In recent decades, our country has been rocked by a seemingly constant cascade of brutality from members of our law enforcement. From the Rodney King case in Los Angeles to the more recent cases of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, much of today’s police brutality has ties to race, reigniting the nation’s conversation on race relations.
While these events are terrible and disgusting, law enforcement as a whole is not to blame, and no one has the right to take out their angst against those who work tirelessly to ensure our safety and welfare. Police officers around the country have been attacked and even murdered for wearing their uniforms, even if they were not associated with the controversial crimes at hand.
One of the most prevailing cases this past year was the brutal death of Eric Garner. Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who held Garner down, has said time and time again that his course of action was not race-related. Although this may be an excuse, I believe that he truly thinks his actions were not racially prejudiced. One of our most basic human traits is distrust of differences, and Pantaleo may have been harboring this fear without even knowing that he was. Pantaleo was following protocols that have become part of a system of institutionalized racism within New York City law enforcement.
According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, in 2013 alone, New York police officers stopped 191,558 people, 88 percent of whom were not guilty of any crime and 85 percent of whom were black or Latino. Police officers may not be actively seeking black men to arrest, but statistically, when confronted with a white and black man, they are more likely to arrest the black male. This form of racism is harder to crack down on—it’s subtle.
After generations of systematic oppression, black Americans have been relegated to second-class status in the minds of many Americans, whether we like to say it or not. The government can pass as many laws as it likes to equalize the races, but it is impossible to regulate one’s thoughts. This issue is not something that will merely go away by wearing a t-shirt or sending a tweet. Instead, you must inform yourself of all the facts and look past deep-seated prejudice in order to draw conclusions based on fact rather than opinion.
Police departments everywhere have become the first places we blame for the failings of other departments, but as enforcers of the law, police officers are the ones reformers need by their side if they want to achieve change in society. By definition, police are there to protect us during times of need and carry out laws that allow us to live freely. The general public should not turn its back on the police, nor should it ostracize them for wearing badges.
With conflicting testimony, whatever happened on the fateful day Michael Brown was shot has been left unanswered because of a lack of a trial by jury. However, those cases that have been decided in a court of justice, such as that of Trayvon Martin, still lack convictions. These unanswered cases further exacerbate the issue, leaving the public and the victims’ families without closure.
The best way to repair the relationship between police officers and the general public is through non-hostile interactions in an everyday setting. For those in positions of power and members of law enforcement, do not be afraid of those that are different from yourself, and keep an open mind. For the public, we shouldn’t jump to uninformed conclusions about the nature of police officers’ intentions. Partisan bickering is simply a way to perpetuate this broken system. The faults of the criminal justice system must not be solely a racial issue left to civil rights groups but rather a human issue that requires all of our hands to correct.