So now we have protested, we have marched, we have expressed public outrage mostly through peaceful civil disobedience, clogging up roads with marches and stopping traffic, and in some cases have clashed with the forces of authority. And though I’ve not yet had the chance to join one of the protests in my hometown, I will say “we” throughout this article as I very much wish to be part and throw my full support behind the effort. We have developed active, viral rally cries in the form of hashtags, generating support on a large scale, key to any social movement. We’ve readied the masses; now what do we do? The world is listening – what do we want to say?
What are the next real steps necessary to force the type of social change for which we’re fighting? Given the overwhelming popular support for a more evolved police force, is it a matter of legislation, either by some form of public ballot initiative or through our congressional representatives? Or does the level of exorcism that is necessary require something stronger, something not so easy to ignore/twist/coopt/delay/water down or otherwise lessen? How does one address the rampant abuse of authority that seems embedded within police departments all across our country?
The real transformation that needs to take place is how we all view police and their role in “protecting” us. We have allowed a militarization of our police forces that is dangerous not only in weaponry but perhaps moreso in philosophical precedent. The two entities, the military and the police, are not the same, they are not subject to the same rules and pressures, they have different intentions and different targets. We depend on our military, as does any nation, to be unfaltering, highly trained warriors, weapons of our own creation to pit against any oncoming threat. That is not the role of police, though some may believe so. For soldiers at war, by necessity the world must be black and white, directives and objectives, us and them. Here at home there is no us and them, only us. When we allow that polar way of thinking to pervade those paid to protect us, personal bias and prejudice find fertile breeding grounds.
To that end, one tangible legislative initiative that we could call for to affect direct change would be the repeal of DoD 1033. Also known as the Department of Defense Excess Property Program, it’s the program that gives surplus military equipment to our local police departments, some of which has found use in the events of the past few weeks, specifically the LRAD machine (basically aural tear gas) as well as a host of assault rifles and armored vehicles. Though equipment is but one piece (and probably the smallest piece) of demilitarizing our police, it would be a meaningful statement of our position. Also, like a $20 bill in a teenager’s pocket, the presence of these armored vehicles and oversized guns foster a desire for their use, which is to say nothing of the DoD’s requirement for said use within a year or they must be returned. Even in an atmosphere ripe with trust in police and their ability to act responsibly such equipment poses an undue risk. And we are certainly in no such atmosphere.
Another legislative measure for which the movement should be actively pushing is cameras on all cops (#CamerasonCops). Though one of the lessons we’ve learned from the Eric Garner case is that the presence of a camera is no guarantee of safety, having body cameras as standard issue for any and all police would work to address the continuous disparities between officer accounts and victim and eye witness accounts. In addition, the “malfunction” or turning off of one’s cam should be viewed with a high level of suspicion. Those tapes should be available to a non-PD oversight source and should be treated as potential evidence.
Until then and in addition, we should continue the effort encouraged by sites like the FreeThought Project, to keep filming the police (#CamerasonCops). I’ll come back to this in a moment, but an important part of any social movement is education. In the struggle against police brutality we must work to educate ourselves and our fellow citizens about our civil rights and the tactics that LEO’s are likely to use to get us to give them up. As citizens we have the right to film the police as long as we are not impeding an investigation or crime scene. Predictably so, when faced with this reality cops will often illegally tell us to stop or even seize our devices (again, illegally). The digital age has obviously made this censorship far more difficult but that won’t stop them from trying.
Education about our civil rights is one of the steps that’s made so much easier with social media. I encourage all my readers to follow Cop Block on Facebook (though it can get excessive, especially once you start sharing the atrocities) and to regularly check in with the Free Thought Project. They are two strong voices that keep a light shined on the darkness of authority and espouse efforts to educate the electorate. Illegal search and seizure for example, a basic tenet of the Bill of Rights, is rampantly abused by police, often as a means to greater incrimination. Learning the six simple words, “I do not consent to searches” can drastically change the outcome of an interaction.
Perhaps I’ll dedicate another piece to the central rights of which we should all be aware in our interactions with cops but suffice it to say that education about those rights needs to be a focus of the movement, part of the greater cultural shift of how we view the police.
To me one of the key objectives should be breaking the Blue Line of the police fraternity and get some good cops to begin speaking and acting out against their fellow corrupt LEO’s. That fraternal protection is their strongest weapon and a dangerous one, enabling the secrecy and corruption that stand as the biggest obstacles to real, productive change. In their ability to subject their colleagues to the ridiculous process of “internal review”, police forces are not only able to impart their own farcical form of justice but they have the added advantage of diminishing public emotion and drive behind the event with the inevitably long and slow process of review. By creating cracks and fissures in the shield that protects them from proper scrutiny, encouraging LEO’s to speak out against their co-workers rather than viewing it as some type of “snitching” and protecting them when they do, we can begin to see the degree of infestation. Only then can you fully exterminate. The problem, I fear, is that there’s more termite than wood in many places and extermination could bring the whole house crashing down.
To that end, another legislative initiative for which there should be public outcry is an overhaul of the grand jury system, lowering the burden of proof necessary for the case to go to trial. It is an expectation that LEO’s are to be held to higher standards of character and decision-making and that needs to include when they make mistakes. It should be difficult for these kind of controversial matters to NOT go to trial when instead it is the opposite – the prosecutor is largely in control of grand jury proceedings and the indictment often hinges on his/her desire for it. A public jury trial is the time-tested method of true justice, where all facts are able to come to light to be weighed against others, where testimony may be given and analyzed, and the most truth allowed to rise to the surface. It is certainly not a perfect system but providing police with an avenue that makes it easier to evade justice isn’t us protecting those who protect us. It is mangling the system with imbalance, granting extra power but without a higher level of repercussion when that power is abused.
Social awareness and awakening is an interesting thing in the digital age. The ability to communicate, to organize large groups is made far easier with avenues like Twitter. And good or bad, social media allows for an increased level of conversation which, really, is always a good thing. Those outlets have obviously played a large role in the wake of the Missouri and New York tragedies (oh yeah, and all the others), many of us turning there as our primary information source before reaching for the tv remote. They allow for large-scale conversations, such as the recent #CrimingWhileWhite hashtag which not only expressed an unprecedented acknowledgement of white privilege but opened a debate as to whether the hashtag itself displayed a basic ignorance on the part of white people with the assertion that the posts were more bragging in tone than embarrassed. I happen to disagree and think the conversation is a valuable moment of openness and honesty of which we need far, far more.
This movement is not one of unrest over a single event, it is anger over deaths that are symptomatic of the long-standing abuse of authority in our country, abuse that is deeply infused with racial discrimination. When we look at what might be set as tangible goals within this struggle one understands the breadth and depth of the change we seek. We must realize the size of the fight in which we find ourselves. Our anger drives us to march, to yell, to argue and debate. But those are the initial reactions. We must now each personally decide that this is actually a cause worth fighting for, after it’s sexy or trending or simply makes us feel like we’re part of something. This is an addendum to the Civil Rights movement and if this is truly as important an issue to all of us (black and white) as we posture it to be, the ambition will not fade when the news cycle changes.
To truly make that evolution from moment to movement leaders will need to arise. Any protracted effort for change requires organization, goals, and clarity of message and leaders are necessary to put this kind of infrastructure in place, especially once the forces of disinformation and cooptation come knocking. From whence will these leaders emerge? Have they perhaps already shown themselves?
The protests and the marches have endured for quite some time now, the social media movements and news cycles are heavy focused on the issue… for the moment. But that energy will soon wane. One can only shout into the wind for so long before becoming tired and hoarse, so what comes next?