No excuse for police violence

by Phil Anderson

General James Mattis


“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled. The words ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand – one that all of us should be able to get behind.” 

- General James Mattis former Trump administration Secretary of Defense

Once again the country is in turmoil because excessive force by police killed a Black man, George Floyd. Once again people are angry and taking their demands for justice, and real change, to the streets.

In too many places the police response has been more excessive violence proving the legitimacy of the protesters complaints. When will the legitimate demands of people of color for “equal justice under law” be seriously addressed?

There is no excuse for excessive force by police. It MUST STOP. Police officers who do not understand this MUST be prosecuted, fired, or resign. In the last four and a half years 1,252 black people have been killed by police (according to the Washington Post). This is unacceptable!

Not much has changed since I wrote about this issue in 2016 (“Fighting Racism with White Privilege” July 27, revised below). Those of us who are the beneficiaries of white privilege MUST stand up and speak out.  

Racism is prevalent in our society. It has been a dominant theme in our history. It has shaped our public policy since colonial times. We all know the history of slavery, Jim Crow, the KKK, educational, employment and housing discrimination.

It was not just in the deep south. Even Duluth had a lynching. Northern cities have de facto segregated schools. Much of American history is a denial of justice and equality for minorities.

As a liberal, educated white person who has lived and worked with minorities, I consider myself pretty egalitarian. I am not a racist. But latent racism is part of my subconscious.

There are times when I feel uncom-fortable walking past a group of young black men, or driving in certain neigh-borhoods. Intellectually I reject these feelings but they are there. We all have this latent fear of others. It is part of who we are as tribal Homo sapiens. It should not be  surprising that police officers reflect this inherent racism.

We cannot deny that racism affects police procedures and actions. The statistics are clear and unambiguous.

Few whites suffer from “stop and frisk” policies. No whites are pulled over for simply driving in a predominantly black neighborhood. No whites are suspected of car theft simply because they are driving an expensive car. Few unarmed whites are shot in the back, shot multiple times, or shot while on the ground.

We cannot deny that people of color are profiled, ticketed, arrested, incarcerated and killed more frequently than whiles. We cannot deny that too many people of color are killed by police in situations that do not justify the use of lethal force.

The contrast between the cases of Civen Bundy and Deravis Caine Rogers speak volumes. Bundy, an anti-government rancher who refused to pay his federal grazing fees, led an armed resistance to federal enforcement actions. He was not arrested and was not gunned down.

Months later, after his son staged an arm-ed occupation of a national wildlife preserve, he was finally arrested. He is white.

Rogers, an unarmed black man, was killed in Atlanta while driving away from the parking lot of a reported robbery. The police officer had no idea who he was shooting at or if Rogers was a suspect. He didn’t even know if a crime had been committed.

But Rogers was black and now he is dead. Unlike most police shootings, this officer was fired and is facing criminal charges.

Too many police are simply trigger happy. Too many police think they are the law. Arresting people for talking back or taking videos is not appropriate. Shooting people for resisting arrest or running away is excessive. In fact shooting people for actually stealing is not justified.

High speed chases only endanger the public. The police are supposed to be the trained professionals with many options to control the situation.

Excessive use of force, especially deadly force, is simply not justified unless citizens or police officers are in immediate, life-threatening danger.

Yes, the police have important, difficult, dangerous jobs. But this does not justify use of excessive force.  The slogans “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” should be recognized for what they are... lame efforts to change the subject and direct attention away from the unjust treatment of blacks by police.

According to the Nation magazine, 574 people have been killed by police so far this year. The five officers in Dallas are the most killed at one time since 9/11. The police need to do less CYA and more “protect and serve.”

The many examples of excessive force are not only egregious because of the racism involved, but also excessive use of lethal force endangers us all. The lack of justification and accountability threatens the integrity of the judicial system. The extreme militarization of police should be a red flag to all of us. It illustrates that we are moving toward a police state.

Rallies were held in Duluth and Superior on Friday, July 15, 2016,  to remember recent  killings, including the five police officers killed in Dallas. They were organized by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. I attended the rally in Superior. I was impressed by the reasonableness of their “demands.”

The basic objective of the organizers, and the larger national movement, is to stop the use of excessive force.

They want the violence against people of color to stop.

They want to stop the unwarranted racial profiling.

They want police officers who do use excessive force, especially deadly force, to be held accountable.

They want procedures and citizen oversight put in place to ensure change actually happens. The Campaign Zero web has the whole list of demands. I believe these demands are entirely reasonable.

One of the speaker’s at the Superior rally called for the white community to use its “white privilege” to help bring about change.

I never thought of myself as having white or any other type of privilege. I did not inherit wealth. I had no family connections to smooth the way to good jobs. I didn’t move seamlessly into a family business. But neither did I have to fear being racially profiled, discriminated against, or shot at a traffic stop.

So I will be using my “white privilege” to help. I will be contacting my representatives to demand action on these issues. I hope you will do the same in your community.