Working While It’s Day
How To Stop White Police Officers From Shooting Innocent Unarmed Blacks
In John 9:4 of the Message Bible, Jesus said “we need to be energetically at work for the One who sent [us] here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over.”
This Scripture expresses the urgency of our work on earth, and the timing of the work. It reminds us to get our work done before nightfall because work is much more difficult in the dark. I want to use this Scripture to encourage the African American community to work for police reform before the next police shooting. That’s working during the day. But when the next senseless police shooting of an innocent unarmed black person occurs, darkness is upon us. Our work then becomes hindered with emotions, disunity, and reactionism.
Many white police officers have gotten away with murdering African Americans. Officers have murdered some of these victims in their own homes. Take Botham Jean, for example. Former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger murdered him in his apartment. Weeks after a Dallas jury convicted her, former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean killed Atatiana Jefferson in her home. He shot her through a bedroom window during a welfare check. The Fort Worth police charged him with murder promptly, but a murder charge differs significantly from a murder indictment and murder conviction.
Following both of these senseless killings, African Americans rose in anger and frustration. Religious leaders demanded justice; attorneys hit the airways, and activists hit the streets. I proudly marched and protested with them during the aftermath of the Jean murder.
This strategy of reactive outrage, however, is usually ineffective. It typically fails to bring sustained change; hence, police brutality continues unchecked in black neighborhoods. We must work on the frontside to prevent these horrible shootings from occurring.
I must acknowledge that Dallas, TX, is setting a precedent for murder convictions of white police officers who murder unarmed innocent black men. In the last two years, Dallas juries have convicted two white officers of murdering unarmed innocent black men. That’s great; however, there’s little evidence of reform in the Dallas police department to prevent such shootings. Dallas police appear to be as committed as ever to training rank and file beat cops to shoot blacks first and ask questions later. We want to change that racist mindset.
So, the question we’re grappling with is what actions must African Americans take to stop white police officers from murdering innocent unarmed African Americans? I offer five suggestions:
1. Organize citywide criminal justice reform movements in all major cities. As I said above, Blacks are infamous for reacting to white oppression with fleeting outrage. We don’t organize to bring change during non-climatic and non-crisis periods. To change the status quo, we must methodically organize and work during peaceful times when cooler heads are prevailing. Protesting only after an assault is expected of us and doesn’t lend itself to building strong movements that produce marketable change.
Blacks in every major city should bring together and empower the influencers in their community to speak for them. Influencers aren’t necessarily the politicians or elites. The influencers of a neighborhood may be an outspoken old lady who loves her neighborhood and has been around for many years. Or the influencer may be the local barbershop owner who has the ear of everyone. Whoever these influencers are, they should gather, unite, and anoint a spokesperson to be their leader. Then with a single mission and one voice, they will have the authority to represent the people and bring change. We must be done with many self-proclaimed leaders anointing themselves to speak for the black community. It must be one voice speaking for all. That type of unity has always been the source of our power. The power structure will listen when we speak with one voice; rather than different groups of pastors and activists speaking with different views, voices, and agendas. This splintered approach dilutes our power and weakens our calls for justice.
2. Demand involvement in law enforcement. Once we formed these citywide organizations, we must then demand participation in all facets of law enforcement that occurs in African American communities. We must be sitting at the table, helping the mayor, police chief, or city manager, develop policies and practices regarding police recruitment, training, accountability, and so on. Where and whenever law enforcement occurs in black neighborhoods, we must be actively present voicing our collective opinion before the crisis occurs. Therefore, and it cannot be stressed enough, the leaders of the citywide organization should meet regularly with the local police chief, police unions, city council and other local people in key law enforcement positions
Former Chief of the Dallas police department, David Brown, encouraged more blacks to join the police force after five of his officers were murdered. He saw that as one way of reforming his police department. He figured the more blacks that filled the ranks, the less police brutality in black communities. I agree. Most officers who shoot innocent, unarmed blacks are white. It stands to reason, therefore, that we might see a reduction or virtual elimination of these awful shootings with more black officers.
3. Lobby state legislatures for criminal justice reform. The lawmakers aren’t on the streets with sidearms. They carry briefcases, not pistols, except in Texas. They are at the state capitols. They enact the laws that police manuals incorporate in their procedures and practices. They decide what’s self-defense, when deadly force is appropriate, who can own and carry guns, and much more. Criminal justice and police engagement reform must occur at their level also.
State legislators also over criminalize so much behavior it increases police engagement in black neighborhoods. For black folks, the less police engagement, the less police brutality.
We must include state legislators in our efforts to reform police engagement in black neighborhoods through lobbying and especially voting.
4. Appeal law enforcement cases to the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS). The SCOTUS may be the biggest covert culprit of police brutality. With the many pro-law enforcement rulings SCOTUS has handed down, the justices have given police officers almost total authority on the beat. As with state law, police training academies use these pro-law enforcement rulings to develop police engagement procedures for black communities. The instructors of the police academies know the holdings in these Supreme Court cases, and they make sure the trainees learn them.
Hence, we must appeal certain criminal cases to the Supreme Court. Our strategy should be to utilize these cases to convince the justices to curtail some of the absolute power they’ve given beat cops.
5. Vote in all citywide, statewide, and national elections. I saved voting for last because it affects everything in our democracy. As someone said, elections have consequences. Take Trump, for example. He reportedly has nominated, and the Senate has approved over 150 conservative, right-wing federal judges. These judges are typically pro-police and will issue more rulings protecting the police. The only way to prevent Trump and other white supremacist presidents from nominating such biased, white supremacist judges is to vote for presidential candidates that will not nominate such right-wing judges.
Voting in local and statewide elections is critical as well. It’s our only opportunity to choose the people who’ll run the systems that affect our lives. I’m referring to systems such as the criminal justice system, city hall, education system, police department, etc. Staying home from the polls during elections is like putting your head on a chopping block. We must vote to save our heads.
The point I want to drill home is let’s stop being reactionists. Let’s become activists. A reactionist reacts to stimuli. An activist creates or prevents stimuli. Let’s work when there are no police shootings of innocent and unarmed black people to prevent them. I’m convinced that we can prevent or at least reduce these horrible shootings with a proactive, organized, and sustained movement. We have many examples of such campaigns, including and most especially the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The MIA forced racist whites to desegregate Montgomery, AL, and it became the inspiration for the civil rights movement to desegregate America.