Citizen oversight boards can help make police who kill accountable. And better training and rules can prevent those killings from happening in the first place
Another black man killed by police. On video. And at point blank range while he lay on the ground. By our count I work with other activists to collect data on police violence Alton Sterling was the 184th black person killed by police this year, a rate which has persisted at a near constant pace over the past several years. (According to the Guardians own count, Sterling is the 135th.) We know Alton should be alive, at home with his five children. And yet, here we are again.
Already, those with power and platform are working to justify his death, erase his humanity and exonerate his killers. Altons criminal history was reported just hours after his death, while the records of the two officers who killed him have yet to be released. And, due to Louisianas law enforcement officers bill of rights, the officers who killed Alton have up to 30 days to craft their version of events before being questioned in an administrative investigation often the only path to holding officers accountable in a country where 99.9% of officers face no criminal punishment for killing civilians.
The system, in no uncertain terms, enables levels of police violence against our communities at rates unheard of in the developed world. Based on data reported by Mapping Police Violence, the rate of police homicides of black men in America last year 15.7 per million population surpasses the total homicide rates of England, France, Germany and even China.
Data shows that these disparities are not a reflection of any alleged criminal behavior on the part of those killed. Rather, they are the result of policies and systems that contain few meaningful restrictions on police use of force and routinely fail to hold officers accountable for acts of police violence (See data for Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles and Cleveland).
For example, the United States, under the current legal standard set by the Supreme Court in Tennessee v Garner, authorizes officers to use deadly force in situations that would be deemed unnecessary and illegal under international law. Baton Rouge police departments use of force policies arent much better. The BRPD use of force policy doesnt require officers to de-escalate situations when possible or require officers to exhaust all other means before resorting to deadly force. Adopting these common sense restrictions on police use of force will save lives and make our communities safer.
But use of force policy changes are insufficient without building the capacity to hold officers who fail to adhere to these policies accountable. This means establishing civilian oversight boards that have the power to investigate officers and ensure they are disciplined appropriately as has recently been established in Newark, New Jersey.
Police union contracts and law enforcement officer bills of rights must be changed to remove provisions that make it harder to hold officers accountable for misconduct. A recent analysis of 81 cities police union contracts found 72 of these cities contained provisions that disqualify misconduct complaints, delay interrogations of officers, limit disciplinary consequences or erase records of police misconduct.
Its past time for policy-makers to enact meaningful solutions to address police violence in our communities. Together, we can apply enough pressure to secure these changes, a down payment on the broader effort to realize a world in which we can live, learn and be free. Lets get to work.