I’d like to share some ideas about what we as white Americans can do right now to support people of color, who are disproportionately affected by police brutality and discrimination. Statistics show that American police kill far more frequently than police in other developed countries. One shocking statistic is that American police killed more people this March than U.K. police did in the entire 20th century (source: thinkprogress.com). Video footage is increasingly demonstrating that racially motivated police brutality and killings are proliferating across the country and are not merely local phenomena. We cannot remain apathetic and inactive.
It’s human nature to feel that events that come to national media attention are distant from us. But let’s not forget that a black man was killed by police here in Asheville on July 2 under questionable circumstances, and an investigation is underway. Without drawing hasty conclusions about that event, we ought to realize that the types of killings that make national news headlines are not isolated events, but happen across the nation with disturbing frequency. If we’re complacent, we increase the possibility of people of color being discriminated against and targeted by police in our own community.
Those opposed to changing the status quo in relation to law enforcement practices often argue that most police officers are good people and that they wouldn’t unjustly kill anyone — black, white or brown. But that’s beside the point. The point is that the events that have recently come to light are a symptom of a pervasive illness, and we can’t predict where or when we’ll see yet more evidence of it.
A militaristic and racist culture plagues American law enforcement nationwide, and we need systematic change and new paradigms of law enforcement training and practice. This is not the same as saying that individual police officers in general are racists; what I mean is that law enforcement institutions demonstrate a trend toward racial prejudice and violence, highlighted by events like the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
Beyond taking to social media, we ought to write our local law enforcement departments to inquire about what programs they have in place, or are planning, to train their officers in nonlethal intervention and anti-discrimination practices. We should also write our city, county and state political leaders to ask what they’re doing to help develop, encourage and strengthen such programs. Let them know that we want not only to feel safe ourselves, but we want people of color in our community to feel protected rather than threatened by police.
We should also write our local media outlets and ask them to investigate the policies and training of our local law enforcement agencies. We can also support this cause by helping to organize and by attending public demonstrations alongside our neighbors of color.
We need a nationwide shift in the way law enforcement agencies operate and the way they train and outfit their officers. We can’t wait for federal legislation to dictate this from above. If we demand change at a local level, we can change the ethos of law enforcement agencies across the country.
— Luke Hankins