The story of Philando Castile, while extraordinary for the tragic ending, is all too familiar in the black community. To be black in America often means to be suspected of criminal activity by law enforcement and the white community at large. There is clear and overwhelming evidence that they are policed and punished differently. This is not debatable.
The story of the five officers killed in Dallas and the three killed yesterday in Baton Rouge are extraordinary in both contexts. They are not part of decades or centuries-long patterns of violence aimed specifically at cops. They appear to be horrible reactions to just that in the black community.
The targeted killing of police officers must stop. And so must the violence and death that comes from the way we police black communities.
The blood from these deaths, black and blue, is on our collective hands. What amount of dead police officers or unarmed citizens (disproportionately black men) will be enough to convince us that things are not all right? That it is not just a few rogue cops or a couple of irrationally angry black men? This hornets nest is the result of institutional racism as old as the nation herself. It can only be addressed by directly confronting and changing our institutions.
Stopping these killings requires serious and immediate action. I see outrage and support for the police being posted everywhere in the social media landscape– including nearly every BLM activist I know. The solutions I see posted, particularly on right-wing news sites, are wholly insufficient. They want to seek out individuals who might want to commit violence against the police and aggressively stop them. Because there is no better way to end racial violence than hunting down black men who you fear may want to do harm to the police. It should be clear to anyone who has been paying attention to our war on terror that innocent people will absolutely be harmed and killed in such efforts. Doubling down on the policies that got us here is an incredibly stupid idea.
There is only one way we can stop this violence: we must reform how we police our streets. Saying that they way we police is wrong does not stir up animus against police. It is our right and duty as American citizens to question and control the way our government enforces our laws. Nor is it slander against police officers to say that our law enforcement system does not work properly. Most cops have little to no control over many of the worst elements of contemporary law enforcement policy. For example, cops on the street are sent out to fish for criminal activity by aggressively policing minor traffic or public nuisance infractions. We tell them to do this. We elect officials who use this practice to show how tough they are on crime. We want this done. It is on the public to stand up and say these warrantless searches and aggressive tactics (which are absolutely aimed at poorer, disproportionately minority communities) are not appropriate. We have to demand that they invest in things like community policing, which would go a long way towards building real trust between the police and the neighborhoods they serve as well. Individual cops, no matter how heroic they are, cannot change this system without our collective will and input. And none of that can happen until a certain segment of our population stops pretending that any effort to address racial justice poses some grave threat to their lives.
There are many solutions to the way we police out there. And none of them are “anti-cop.” In the end, many of them will save both police and black lives. And that should matter to all of us.