By Ali Younes
When I watched the video of how Charleston police officer shot and killed Walter Scott from behind as he was running away from him, about two weeks ago, a cold chill went through my thoughts of how far American police can, in their overzealous law enforcement approach, shoot and kill a man as if he was shooting a wild animal.
I learned in my first criminal law class in college long time ago that police cannot simply shoot or use their weapons against a person from behind or while their back turned running away from them. A cop can only use lethal force against a suspect only when there is a “clear and present danger” to the cop’s life. Other than that the use of lethal force is nothing but an attempt to murder and the police officer is nothing but a cold blooded murderer if death was the tragic outcome. Many in the black community would assert that it is the police that have come to represent a “clear present danger” to their persons and their communities.
But as the Walter Scott’s case show, Police across America has been getting away with murder way too many times. And this is not an isolated incident as many African American leaders have said many times over. It has become rather systematic for the police to shoot and kill mostly black suspects without thinking twice about it.
How did this change came about as the police started to deal with members of certain community or society as a whole as enemy combatants not citizens with a whole set of constitutional protections and rights.
Walter Scott and many other victims like him were a causality of American excessive militarization of local and state police. From the perspective of African Americans and other minorities who bear the brunt of police brutality and abuse, police is not there to enforce the laws or to protect them , but rather to enforce systematic subjugation and control over them. Similar to the black community, Arab Americans are treated as suspects and are too subject to systematic police harassment and illegal eavesdropping and spying inside their mosques and community centers.
According to 2014 report of the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, the federal government is the main culprit behind the militarization of the police by stockpiling local and state police departments with military hardware and weapons systems that should not be used in community policing in the first place. Instead, and year after year the federal government kept pumping paramilitary weapons and militarizing community policing turning the streets of America into war zones using the discredited pretext of “war on drugs”.
Excessive militarism however, is only part of the problem; the real problem that faces many American communities especially the African American community is actually cultural. The ACLU report lays the blame on the federal government for creating the culture of militarizing policing in American cities and flooding police departments across the nation with weapon systems to wage wars not to enforce the law or keep the peace. “Reform must be systemic; the problems of overly aggressive policing are cultural and cannot be solved by merely identifying a few “bad apples” or dismissing the problem as a few isolated incidents.” The report also said that “to begin to solve the problem of overly militarized policing, reform must happen at all levels of government that have contributed to this trend.”
African American community leaders, not just in Charleston, SC, rightly so, demanded the federal government to launch investigations into police killing of unarmed black suspects and many acts of brutality against innocent black citizens.
The new York Times reported that “It is commonly believed in the African-American community, those most affected by officer-involved shootings, that law enforcement agencies have deliberately filed false police reports, tampered with evidence, turned a blind eye to the facts of their investigations and launched covered-up campaigns in order to avoid prosecution for their acts of violence perpetrated against black people in North Charleston and in Charleston County,” they said in a written statement. “This is commonly referred to as the Blue Wall of Silence.”
American law enforcement needs a paradigm shift that will keep the streets of America safe and secured by working with the community not treating them as enemies by bringing tanks and armored vehicles into people’s homes and neighborhoods.
Ali Younes is the Editor of the Arab Daily News. He can be reached at : firstname.lastname@example.org, and on twitter @clearaliyounes
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