Despite the History of Brutality, We Must Reform, Not Abandon, the Police
In a piece I wrote yesterday about the killing of Trayvon Martin, I urged America not to turn its back on the government and put the law in private hands. Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, is an example of how vigilante justice can (and does) go so wrong.
But many who responded felt that my solution—reforming the police force, rather than abandoning it—didn’t give enough airtime to the history of police brutality in this country. And it’s an important and disturbing one. The violence used to crack down on Occupy Wall Street just this past weekend is a perfect example. But violence against Occupy has been a visible incarnation of a problem that black America has long lived with. Elon James wrote eloquently about this when Occupy was first under attack: “While the Occupiers were dealing with such abuse, during civil disobedience, communities of color suffer these type of injustices simply because it’s Wednesday.… Abuse of this kind is all too familiar to the black community. If someone hasn’t directly experienced it, they probably know someone who has.” The NYPD, which has been at the forefront of using violence against Occupiers, is also at the forefront of racially repugnant policies. Its stop-and-frisk policy hit another record last year with 684,330 stops, and blacks and Hispanics were 87 percent of those stopped—whites were just 9 percent. Its violent tactics against minority groups led to the deaths of Sean Bell and Jateik Reed—both unarmed—and countless others.