Given what’s been happening in the headlines, I figured this would be a good time for me to come out and talk about the Black Lives Matter movement.
Unlike some of my fellow Republicans who summarily dismiss this movement, and only see it for the violent protests that are generated by the activities of this group, I acknowledge that the movement has valid reasons to express their anger and outrage; and that they are absolutely justified in demanding change from law enforcement and from our society at large. However, this organization should be doing two things that could help validate their cause with mainstream America.
The first is that instead of having knee-jerk reactions, this organization should be calling for peace from its members following a controversial shooting and should be waiting for the authorities to complete their investigations before jumping to conclusions and initiating protests that would give some of their members the opportunity to turn violent. Having a period of calm and a period of cooling off could be what this nation needs, and to allow the authorities to do their jobs and to investigate without adding additional pressure to the situation in the form of protests that could turn into riots. And if the police officer is found to have been unjustified and charges are brought, then the Black Lives Matter could feel vindicated that justice is being served for their community members. Let the authorities do their jobs, and protest afterwards if you don’t agree with their conclusions.
I recently saw the news coverage of Alton Sterling, and originally, I felt that the shooting of the man who was pinned to the ground was not justified and was murder, however, I later learned Sterling was apparently armed who also had a criminal record. Those pertinent facts could change my perspective if these reports are true, and I do believe we owe it to everyone involved to wait for the investigation to take place and for the conclusions from that investigation to be released before drawing any firm conclusions on the matter on whether lethal force was appropriate. In our society, we do believe in an assumption of innocence before being proven guilty. This belief should be granted to everyone, from those who are accused of crimes as well as police that have been involved in these shootings. The video showing Sterling’s death was shocking and was indeed very provocative, but we might not have all the facts. So let us be patient and see what the on-going investigation uncovers. It could very well turn out the police officers involved in the shooting violated policies and were not justified in using deadly force and should be charged with some degree of murder, but it could just be as true that their actions were in fact justified, and that the optics have led us to reach an unfair and biased conclusion. Jumping to wrong conclusions now could have far more damaging consequences later on, when it becomes hard for members of Black Lives Matter to accept the conclusions of an investigation. If Black Lives Matter is truly interested in justice, their leadership should be encouraging their members to wait for the findings of the investigation to be released before determining whether protests are warranted. It is far too easy to come to the wrong conclusions while we do not have all the facts. (And for the record, I still believe the Minnesota shooting of Pilando Castille was wrong, caused by a ‘twitchy’ police officer who did not follow proper procedures, but I too will allow the authorities to do their job with their investigation and see what comes from it).
The second thing Black Lives Matter needs to be doing to show they are a legitimate organization with legitimate concerns is to try and police their own ranks, and discourage vandalism and violence whenever they see it happening. Members of the Black Lives Matter organization should never be throwing rocks or fireworks at police officers. You may disagree with how you are being treated by the police, but police officers should not be treated with such disdain and vitriol. That helps no one. Police have a difficult job as it is without them adding to their stress. And they are putting their lives on the line so we might be safe. Throwing rocks or fireworks at anyone can cause serious bodily harm; and this is not something anyone should condone. No one should suffer traumatic brain injury, spinal injuries or severe burns for simply doing their jobs. Protesters do not have the right to harm other people with their actions. People need to think about the consequences of their actions to their fellow Americans, and to other members of their community. The members of the Black Lives Matter movement who are agitating the situation should be put on notice by their own leadership that their acts are not appropriate and must stop. So should the slurs against the police calling them ‘pigs’ or any other slurs or chants that de-humanizes them. Members of the Black Lives Matter movement demand to have respect from the law enforcement community for their members and rightfully so; it is only right to show that same respect back to the law enforcement community. To me, the Black Lives Matter movement should have shown much more compassion toward those Dallas police officers who gave their lives in service of their communities, and should have allowed for a period of calm in all communities to allow for proper grieving before demonstrating again. This would have been the compassionate thing to do. This could have also been a show of good faith that could have helped ease tensions, but that did not happen, and as such, turned into a wasted opportunity.
So what should be done about these controversial shootings? I think the first thing that needs to be done is to look at state laws. I personally think it would help with the prosecution of police officers that have acted inappropriately behind the badge by having a murder charge specifically for police officers, such as “Homicide resulting from careless or unlawful police action.” The more police are charged with crimes, the more juries are going to struggle with the charges they are being faced with…does a wrongful shooting constitute first or second degree murder, or manslaughter, voluntary or involuntary? Having a specific homicide charge for police officers who were acting in a way that they thought were discharging their duties but after an investigation, are proven that they failed to do that, would likely help prosecutors get convictions. I think sentencing for such a new criminal statute should be, in most cases, a little more lenient than other charges such as manslaughter. In a split-second situation, the officer could have made a genuine mistake that took someone’s life. That mistake, though well intentioned, may not rise to the level of needing to be put away for over a decade or more. Perhaps a reasonable sentence for this crime should be between four and fifteen years. Circumstances that should be factored into sentencing should be their existing service record, or if the offending officer showed remorse during the investigation or was cooperative (which likely should result in a lighter sentence) or whether they tried covering up the crime or otherwise showed a “consciousness of guilt” (and would result in a harsher sentence).
I think the communities should have a way of having an easier time communicating their feedback on officers to the police department. For example, whenever there is a police interaction with a community member, perhaps they should be required to give that community member a business card with their name and badge number printed on it. They could then go online to a website or call a phone number to provide feedback to the police department on that particular officer. Questions that should be asked should include everything from, “Was this police officer professional or courteous?”, “Did this police officer put you at ease during your encounter with them?” or “Do you have concerns about how this officer acted?” Such feedback could help establish patterns of behavior that a police department can use to evaluate their officers, and if officers show some inappropriate behavior, the police department can either choose to monitor this officer, re-train them, or even, if appropriate, contact those citizens about filing a more formal complaint. The police department needs to make getting feedback from the community about their officers a priority, and using it to help evaluate their ability to “protect and serve.” They should also be more proactive in investigating their officers; do not wait for the community to come in and file an official report. If the public use a system like this to vocalize serious complaints about an officer, go to them instead of having them come in and file a report. Make the public feel that the police take complaints about their officers seriously, and that there would be vigorous investigations into their concerns.
Of course, it would also help if the police officers have an opportunity to introduce themselves to community members and have opportunities throughout the year to continue to interact and bond with the community. Events such as the National Night Out which is coming on August 2nd, which could allow police officers that work in particular neighborhoods to meet with the neighborhood associations, and to really get to know the community they serve. There needs to be numerous events throughout the year, where officers and community members and interact, where children can come and see a patrol cruiser, play with the patrol car’s lights, and get to put a face on the person wearing a police uniform. By knowing the police officers, and having those officers build a relationship with the neighborhoods, trust can be built, and people can be assured that those serving them will act in upstanding ways to protect their lives and their property from harm.
As an addendum to this very long post, I want to add that I saw the hashtag #alllivesdidntmatter on Facebook. I just want to criticize the use of this hashtag. Many are saying that All Lives Matter movement is missing the point, that Black Lives Matter never said that all lives didn’t matter, that what they are doing is showing the black community is the one that needs the special attention and effort now. However, for me, if members of the Black Lives Matter movement are out there throwing rocks and fireworks at police in their protests, they are showing a blatant disregard for other people’s well being and safety, and are indeed broadcasting to the world through their actions that they themselves don’t believe that ‘all lives matter.’ I also read a disheartening tweet which basically said that the shooter of the Dallas police officers was called a murderer, but not the police officers in Minnesota or in Louisiana that were involved in those controversial shootings. There is a big difference in that scenario; we know the Dallas shooter committed those murders and was not justified in his actions. There is ample evidence to know that what he did was first degree murder. The investigations into the police shootings have not yet been concluded, so alleging that the police officers in question are ‘murderers’ would be premature and just inflammatory. Again, we all have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. We must all remember that in these trying times, and show civility and respect toward one another.