A Year After Ferguson, Little Has Changed

Ferguson-riotBy Dennis Parker

It has been a year since the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri galvanized the nation and the world. Any fears that the passage of time would relegate the issues of police abuses inflicted upon people of color and the importance of respecting the intrinsic value of Black lives to the back burner have proved unfounded.

Part of the reason for continued attention is constructive and positive. The growth of #BlackLivesMatter and other grassroots movements as well as the essays of Ta-Nehisi Coates and other commentators have all contributed to keeping these issues in the public eye. But sadly, the issue of the inappropriate use of force by law enforcement against unarmed Black people has been kept current by the relentless repetition of those deaths over the time since the killing of Michael Brown. Sadly, Ferguson no longer refers to a town in Missouri. It has entered the popular lexicon as a synonym for police brutality against Black people.

Two of the most recent controversial #BlackLivesMatter incidents illustrate the host of reasons for the continuing and growing need to take steps to confront the systemic reasons for the killing of Black people after interactions with the police. The death of Sandra Bland, whether or not it was by her own hand, was the result of a chain of events precipitated by the overly aggressive and unnecessary actions of a police officer. Her death reaffirms what many have been saying for a long time: It’s not only Black men who are subject to abusive policing and that the deaths are the result of an inappropriately aggressive and confrontational style of policing too often used in or against members of communities of color. The shooting of Sam Dubose in Cincinnati following on the heels of Bland’s death provided another reminder of the tragedy that can result from an overly aggressive and completely inappropriate policing style.

Perhaps the speedy indictment of Officer Tensing for DuBose’s death is a sign of progress during a time when criminal prosecution of officers whose actions result in the deaths of Black people are by no means guaranteed. Cincinnati Prosecutor Joseph Deters should be praised for bringing about the indictment so quickly and for the outrage that he expressed in announcing it.

But other parts of the announcement were highly unsettling.

His description of the event as “something that does not happen in the United States” casts DuBose’ death as an isolated and anomalous act of a single police officer. This statement is jarringly at odds with the dozens of similar incidents all across the country over the last year. Frustratingly, at least two of Tensing’s fellow officers corroborated the story so clearly disproved by the videotape.

It appears unlikely that either case would have received the notice that it did without the videotape evidence questioning the veracity of the reports filed by the officers in these cases. Body cameras are important but only as a first step. Personal accountability for inappropriate use of force is more important.

How many cops involved in #BlackLivesMatter incidents have gotten off scot free? This question isn’t only important for accountability’s sake, but also to ensure bad cops cannot hurt anyone.

We cannot continue to wear blinders when it comes to the continuing problems in law enforcement in the United States. These tragedies are the predictable outcomes of a policing culture which too often mistakenly judges the danger that Black people represent, that fails to respect the humanity of Black people, that resorts to the use of deadly force reflexively, and that closes rank around officers whose actions run afoul of the law and proper police actions.

Acknowledging that culture is the necessary first step along with accountability for all law enforcement agents. Police officers are charged with enforcing the law, but note — they are not the law. When officers violate that law, they should be held accountable, including any officer who deliberately colludes in an attempt to obscure illegal actions by a fellow officer. When they are not, they make a mockery of the law.

It has been a year since the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri galvanized the nation and the world. Any fears that the passage of time would relegate the issues of police abuses inflicted upon people of color and the importance of respecting the intrinsic value of Black lives to the back burner have proved unfounded.

Part of the reason for continued attention is constructive and positive. The growth of #BlackLivesMatter and other grassroots movements as well as the essays of Ta-Nehisi Coates and other commentators have all contributed to keeping these issues in the public eye. But sadly, the issue of the inappropriate use of force by law enforcement against unarmed Black people has been kept current by the relentless repetition of those deaths over the time since the killing of Michael Brown. Sadly, Ferguson no longer refers to a town in Missouri. It has entered the popular lexicon as a synonym for police brutality against Black people.

Two of the most recent controversial #BlackLivesMatter incidents illustrate the host of reasons for the continuing and growing need to take steps to confront the systemic reasons for the killing of Black people after interactions with the police. The death of Sandra Bland, whether or not it was by her own hand, was the result of a chain of events precipitated by the overly aggressive and unnecessary actions of a police officer. Her death reaffirms what many have been saying for a long time: It’s not only Black men who are subject to abusive policing and that the deaths are the result of an inappropriately aggressive and confrontational style of policing too often used in or against members of communities of color. The shooting of Sam Dubose in Cincinnati following on the heels of Bland’s death provided another reminder of the tragedy that can result from an overly aggressive and completely inappropriate policing style.

Perhaps the speedy indictment of Officer Tensing for DuBose’s death is a sign of progress during a time when criminal prosecution of officers whose actions result in the deaths of Black people are by no means guaranteed.  Cincinnati Prosecutor Joseph Deters should be praised for bringing about the indictment so quickly and for the outrage that he expressed in announcing it.

But other parts of the announcement were highly unsettling.

His description of the event as “something that does not happen in the United States” casts DuBose’ death as an isolated and anomalous act of a single police officer. This statement is jarringly at odds with the dozens of similar incidents all across the country over the last year. Frustratingly, at least two of Tensing’s fellow officers corroborated the story so clearly disproved by the videotape.

It appears unlikely that either case would have received the notice that it did without the videotape evidence questioning the veracity of the reports filed by the officers in these cases. Body cameras are important but only as a first step. Personal accountability for inappropriate use of force is more important.

How many cops involved in #BlackLivesMatter incidents have gotten off scot free? This question isn’t only important for accountability’s sake, but also to ensure bad cops cannot hurt anyone.

We cannot continue to wear blinders when it comes to the continuing problems in law enforcement in the United States. These tragedies are the predictable outcomes of a policing culture which too often mistakenly judges the danger that Black people represent, that fails to respect the humanity of Black people, that resorts to the use of deadly force reflexively, and that closes rank around officers whose actions run afoul of the law and proper police actions.

Acknowledging that culture is the necessary first step along with accountability for all law enforcement agents. Police officers are charged with enforcing the law, but note — they are not the law. When officers violate that law, they should be held accountable, including any officer who deliberately colludes in an attempt to obscure illegal actions by a fellow officer. When they are not, they make a mockery of the law.

As is often the case, the satirical publication the Onion best captures the problem at the core of the misconduct of too many law enforcement agents in the piece, “Do You Know Why I’m Pulling You Over, Being Wildly Aggressive, And Charging You With Assault Today, Sir?”. With particular regard to the policing of communities of color, we must learn from the post-Ferguson era. We must work to eradicate the corrosive culture that often exists by collecting data, appropriately using recording devises, training and holding law enforcement responsible for violations of the law.

But before we can do any of that effectively, we must face up to the fact that, for too many people and on too many occasions, Sam Dubose’s story is one of the defining narratives of the United States.

Dennis Parker is the Director of the ACLU Racial Justice Program

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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12 Comments

  1. Davis Progressive

    i don’t agree that little has changed.

    first, many people are paying attention to issues that were hidden prior to ferguson

    second, the views of people on race relations are changing

    third, we are starting to recognize the need for body cameras on police officers.  imagine if we had a body cam on officer wilson – we would know what really happened in that incident.

    is that enough?  no.  but it’s a start.

    1. Frankly

      Interesting.  These things you mention are all nebulous and seemingly connected to social justice crusader feelings.  I think though, that if you asked the asked the actual subjects of the crusade, you would probably hear that things have not improved since they started their great decline around 2008.

      Are we just seeking to placate the nerves of social justice crusaders and the liberal media, or are we really interested in solving problems and making tangible improvements to the REAL lives of people?

      1. Davis Progressive

        ” I think though, that if you asked the asked the actual subjects of the crusade, you would probably hear that things have not improved since they started their great decline around 2008.”

        what i find interesting about this comment is it has little basis in fact.  things did not start a great decline around 2008.  polling of blacks shows similar levels of concerns going back decades.  no, what’s changed is that white conservatives like yourself suddenly believe that race relations are not as good as they thought in 2008 – welcome to the party, but remember you are a late arrival.

          1. David Greenwald

            Frankly: A few weeks ago I wrote the article which showed the polling. In 2007 60% blacks believed that race relations were bad compared with 30% of whites. In 2009, that number fell to 35%. Now it’s up to 68%. So that number is about where it was in 2007. What’s changed is now over 60% of whites believe that things are bad in terms of race relations.

  2. sisterhood

    I agree, things are improving. This reminds me of a similar conversation I had with a group of feminists after a “Take Back the Night” rally 5 years ago. I was bemoaning the fact I had been attending Take Back the Night events since 1978. I was complaining that women still felt unsafe at night, even walking in Davis on the greenbelt.

    “Nothing has changed! I give up!”

    One astute friend told me:”At least we have passed on the vocabulary for change. Our young women can use the terms “sexual harassment, date rape, anorexia, positive body image, and many more expressions. They can get their birth control pills at the pharmacy without the mean looks. Maybe they can buy a car by themselves and still get a good deal, or take their car in for service and not be cheated. Remember when no one had heard the term anorexia? Remember when sexual harassment was just a hazard of being a woman in the work force? Remember when no one talked about date rape, or marital rape? Remember when we had a dress code and had to wear dresses & heels at some jobs? Remember when girls did not major in engineering or math or science? Remember the Home Economics majors?  Remember the first year of the Women’s Studies program?”

    We have to start somewhere. Body cams are a continuation of the brave actions of those peaceful civil rights protesters on the bridge in Selma. Your Vanguard articles are a constant reminder of the work to be done. Maybe they are enough of a start?

  3. sisterhood

    Your article made me ponder a remark I made on the VG the other day. Zaqzaq pointed out I would be foolish to do what I proposed, and he was probably right.

    But I still wonder if the day is coming when folks feel so frightened and afraid of cops that they simply will refuse to roll down their windows when pulled over. Perhaps hold up a piece of paper that asks, “I respectfully ask you why I’m being stopped. Plz raise a finger (not your middle one) or fingers in  reply:

    1. Traffic Violation (hold up one finger plz) Including expired plates

    2. Stolen registration or you look just like someone with an APB out on them

    3. Driving irradically – you look intoxicated to me. So you better step outa your car, it’s not safe for you to be on the road right now.  

    4. Vehicle repair needed. For example, Did you know your right brake light is out?

    5. I’m just getting a bad vibe from you. I have that cop’s 6th sense, you know?

     

    Officer, I’m recording you, I request your badge #, and now I’m driving to the closest police station, where I feel safer with witnesses and my lawyer, if needed.  Thank you. I will drive slowly so that you can follow me over there.

    Okay TBD and Phil Coleman & others – bring it on!

  4. Tia Will

    Frankly

    Polling of blacks shows clearly that believe things are worse.”

    Now the next assessment would be what factors do people believe are responsible for making things worse ? We know your answers because you have posted them many times. I am wondering what factors would have been cited by both blacks and whites polled.

    1. sisterhood

      “…what factors do people believe are responsible for making things worse?”

      Perhaps widening income disparities across the board? Poverty? Inability for folks to save hard for a down payment that gives one a sense of security? Corporate greed?  Some small business greed? Fear of becoming ill, or children becoming ill, or becoming old, and not being able to afford even the 20% co-pay for one’s health insurance? Environmental dispair?

      In many CA communities, (not all) inability for folks to support themselves on minimum wage without requesting government assistance, if they have even one child?

      Fear of being discriminated against , and inability to find a living-wage-career-path upon graduation, even if one pursues a higher education & its accompanying student loan debt? (Even if one works 25 hours per week the entire time they attend a four year college, they may take on a $300 per month loan repayment for a CA State 4 year education upon graduation, unless one receives a full scholarship or a loan deferment.)

      The “Dallas” and “Falcon Crest” mentality of the eighties?

      Trying to keep up with the Kardashians?

      Reading/watching news stories re: perfectly innocent people being harassed, or worse,  by law enforcement?

      I don’t know.

  5. TrueBlueDevil

    How many illogical thoughts can come out of delusional thinking?

    1. A criminal attempting to kill a police officer, meeting his maker, is not tragic. It is sad, it is puzzling, but it is not tragic.

    Tragic are the Good Sanaritan,s a Native American couple, who stop to assist an illegal immigrant in Montana, who are killed. That is tragic. The death of the elderly couple in Davis was tragic. Kate’s death was tragic.

    2. Police abuse of people of color, etc. – See #1. There was no abuse of power or racism. Michael Brown is lucky the shop keeper he tossed around didn’t take him out. If he had, no one would have ever know the names Michael Brown or Ferguson.

    3. Police kill more white than African Americans, the media just ignores this given their often suspect metal powers.

    4. BlackLivesMatter is not a grassroots organization – it has support and funding from upwards of two dozen George Soros funded organizations.

    5. While a dozen or so officer involved shootings of black citizens may warrant a closer inspection and possibly vigorous prosecution, thousands of police officers help to save thousands of black lives every month. Are you too blind to appreciate this?

    6. Tragic are the thousands of young black lives extinguished by their black brothers. Year in, year out. It’s been going on for decades. Yes, blinders aplenty.

     

  6. sisterhood

    TBD,

    “…illogical thoughts…delusional thinking..”

    Who are you calling delusional?

    “Michael Brown is lucky the shop keeper he tossed around didn’t take him out. If he had, no one would have ever know the names Michael Brown or Ferguson.”

    Seriously? And you are calling others delusional? Deceased Michael Brown is lucky????

    That comment is way beneath you, sir.

  7. tribeUSA

    Yes, some things have changed in Ferguson!

    Real-estate values in Ferguson declined by 50% from the time of the Michael Brown shooting to March 2015

    source: http://realtormag.realtor.org/daily-news/2015/03/19/home-values-tumble-in-ferguson

    I didn’t find a more recent update; perhaps confidence is recovering. this summer (perhaps not)

     

    Violent crime in St. Louis (I counldn’t find stats for just Ferguson) and many other large cities is way up from about a year ago:

    source:  http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/06/02/ferguson-effect-new-crime-wave-hits-democrat-run-cities

    (you can ignore the partisan take that breitbart adds to the raw statistics; however the raw statistics should be accurate, independent of leftward spin or rightward spin)

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