It’s hard for me to write this, but we must be honest about our status in the fight against police brutality in America. We are losing. I have two primary metrics for that conclusion. First, 2017 is on pace to be the deadliest year ever measured for the number of people killed by police in our country. We can never claim to be winning the battle against police brutality if American police are killing more and more people. Period. Secondly, even the most egregious officers, in the most heinous cases of police violence, with the most overwhelming evidence, are still beating the charges against them.
I can get granular about it. I monitor nearly 50 different metrics regarding police brutality and injustice in America. All of them matter — from the introduction of new policies in local police departments, to the election of district attorneys who are willing to aggressively prosecute police. The battle to reduce police violence in America is a complicated one. But at the end of the day, if more people are being killed by police this year than any other year and the most rotten apples among America’s police still aren’t being held accountable, then we are losing.
I am losing. This isn’t me pointing the fingers at activists or organizations. I am right in the middle of this fight. I’ve marched. I’ve protested. I’ve organized. I’ve taught. I’ve petitioned. I’ve donated. I’ve lobbied. I’ve voted. I’ve campaigned. I’ve presented. I’ve written. I’ve tweeted. I’ve Facebooked. I’ve strategized. I’ve televised. I’ve radioed. For three straight years, I’ve thrown everything I’ve known to throw at the problem of police brutality in America, and by all measures, the problem is now worse than it was before I did any of those things.
We are losing. We are being outspent, out-organized, and out-maneuvered by an unjust system that is so deeply entrenched and so well fortified with the principles of white supremacy, racism and classism that in spite of all of our collective efforts, injustice marches on. It isn’t skipping a beat.
Pregnant black women are being shot and killed by police in front of their children. Young black boys are being shot and killed by police. Charges are being filed here and there, but convictions simply aren’t happening. Families and communities are repeatedly being told to stay calm and trust the system, but only a damn fool would trust this system. It is fundamentally and categorically unfair.
I can’t speak for the thousands and thousands of cases of police brutality in America, but the officer who repeatedly shot Walter Scott in the back should’ve been convicted. The officer who shot and killed Philando Castile should’ve been convicted. The officer who shot and killed Rekia Boyd should’ve been convicted. The officer who shot and killed Terence Crutcher should’ve been convicted. I could add at least 100 more names to that list just off the top of my head. Every single one of these officers was set free. Why would their fellow officers across the country think it would be any different for them? The odds of an officer being convicted for murder in a police shooting is approaching lottery ticket levels. It’s that bad.
I did not say all of this to lament or wallow in self-pity — never that. I said all of that to say that we need a change of direction. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say that anything we’ve done is wrong. We should protest. We should petition and march and vote. We should do all of those things, but they just aren’t enough to make a systemic shift in the problem. Maybe if we weren’t doing all of those things the problem would’ve spiraled even farther out of control — we’ll never know — but what I do know if that families who deserve justice don’t have it and the threat of police brutality is more problematic than ever.
On Thursday, I’m going to begin a new five-part series on the immediate pivots and changes I believe we must make moving forward. Last year, I wrote a series on the 25 policy shifts that would drastically reduce police violence in America. Those shifts are still as necessary as ever, but this short new series is less about policy and more about strategy. All I know is that I refuse to do the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.