Police brutality: An issue with many facets

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By: Kayley Rettberg, Columnist

On March 22, Stephon Alonzo Clark, a young father of a one-year-old and a three-year-old, was shot twenty times by police officers. Clark was unarmed.

The excessive use of force in this instance is alarmingly obvious. How did we get to a point as a society where a police officer sees it as acceptable to shoot someone 20 times? Police are supposed to protect their communities, not murder the members of them. Police are not supposed to take away the right of due process and sentence people to death without even charging them first.

Not only is this incident incredibly unjust, but there are clear racial overtones to the epidemic of police brutality. There was little outrage over Clark’s murder.

Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Philando Castile were unfairly demonized by the media to draw public attention away from the fact that they were murdered by police.

Imagine for a minute that Stephon Clark had been white. Imagine the outrage that would ensue if a white, unarmed, 22 year old, father of two was shot twenty times by police.

Imagine it was your family member. Shooting an unarmed person 20 times is never justifiable, and it breaks my heart to see that the media and public seem to have become numb to this type of tragedy.

There has been a collective dehumanization of black Americans since the onset of our country. Police brutality against African Americans is not a new problem, but with technology and video recording efforts, this issue can be exposed to the public.

According to the Washington Post, 90 percent of fatal police shootings in 2017 happened when a body cam was not in use. Body cameras not only protect citizens, but they also protect police officers. Opposition to body cameras is misguided.

In the same way that we have security cameras in schools to protect students from abuse by teachers (and teachers from false accusations of abuse) and other security issues, body cameras protect both citizens from police brutality and police officers from false claims of police brutality. Body cameras also offer video evidence in court which can be extremely helpful to ensuring that verdicts are reached appropriately.  

Our policing system in the US is ineffective and desperately needs reform. “Tough on Crime” drug policing has failed to produce change. Drug usage rates are within a few percentage points of what they were before the onset of the “drug war”, which is indicative of its success.

What has been proven to be effective are community-based addiction and mental health treatment programs, and preventative rather than punitive measures like the drug courts instituted in states like Vermont and also here in the City of Bloomington.

The “Drug War” was also specifically designed to target black communities and further devastate them. Drug usage has been and still happens at the same rate across all races, even though Black Americans are significantly more likely to be arrested and jailed for drug crimes than white Americans.

We need to compel police departments to steer money away from ineffective drug policing and funneling that money into training for officers on handling panic, community based mental health and addiction problems, and training to combat racial profiling.

In order for any of this to happen, the public needs to stay outraged. The public needs to set aside biases and look at those whose lives have been ended because of police brutality as human beings.  We MUST act. We must see the injustice and hold our government and policing system accountable. We owe it to our fellow Americans to make this change.