African-Americans and law enforcement are at a tipping point in America. However, the question remains can Black people receive equal treatment under the law and in the justice system.
The Congressional Black Caucus Institute (CBCI) hosted its virtual policy conference entitled: “Black in America: A Public Health Crisis” Aug. 13 as part of the 21st annual Mississippi Policy Conference. The panel was titled: African Americans and Law Enforcement: Equal Treatment Under The Law?
“We are still dealing with many of the issues we have seen superimposed on us during this past year,” said Benjamin Crump, nationally known civil rights lawyer, who has represented the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, and others.
Crump revealed Floyd said ‘I can’t breathe’ 28 times with a knee on his neck, while he struggled to breathe as he was being murdered on May 25, 2020. On June 25, Floyd’s killer, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, was sentenced to 22.5 years for second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter.
But a conviction is just the beginning, Crump said. “We have this moment in America to finally get some meaningful police reform,” Crump said. “(Right now) they shoot first and ask questions later.”
“We can have better policing in America. More just policing.”
In response, law enforcement officials know they must be better.
“We have to train our officers better,” said Sheriff Leon Lott from Richland County in S.C. “We should use de-escalation tactics first.”
However, implicit bias must be acknowledged before it can be addressed, Crump said.
“I think people need to be held accountable… if you shoot someone in the back, you need to be held accountable,” Lott added.
“How about reallocating the funds (to mental health services)… go back to community policing,” said Tiffany Tims, the chief of police at Hocking College in Pickerington, Ohio.
“COVID-19, the continued killing of Black people by police officers and racial inequality need to be eradicated,” said Vanessa Griddine-Jones, CBCI executive director.
NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said he believes meaningful police reform is the only option. He said the idea of “defunding the police” is a divisive tactic being used to distract people from transformative change.
“There is a lot of money being made in the criminal justice system,” Johnson said in reference to the cash bail system and private prison industry.
“We don’t want our police defunded. We want our tax dollars used to keep the community safe,” said Johnson.