For the Record

September 21, 2016

When excessive force is used by law enforcement on citizens, an inevitable narrative emerges from the officials: “suspect” was armed, on drugs, had priors. And this is meant to justify, in the minds of the public, the use of  criminal, unethical, unconstitutional lethal force by police.

This appeases us; there you have it: he had a gun, or he has a history of resisting, or whatever. But thanks to the ubiquitous smartphone camera, facts are emerging in these tragic incidents that unravel that narrative. There is video evidence of police planting drugs or weapons, or conspiring unfounded charges. We have irrefutable proof that this happens.

We also know that minority populations experience profiling by law enforcement. They are stopped more often, questioned and treated more aggressively, detained, arrested, and deprived of their constitutional rights on a daily basis. When we learn that the most recent victim of a police shooting has priors, let’s take into account what we now can’t deny about these individuals encounters with the police: It’s likely they were stopped because they were profiled, if they were stopped for a minor traffic infraction, they were probably addressed in a confrontational manner, unlike the “Well, you seem like a nice person, I’ll let you go with a warning this time,” that many white people, including myself, receive. And if they know their rights, and attempt to assert them, this will land them in the back of a squad car, with a resisting arrest charge on their record. Sometimes, a traffic stop doesn’t go well for white people either, as you can see in  examples of video footage at Police the Police, and other sites that monitor abusive behavior by law enforcement personnel.

So when we learn of these ‘priors’, try to imagine those encounters that led to the charges. Of course, some of these may be legitimate. But knowing what we know of how unfairly law enforcement treat minorities, particularly black individuals, knowing how a busted tail light or a stalled car escalates into murder because of a prejudicial agenda held by police, we can’t accept a targeted person’s police record as fact. Right now, in this crisis, news of a criminal record should be taken with a grain of salt. And, priors never, EVER justify the use of deadly force. If white people can wave a gun at police and be apprehended and booked, there is no reason, no justification for the rampant murder of minority citizens by police.

Also, for the apologists who tout how most police officers are upstanding, and we shouldn’t demonize the larger institution because of a few bad apples: we also have proof of so called ‘good officers’ standing by while the bad apples abuse or kill detained subjects.  If they’re not calling out, rooting out, cutting out the rot, the’re part of the problem. If they’re covering up, looking the other way, fearing or threatening retaliation for crossing the thin blue line, they’re culpable and have blood on their hands.