The Fight for Justice and Police Reform from Louisiana to California

No-Justice-NoPeaceBy Irene Rojas-Carroll

This week, Fresno police released the body camera footage of the shooting of Dylan Noble. The footage raises serious questions about the shooting. We continue to be concerned about the police culture of secrecy and lack of clear body camera policies in Fresno.

Last week, every morning brought us more tragic, maddening, horrific news of Black people and Latino people being shot to death by police officers. Of five police officers killed in Dallas. Of more deaths that should never have happened.

In Dallas, as in cities and towns across the U.S., people gathered to call for transformation and to demand that Black Lives Matter. From the news reports, it seems that Dallas police were using good practices to protect people’s right to protest. But during the peaceful protest, a lone gunman opened fire and killed five officers. As the Black Lives Matter Network wrote, “this is a tragedy–both for those who have been impacted by yesterday’s attack and for our democracy.” The Dallas shooting was a tragic loss of life and an assault on people’s constitutional right to protest government wrongs.

Though the relentless news cycle paints each set of shootings as two sides of the same coin—the result of individuals committing senseless acts of violence—it’s a false equivalence. It’s misguided to try to make sense of these killings while ignoring the larger, complex context: centuries of violence against Black people by the state, baked into dominant culture, embedded and reproduced in institutions.

There is so much more to say and feel, but right now, I need to take a moment for the deaths at the hands of police outside and inside California. What is foremost in my mind is the profound limitation of the laws and rules and policies our organization is working so hard to change.

Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Stephanie Hicks. Delrawn Small. Anthony Nunez, in San Jose. Pedro Erick Villanueva, in Fullerton. And we don’t have all the names.

A problem of systemic racism

Yet again, we’re faced with the fact that the killing of Black people and people of color by law enforcement is not a question of isolated incidents, but a problem of systemic and institutional racism.

The staggering amount of violence we continue to face points to a terrible reality. This criminal justice system protects the constitutional rights of only some, suppresses the rights of others, and enables police violence against communities of color. While our organization believes that change within the world of laws and policies is important, the solutions this country needs cannot be reduced solely to that arena.

From the violent deaths, to the mental and emotional trauma of the news, to the risking of lives to record and broadcast videos over social media in the hope for justice, all of this is an assault on Black and brown dignity and life.

As Justice Sotomayor wrote in her ringing dissent in a ruling on unlawful searches last month:

We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere… Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.

In California

Here in California, I mourn the death of Anthony Nunez, 18 years old, so close by in San Jose. Though we don’t have all the details yet, that he had a learning disability and that he was in mental health crisis both raise serious questions about how these officers interacted with him. Police violence against people with disabilities is real, and it interlocks with racism in policing.

I also grieve for Pedro Erick Villanueva, 19 years old, killed by plainclothes California Highway Patrol officers driving an unmarked car.

Police violence disproportionately hurts people of color, but last week also brought news of other victims of police shootings. In Fresno, where the police department has a long pattern of secrecy, cell phone video just surfaced of the fatal police shooting of Dylan Noble, a 19-year-old white teen. The chief still refuses to release the names of officers involved or any body camera footage of the shooting.

And on Thursday, Clovis police officers shot and killed 33-year-old Adam Smith, a white man, in the process of serving a warrant.

Family, friends, and all of us deserve to know both how police came to take these precious lives and what was at the bottom of the Dallas shooting. But regardless, we know that too many people are dying at the hands of a racist system that goes well beyond policing, and it has to stop.

I wake up every day to bring about the world of justice we so urgently need. Even in times like these, I commit to a world of dignity and respect. Together, we can continue to make that world possible.

Irene Rojas-Carroll is a Communications Associate at the ACLU of Northern California.

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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  1. Marina Kalugin

    welcome back to the 60s my friends…

    for those of us who marched for black rights in support of MLK, and who marched against the war  and tuition hikes and for People’s park…

    who protested against Kent State

    and who settled in this paradise known as Davis,   welcome back…  or welcome home or whatever….history repeats itself when one doesn’t learn from it…


  2. Marina Kalugin

    My stepson is a NJ state trooper…and none of this is ever all black and white…and there is always way more to every story….

    those of us who worked on change,  have another window to do complete the work that comes around periodically..

    if we all make better choices now, we can and will create a better society here….however, be prepared…it will become way worse before it gets better….and hopefully at some point it will be better…

    otherwise, I hope you all are making “alternative” plans to flee somewhere else…



  3. tribeUSA

    Good to see the ACLU and Vanguard acknowledging the fact that white people get shot by cops too! Is it more justified when whites get shot than if blacks or hispanics or asians get shot? I don’t know; seems to me every case of a shooting has to be examined individually.

    Seems to me that people of all races have reason to unite in a common coalition to advocate against excessive use of force by police, which affects mainly the poor of all races; and for policing reforms (such as de-escalation skills teaching and more community outreach to develop trust) that are likely to reduce incidents of excessive use of force.

    1. David Greenwald

      The problem is this:

      In 2015, The Washington Post launched a real-time database to track fatal police shootings, and the project continues this year. As of Sunday, 1,502 people have been shot and killed by on-duty police officers since Jan. 1, 2015. Of them, 732 were white, and 381 were black (and 382 were of another or unknown race).

      But as data scientists and policing experts often note, comparing how many or how often white people are killed by police to how many or how often black people are killed by the police is statistically dubious unless you first adjust for population.

      According to the most recent census data, there are nearly 160 million more white people in America than there are black people. White people make up roughly 62 percent of the U.S. population but only about 49 percent of those who are killed by police officers. African Americans, however, account for 24 percent of those fatally shot and killed by the police despite being just 13 percent of the U.S. population. As The Post noted in a new analysis published last week, that means black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers.

      U.S. police officers have shot and killed the exact same number of unarmed white people as they have unarmed black people: 50 each. But because the white population is approximately five times larger than the black population, that means unarmed black Americans were five times as likely as unarmed white Americans to be shot and killed by a police officer.

      1. tribeUSA

        Geez DG, do we have to go thru this again and again and again? As a social scientist, you have some training with statistics and should know better. As was done in the recent Harvard study, it is clear that the number to normalize with is the number of encounters/stops; not the entire USA population. Blacks are detained/stopped by the police at much higher rates than whites; in-line with the much higher rates of crime, including violent crime, in black communities. For an educated person to normalize the results by total USA population, instead of the population of those stopped/detained, seems disingenuous to me.

        I’m too tired of this to dredge up the statistics that most of the disparity between black crime rates and white crime rates is explained by economics; i.e. poor blacks have only a slightly higher crime rate than poor whites or hispanics (i.e. household income plays the dominant role, not race). My hypothesis for the residual disparity between poor whites and poor blacks is that a much higher % of poor blacks do not have an intact family; I don’t know if any statistical studies have been done to test such a hypothesis.

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