I have watched every episode of Law and Order and Law and Order SVU, and most of them more than once. Though there is police violence on these programs, it is usually investigated, and viewers are given the sense that it is not OK. Not living in black America or even in the United States, I guess I was under the illusion that police forces are no longer primarily white and male, that police reforms advocated decades ago have had some effect, and that cops cannot get away with murder.
This despite the fact that I knew that inmates in US prisons are far more likely to be black than their numbers in the population warrant, and that I knew that stop and frisk and arresting black men for petty crimes are ordinary police policies.
For readers who don’t watch MSNBC as avidly as I do, stop and frisk, now banned in New York City, is the policy of searching (primarily) young black men hanging around on street corners to see if they have illegal drugs or weapons on their persons. This policy can lead to the incarceration of young black men for having one or two marijuana cigarettes intended for personal use in their pockets. Stop and frisk is not a policy on college campuses, where police are just as likely to find young white men and women in possession of illegal drugs. Why? Because college authorities and parents of white college students simply would not allow it.
The policy of arresting and incarcerating young black men for petty crimes (like selling contraband cigarettes or stealing a couple of cigars) sometimes called “the broken windows theory” was created with the “intention” of “putting them away” before they do something worse. In fact, this policy pads arrest statistics, ruins young lives, and encourages the police on the beat to believe that crime is a black problem.
Knowing all of this, I still did not expect to see 4 or 5 white male cops jump on Eric Garner, a large but clearly not violent black man whose alleged crime was selling untaxed cigarettes. Nor did I expect to hear that a police officer was unable to shoot a fleeing Michael Brown in the leg rather than the head, if it was necessary to shoot at all. Or to see small 12 year-old Tamir Rice, who was not fleeing the scene of any crime, shot dead in a matter of seconds as he was approaching the police car, most probably to ask “what’s going on?”
I may not have been surprised by the grand jury verdict in Ferguson, though I was certainly outraged by it. But truthfully, I did not expect a similar verdict in New York City, especially when there was a video that showed police officers unnecessarily throwing a man to the ground and at least one of them engaging in a banned chokehold and not releasing his grip when the man cried out “I can’t breathe,”after he was clearly under the control of the police.
Not thinking too much about it, I pictured prosecutors in New York as intelligent somewhat left-leaning individuals like Sam Waterston. Thus I was surprised to learn on All In with Chris Hayes that prosecutors cannot convict police officers one day and then expect police cooperation on other cases the next. This is why Chris’s guest Norman Siegel, former Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that public prosecutors almost never indict the police and why he stated that prosecution of police crime should be in the hands of special prosecutors as a matter of course.
There is much that needs to be done. Acknowledging the problem as Mayor Bill de Blasio did (but the mayor of Ferguson has not) is an important first step. Police retraining programs are another.* However, I wonder how much effect the 3 day program proposed by de Blasio will have while the head of the Patrolmen’s [sic] Benevolent Association is accusing de Blasio of “throwing the police under the bus.” Clearly, police forces need to be fully integrated by race and sex, and I for one wonder why this has not occurred already.** Another important step is to take the prosecution of police crimes out of the hands of prosecutors who work with the police on a daily basis, so that police officers will know that they are not above the law.
* A website advocating diversity in the police states, “Law enforcement requires a unique blend of traits and characteristics. Some of these include: empathy, effective communication, compassion, intelligence, and the ability to relate to people on a personal level.”
Carol leads the life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (on facebookand twitter) spring and fall–early bird discount available now on the 2015 tours. Carol can be heard in interviews on Voices of the Sacred Feminine, Goddess Alive Radio, and Voices of Women. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and with Judith Plaskow, the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions and the forthcoming Turning to the World: Goddess and God in Our Time.