April 14, 2015

For Black America, Law Enforcement Is An Occupying Force

(The Progressive) The failure to indict Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., is not an aberration.

Every 28 hours, a black person is killed by the police in the United States. Law enforcement is increasingly becoming an occupying force. For many black, brown and poor taxpayers, the cops are there not to serve and protect, but to suppress and contain––and, far too often, to kill.

And, like Darren Wilson, when police officers kill someone, they rarely are prosecuted. As the Wall Street Journal reported, citing a professor at Bowling Green State University, there were 2,718 killings by police officers over a recent seven-year period. But only 41 officers were charged with murder or manslaughter. That’s just 1.5 percent!

The underlying problems in Ferguson are many. In a town that is 67 percent black, the mayor is white, as is the police chief and five of Ferguson’s six city council members. In addition, Ferguson has only three black police officers out of a force of 50. Moreover, Robert P. McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor, has an uncanny reputation for siding with law enforcement.

In Ferguson, black drivers are disproportionately stopped, accounting for 86 percent of police stops. Court fees and fines are a major source of revenue for the town, amounting to $2.6 million out of $20 million total revenue last year, the second largest source of revenue for the municipality. And Ferguson issued 32,975 arrest warrants in 2013––mostly for nonviolent driving violations––for a population of 21,135.

President Obama hit the right note when he said, shortly after the verdict was announced, that “we need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges we face a nation. The fact is in too many parts of this country, a deep mistrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color. Some of this is a result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country.”

We need to face those challenges, and we need to hold law enforcement accountable.

The events in Ferguson show us that while you can indict a ham sandwich, apparently you cannot indict a police officer for killing an unarmed black teen.

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