While the very name of Al Sharpton will stir resistance in some of our readership, there is no doubt that his op-ed this weekend on the need to stop dealing with police brutality episodically is right on. In fact, it was part of our point on Saturday when we noted that Dallas has been a leader on police reform, and yet systemic problems have caught up to Dallas.
Mr. Sharpton, writing in the Huffington Post, notes that this week marks the grim two-year anniversary of the death of Eric Garner. He writes, “As we get ready for a memorial march in New York, I am shocked at the parallels between the Garner and Sterling deaths — which are horrific and eerie.”
“Both were selling products in front of a store trying to subsidize an income for their families, and both tragedies were caught on video that if it did not exist, no one would have believed those of us that stand on the side of justice in these cases,” he continues.
No sooner had he responded to the incident in Baton Rouge, but a new incident in Minnesota occurred, “this time involving the death of Philando Castile by police — whose aftermath was also caught on video.”
He writes, “Technology has allowed the marginalized, oppressed and voiceless to have a voice, but now we must harness that ability to deal with police reform systemically, instead of episodically.”
He argued that this is not an isolated or localized problem – “it’s a national problem that requires national reform of police culture and the criminal justice system itself. Nothing short of that will turn this calamity around.”
He argues, “We must have independent investigations and prosecutions so that police are held accountable by an objective neutral entity, and the community is assured that there isn’t even an appearance of a conflict of interest. Officers cannot be investigated by those that they interact with on a daily or regular basis — that is common sense. Secondly, there must be extensive training and residency requirements that police live in the cities that they serve. That is the only way that they will respect and treat that community fairly.”
Al Sharpton might be a controversial name in some circles, but, isolating his personality, it is hard to argue with the need for an independent and objective system of police oversight that can avoid the appearance of conflict and gain the support of people throughout the system.
While those like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who himself oversaw one of the worst periods of police misconduct in recent history, called out Black Lives Matter as “inherently racist” and “anti-American,” and said it was up to the “blacks to show respect to police officers, other conservative voices have turned a corner.
For example, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, himself a finalist for a Trump VP nominee and himself having no shortage of racially tinged messages, said on Friday that white Americans “instinctively underestimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk” black people face in the US.
“If you are a normal white American, the truth is you don’t understand being black in America,” he said.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who some believed was a frontrunner for the Republican nomination but who never got traction, issued a very similar statement.
“Those of us who are not African-American will never fully understand the experience of being black in America,” he said.
He added, “But we should all understand why our fellow Americans in the black community are angry at the images of an African American man, with no criminal record, who was pulled over for a busted tail light, slumped in his car seat and dying while his four year old daughter watches from the back seat.”
“All of us should be troubled by these images. And all of us need to acknowledge that this is about more than just one or two recent incidents,” he continued.
These are points that the Vanguard has been making for quite some time.
Those are important voices, because many on the conservative side of the aisle have been denying the extent of the problem. Unfortunately, even within the same small community, blacks and whites live in very different worlds.
Still, Mr. Sharpton raises the important issue: “There has been stunning silence of national officials and candidates running for everything from the highest office in the land to Senate and House seats and more until there is a tragic killing. And when those who consistently raise these issues and even win some cases get involved, we’re branded as ‘troublemakers’ before and after a case.”
We have made progress this year. Video is a key variable in publicizing these incidents and allowing the truth to come out. Departments across the country have been installing body worn cameras. They will not solve the problem, but they will help to create transparency in a system where that has been sorely lacking.
It is ironic that ten years ago this month the Vanguard was founded in part in response to heated community debate over police oversight. Now, ten years later, the nation is having this debate and I believe that Al Sharpton is completely correct – what we need is an independent police review system.
While I think having a citizen review board can be helpful, I have come to appreciate the work of professional police investigators – those who can be independent of the police department and hierarchy but have the expertise on policing to be able to distinguish between a justifiable use of force, excessive force, and outright criminal conduct.
“While technology and social media have played a great role in disseminating information, raising awareness and galvanizing people, we need reform measures on the books without delay,” Al Sharpton writes. “We cannot continue to deal with each loss on a case-by-case basis. A systemic problem requires systemic reform.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting