Black Lives Matter Part 3: Police impunity the root of the problem
The Minneapolis police force has implemented training on implicit bias, crisis intervention, and de-escalation. It has diversified the department’s leadership, adopted tighter “use of force” standards and adopted body cameras. But none of these measures have had an impact on policing, or reduced the numbers of African-Americans brutalised by police.
This is because unreconstructed racist officers know there will be no consequences for their actions. These officers are able to act with impunity because time and again charges relating to deaths in custody have been dropped, and trials have ended finding “no police wrongdoing”.
The US lacks uniformity in policy with regards to policing and accountability, which explains why a plethora of police departments choose to simply ignore reporting guidelines.
Federal officials rely on local police departments to report shootings involving police officers, but where things fall apart is that the reporting is voluntary, and often occurs months after the fact, or never.
No action is taken if police departments refuse to co-operate. What is key here is that the Justice Department and the FBI have resisted calls for a mandatory reporting system.
The Deaths in Custody Reporting Act, which was reauthorised by the US Congress in 2014, requires states receiving federal funding for law enforcement to report all killings by police on a quarterly basis. But many states continue to ignore the law.
The controversial Chicago police department has refused to identify officers involved in fatal shootings since 2015, which was the result of an agreement with the union.
The 2015 Presidential task force that looked into police brutality recommended that police agencies should communicate with the media and citizens regarding serious incidents. But the problem was that the recommendations failed to specify that the officers’ names should be released.
The excuse regularly given by local police departments is that they cannot release names until investigations have been completed.
The UK’s Guardian and The Washington Post are recognised to have more information about deaths in police custody in the US than the FBI has themselves. The FBI records only half of all police killings due to the voluntary nature of reporting. Its former director, James Comey, had said that the situation was embarrassing and unacceptable.
The consequences of this “unacceptable situation” are the deaths of a stream of African-Americans, most of whom never hit the headlines.
Let’s spare a thought for Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray. Philando Castile, who was driving home with his girlfriend; Tamir Rice, who had been playing in a park; William Green, who was pulled over for driving erratically and shot in handcuffs and a seatbelt; and Breonna Taylor, who was asleep in her bed. Ryan Twyman was shot 37 times inside a parked car; Sean Reed, 21, a military veteran whose murder was live-streamed on Facebook and showed police officers joking about his death; Brandon Webber who was shot 20 times in his yard; Ahmaud Arbery, who was jogging in his suburb; and George Floyd, who had gone to a grocery store.
* Ebrahim is Independent Media's group foreign editor