Except for the Good Lord, everybody has someone or something to “check” him or her. Unfortunately, President Barack Obama has an unresponsive Congress to check him, and Supreme Court to do the same. Elected officials are checked by voters (when they vote), and the Securities and Exchange Commission usually checks corporate crooks. Reputable media sources correct their errors and plagiarists lose their jobs. Everybody has to answer to somebody. There are consequences for everyone—except the police.
At least that’s part of the story Sunil Dutta tells in an article he wrote for the Washington Post:
“If you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig. Don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of walking aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?”’
This is the police mentality—I have the power and you don’t, so just shut the hell up and submit to any outrage. I have a badge and you don’t, so I have the right stop you while driving because you are too Black and too young to have this new car. I have a right to stop you while you are running for the bus because you might, just might, have been running from a robbery. I have the right to harass you while you are standing still, just because. I have a right to talk to you rudely and belligerently. My badge gives me the ability to violate your rights.
Dutta, who served on the LAPD for 17 years and is now a professor of homeland security, acknowledges that cops can be wrong, and suggests that those who have “a beef” “ask for a supervisor, lodge a complaint, or contact civil rights organizations. Feel free to sue the police!” he writes.
People of color have been gagged by the “put up or shut up” form of police brutality for far too long; being forced by fear to close eyes and ears to the beatings and killings of our people for any reason. Law enforcement officers moonlighted as Klan members (or is it the other way around) from the post-Reconstruction era until the end of the civil rights era. People, don’t forget that.
When African American southerners came West during World War II because work was plentiful, Oakland was among the cities that looked south for their new White police officers, people so adept at harassing Black people without reason that they didn’t need to be trained.
One of the reasons the Black Panther Party was started was in resistance to police brutality. At one point, Panthers and other legally armed citizens with books of law, chose to help them evaluate police officers by following them as they so-called patrolled the streets.
This did not stop police harassment, but it put a spotlight on it. It didn’t put enough of a spotlight for a group of rogue officers to beat and frame more than 100 people, and to cost the city millions to settle lawsuits that resulted from their actions. In 2003, the Oakland Police Department agreed to reforms, but they have come so slowly that a federal judge is now supervising them. Ten years after a reform agreement, a judge has to step in? Oakland is not the only police department that is deficient, but what ties Oakland, Calif., to Ferguson, Mo., is police mentality, not just brutality.
How to stop the mentality that leads to brutality?
Require every police officer to have a body camera, and invalidate the arrests of those who do not wear one. Require every police vehicle to have a video camera. I can already hear people objecting to regulations and requirements. I can hear others saying we need to talk. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “the law will not make you love me but it will keep you from lynching me.” Talk later. Stop this madness by requiring electronic police supervision now. The police should be policed, they should have a system that checks them and protects us.
Julianne Malveaux is a D.C.-based economist and writer and president emerita of Bennett College for Women.
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