness of the system itself.
In America, there are 376 police officers per 100,000 citizens — or one police officer per every 266 citizens. Stop and think about that. Could every police officer in America maintain order over 266 unruly people who had no respect for him or the badge he wields? Absolutely not. The only thing that makes the situation even a little bit tenable is that the vast majority of people never think about confronting or challenging a police officer, and instead get up each day with the commitment to live their lives peacefully and lawfully….
I think the evidence would show that the vast majority of police do their jobs with the greatest professionalism possible. I don’t think that’s a sufficient answer to the reality of lingering mistrust between police and minority communities, especially in certain areas of the country. And the proliferation of cell phone video recording has really confirmed (in their minds) something they have long anecdotally believed or been taught — that police often interact with minority communities in different ways than they do with the white community.
And here’s the most important part: when they do so, they never or almost never face punishment.
I don’t want to rush to judgment on either the Baton Rouge shooting or the Falcon Heights shooting, but based upon what we have seen, they look bad. Very bad. They look, at least at first glance, to confirm a lot of biases that people have. They look like a scenario that has played out all too often that the white community either doesn’t believe ever happens (or at least believes is at most a freak occurrence) and minority communities believe is a systemic occurrence. And they look, most importantly, like many other scenarios in which officers have skated either scot free or with a slap on their wrist.
Here’s all you need to know: since 2000, NYPD officers have shot and killed about 180 people. Only 3 of those officers was even indicted for anything and only 1 was convicted, for a non-jail time offense. And these statistics are fairly typical of the nation at large.
Reasonable people can disagree about the prevalence of police brutality in America, and the extent to which race plays a factor in it. I don’t think reasonable people can disagree that excessive police force is punished way less often than it actually happens. And that’s the kind of problem that leads to people taking up guns and committing acts of violence — tragically (and with evil intent) against cops who as far as we know have done nothing wrong.
FROM OUR COMMUNITIES
Derrick L. Foward, president, Dayton Unit, NAACP
These situations continue to happen because of two words: “no indictment” …
“(Y)ou hear, Eric Garner, no indictment. Tamir Rice, no indictment. John Crawford III, no indictment. Freddie Gray, an indictment, but not guity. Michael Brown, no indictment. Trayvon Martin died at the hands of a security officer, no indictment. So when you hear these … outcomes, then one has to say, “When is there going to be an indictment? When is there going to be justice? When is there going to be a guilty verdict?”
Once we see that, ladies and gentlemen, I think is when we will actually start to see America change and America shift.
I’ll give you an example: Something courageous that our Montgomery County sheriff did last year — and I think it’s a model for several police departments to follow in years to come — and that is to hold your own law enforcement officers accountable. When people start seeing you hold your own department heads — your own command staff — accountable, then that’s when our nation will start to heal and our nation will start to change…
Me and my sister used to wake up in the middle of the night wondering if our father was going to home because our father was a police officer. So we know — I personally know — what it is to have a parent in that position that is sworn to protect and serve, and wondering if that parent is going to make it home. But we need to make certain that as that parent makes it home and as they are out there doing the job that they’re supposed to do, which is to protect and serve our nation’s citizens, that you’re doing it honestly, that you’re doing it justly, that you’re doing it without bias because that’s what creates the anger in our American people.
That’s why you see these long broad spans across the nation of marches and protests. Everyone has the right to demonstrate, to protest — you have the right to do that — but no one has the right to take the life of another person, whether as law enforcement, whether as a citizen, and when I say that, I’m saying for no reason, for no apparent reason.
Gene A. Kelly, sheriff, Clark County
Last week I was summoned to the White House in Washington, D.C. along with other law enforcement leaders from across the nation. Also attending from our area was Chief Erik Wilson of Trotwood and Chief Bruce Jamison from Piqua. We were there to talk about the Executive Order of the President of the United States, Barack Obama, who on Dec. 18, 2014, ordered a group of law enforcement professionals to come together to identify the best way to provide an effective partnership between law enforcement and local communities that reduces crime and increases trust.
The task force then generated 59 recommendations with 92 action items in the form of a report to the President. The report was completed and published in May of 2015. This was the first group assembled to come to the White House and have round table discussions about the report, what is working and what still needs to be done. I felt very good about what The Clark County, Ohio Sheriff’s Office has done in the last year and during 2016. We have trained more, improved our selection process, better equipped our deputies and engaged the community more.
As we reviewed the next step, our office needs to engage, by social media, at every level with the community. My plan is to implement more and improve social media connections in the next 30 days. We have started an Explorer Program for young people with an interest in a law enforcement career. We have had a Cadet Program for several years and this has greatly helped us select our newest deputy sheriff’s. We can and we shall do more to attract minorities and other groups to become members of the Sheriff’s Office….
Today we need to come together as one nation under God, and as a law enforcement leader more than ever we need to recite our oath and pray for peace and understanding.
Rodney Muterspaw, chief, Middletown Police Department
There are over 750,000 police officers and 318 million people in America. On average, there are about 1,100 people shot and killed by police a year. This means that less than 1 percent of all police officers in America are involved in a shooting death. Think about that. Less than 1 percent. The problem is that less than 1 percent, whether the shooting was justified or not, is all over the news immediately and posted all over. It gets worse when the shootings are questionable or just plain wrong. We work in one of the few professions where something can happen 2,000 miles away and it affects us here on a daily basis….
Police agencies across the country need to really focus on training. Seems every time there is a budget cut, training is the first to go. That is not going to happen here. Last year we attended a Cultural Competency training — it wasn’t about black and white. It was about everyone’s differences and biases and how they affect your day-to-day thinking. Everyone is different and for some reason some can’t understand that — and I am talking about civilians and police officers. Our goal here is to get everyone in Cultural Competency training — although a lot have been. We have a diverse police department, and we are proud of that. I really believe it makes us better. We embrace it.
M. Cookie Newsom, Ph.D.
Melva E. Newsom, Ph.D., is the retired director of Diversity Education and Assessment at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is presently adjunct professor of education at Central State University.
The recent killings of policemen in Dallas, a horrific, unconscionable act of evil, has touched off a furor of outcry. If you are a user of social media you will have noticed, if you are paying attention, that far more people decried the killing of the police officers than said anything about the killing of the two black men by police, apparently without any justification. The killing of the black men by police and the shootings in Dallas are, by the way, apples and oranges. One of them is a part of a body of evidence that we have not paid enough attention to who we hire and how we train them on a national level; the other is, at least so far, an isolated incident of domestic terrorism aimed at law enforcement in one town.
Policemen are part of this country. They are subject to the same biases and flaws when it comes to race, probably in about the same percentages, as the rest of the population. I sincerely doubt that most law enforcement training includes any kind of relevant diversity education. The fact that the vast majority of officers do their jobs fairly and with dedication is small consolation to those mourning their loved ones who happened to run across one of the bad ones. It is also no consolation to those of us with black sons and nephews and cousins and husbands who have to worry about our loved ones running afoul of one of the wrong sort.
So why does one incident in one town, despicable and indefensible as it is, inspire so much more choler than a nationally documented pattern of oppression and murder? Is it because we have become numb to the killing of black people for things like traffic stops or selling items on the street or picking up merchandise in a store? Or is it because, as I am firmly convinced, that far too many people in this favored land of ours do not think there is any such thing as an innocent black person? We can call for an end to police brutality based on race and an end to violence against policemen, the two are not counter to each other. Both are wrong, both need to be stopped.
It is time for all good people, no matter what color, to say, “No more.” If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.