It is no secret that people of colour live a different reality. Day in and day out, their interactions with the police and judicial branch are intrinsically unfair. In the last few months the incidents of Ferguson and Eric Garner have shown us too many overt accounts of this racism. We have seen an uproarious response, so much so that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the privileged population to ignore the biased system.
We live in a world that favours the fair (skinned).
Last week the hash tag #CrimingWhileWhite took the Twitter sphere by storm in response to the grand jury decision on the Eric Garner case. The hash tag created a platform for individuals to acknowledge their privilege and encourage society to recognize how deeply embedded this issue is today.
At 16, I got in a wreck, gave a fake number & left. Cops found me, told me it was a felony & "don't do it again" #CrimingWhileWhite
Age 17: I bought gas but forgot to pay; an hour later I came back and they said they told the cops two black men did it. #CrimingWhileWhite
I shoplifted when I was 14 and they let me go because my parents came down and we "looked like a nice family." #crimingwhilewhite
caught smoking weed on private property, lied repeatedly to cops, they found an oz in my car, told me to drive home slow #CrimingWhileWhite
Over the past few days the hash tag has created quite the controversy. Is it helpful to show the consistency in which cops make accommodations for people of privilege, or are white people just bragging about all the crazy things they can get away with? I believe it’s the former. The first step to finding any solution is admitting there is a problem. People are accepting, publically, that the system is flawed. It is only by this acceptance and the initiation of a widespread conversation that meaningful change can occur.
We’ve acknowledged and publically admitted our privilege. A great start.
But how we continue down this path? How do we solve this problem?
This is an epidemic. It is an embedded societal issue, larger than any one person, and transformation needs to happen at an institutional level. The way I see it, there are six major things that need to change immediately in order for people of colour to live in a world not so cruel: video surveillance, DOJ involvement, police demilitarization, passing the ERPA, law enforcement training, and alternatives to incarceration.
1) Video Surveillance
First and foremost, the police need to have video surveillance. There must be accountability of law enforcement; a tangible way in which to ensure fair and equal treatment of all citizens.
Unless a passerby has a cell phone camera on hand and ready, our knowledge of events inevitably becomes a he said/she said situation between officers and citizens; a combination that the past has shown us is not conducive for justice.
Although most police officers do their best to write accurate reports, that is still only most. The Ferguson Action website states, “according to a recent survey one out of every seventeen Denver police officers has been subject to administrative discipline for “departing from the truth” in matters related to their official duties that figure counts only those who have been formally sanctioned.”
Video surveillance is an achievable, tangible step to ensuring ethical actions by enforcement officials.
2) Department of Justice Involvement
The DOJ (Department of Justice) needs to do a comprehensive review into the use of force and systematic abuses by law enforcement. It needs to investigate the shortcomings and malpractices of every police department.
Furthermore, the DOJ needs to provide annual data on the rates of stops, frisks, searches and arrests (broken down by race/gender/age), and enact immediate review panels when police departments engage in racial profiling and other discriminatory practices.
The DOJ needs to enact guidelines, policies, and practices to be the American institution that supports this revolution.
3) Police Demilitarization
Demilitarizing the police should not be an argument: it should not be happening. The fact that police officers are carrying military-grade weapons and small towns have military tanks is obscene. North America needs to substantially restrict (if not ban) the use of military equipment by local law enforcement. The Canadian & American federal governments need to discontinue the supply of military weaponry/equipment and demilitarize local law enforcement.
Additionally, our nations to adopt the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act in order to officiate and enforce this notion.
4) End Racial Profiling Act
Support for the passage of the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) is imperative. In law, this would forbid the use of profiling on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin or religion by law enforcement agencies. This act would instill accountability; a cut and dry notion regarding police department conduct. It would give society specific legislation, a tangible example, of what is wrong. It would officiate a standard to which society now holds its law enforcement.
5) Law Enforcement Training
The primary causes of institutional issues are cultural norms and practices. Racial profiling in North America is clearly a systemic issue and can only be solved by addressing its root causes. A critical piece of the solution will be law enforcement training. All the bills, acts, and reforms in the world are only productive if the men and women on the front lines understand and enforce them.
6) Incarceration Alternatives
Perhaps most importantly, North America needs to look towards alternatives to incarceration for people of colour. In Canada, though First Nations people make up 4.3% of the population (Stats Canada, 2011), they comprise 23% of the penitentiary inmates (CBC, 2013). In the US, African-American males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males (Sentencing Project, 2013).
A reduction in policing and surveillance in North America would contribute to ending the criminalization/hyper-incarceration of ethnic minorities and people of colour. Law enforcement has a history of helping to impose racist laws, policies and norms. As a result of this, North America today houses a prison system that essentially stockpiles First Nations/black people.
We need to look to community based, conflict resolution solutions. We need restorative and rehabilitative measures to address conflict in our communities, rather than deterrent and destructive actions.
15 years. 179 New York citizens killed by NYPD. 3 indictments. 1 conviction. 0 jail time. (NY Daily News)
The system is not broken; it has never operated properly. The system is inherently biased and we are finally acknowledging its discriminating pillars.
Now it is time to get to work.