This week a crowd gathered in Marshall Park for a candlelight vigil to mark the 3-year anniversary of the death of Jonathan Farrell. Communities of color across the country are familiar with these scenes where survivors and surviving family members are faced once again with their grief. Whether in person, via broadcast or social media, we remember where we were when we heard the news, and how we felt in the aftermath. From Charlotte to Chicago we are filled with more questions than faith in a fractured justice system, but “the system” isn’t the only problem.
The current statistics on police violence against people of color can lead you to question whether there is actually a bias at all. However most are based on a small sampling of a few cities, so they cannot be expected to reflect the entire country. Also there is no national standard for recording homicides and brutality perpetrated by police, so it is difficult to get accurate number on the account of how many people are actually affected by police violence. In the past few years, cell phone and body camera recordings validate President Obama’s sentiment that “we are not making this up.”
In contrast, statistics are very clear that “black on black” crime continues to threaten our safety as well. While the term “black on black crime” causes discomfort for some, the real disservice is using that term to justify the lack police accountability. I asked Temako Williams – whose son LeReko Williams was tasered to death by CMPD – weather the real threat was the police or violence against each other. “Everybody wanna point the finger, nobody wanna take the blame,” she said before expressing frustration with “seasonal protesters” chanting “black lives matter.” “Until you live by the words that you want everybody to walk down the street and chant, shut up,” Ms. Williams says.
She also feels that one of the biggest problems is that police are emboldened knowing that they will not be prosecuted. She says that giving local police officers immunity is “a slap in the face” to mothers like her who have lost their children. “There is no amount of money” that can bring them back, and in the few cases where officers are found guilty in a civil suit, “adds insult to injury” knowing that the officer “can still go get a job someplace else.” Ms. Willaims finds it hard to have a sense of safety when an officer can be found guilty in civil court and be able to apply for another job in law enforcement. Also “if an officer is found guilty on the civil side”, she said “it should be left up to a jury” to decide if the officer should be allowed to carry a firearm.
When an incident happens that inspires protest, we need more than hash tags to remind us of our desire for justice. We can’t allow our resolve to dissolve into the crowds as we leave vigils and churches. We cannot put down or principles with protest signs, and expect the problems to fix themselves. We owe it to ourselves and the countless victims of state sponsored violence to gather in search of a solution, in the same numbers and with the same passion that we gather to express our rage a grief. We are sustaining the struggle for parity with our conversations about building safer communities and thank everyone who has joined us at our meetings and events identify and eliminate harm from our communities.