Police violence has been a part of the American experience since the earliest days of this great nation, as has rampant systemic racism. However, with the advent and increased accessibility of recording devices such as cell phone video cameras, victims of misconduct by law enforcement are now better armed in reporting these abuses of power and authority.
The problem no longer lies in victims and communities inability to collect and present evidence of abuse, but in the fact that the authorities trusted to investigate and prosecute these crimes are part of the very same system that led to them in the first place. In the instances where community oversight exists at all, these groups often have no teeth and find the recommendations handed down ignored by those with the ability to prosecute the perpetrators of abuse of authority.
Between the abolition of slavery and the We Charge Genocide report to the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights in 1951, more than 10 thousand Blacks had been lynched. By comparison in the years between 9/11 and the present, more than five thousand people of color have been killed extra judicially by police in the United States. Between 2009 and 2010 the rate of reported police misconduct filings jumped 25 percent to nearly six thousand, with 382 of them involving the violent death of the reported victim, while only six percent of these reports ever led to prosecution of the officers involved, even when the evidence was clearly in favor of the victims claims.
The report to the UN Commission on Human Rights delivered by Paul Robeson and William L. Patterson in 1951 exposed the racial targeting of Black communities, for violence, and false imprisonment dating all the way back to the official abolition of slavery. The rampant systemic racism ensured that Black America was never able experience true freedom. Giving us a view of a national policy that although it espoused freedom for all, left Black America buried under the racist policies and brutal police enforcement of old, to this day.
“The militarized policing infrastructure in this country is aiding in the gentrification of communities of color, their arbitrary enforcement and over enforcement of laws that target People of Color, has led to the re-enslavement of POC groups by the state and private prison industry, and contributes to what the UN has clearly defined as genocide,” said Taylor C. Hall director of The Color of Lawlessness, an upcoming documentary which explores structural abuses of authority and racism.
Despite legislation requiring the U.S. Attorney General to collect and publish data on both lethal and nonlethal police violence, despite overwhelming public interest, the available data on police violence is often spotty at best. There is a heavy reliance on local authorities to give those results to the Justice Department Bureau of Statistics on violent interactions where Americans of color feel they are experiencing systemic racial application of force. When local police provide this data, if at all, it is often skewed in favor of the department in question.
“The lack of accurate data on police misconduct in this country is scandalous,” said Geoffrey Alpert professor in the criminal Justice and Criminology Departments at the University of South Carolina. Some police departments have failed to report any of the shootings by officers within their departments.
Three-quarters of police polled say they are not satisfied with the way the courts sentence those they arrest, by comparison three-quarters of the public say they do not trust the police in their communities. “Cops would like you to believe that, they are less likely to abuse you because they’re recording you with their dash cameras or POV cameras, but the reality is that they can manipulate those videos, if the public is filming them there is another perspective that they are unable to manipulate, we are the wild card,” said Danielle Finger an artist and Human Rights Activist.
Departments struggling to keep a violent stranglehold on American communities of color have begun claiming that people using cellphones to film the police are shooting police with guns disguised as cell phones to get around federal court orders in support of the right to film police in the course of their duties. “Considering disparity in the number of people killed by police Vs. the number of police killed by civilians, these claims are clearly meant to prevent communities of color and other poor communities from protecting themselves,” said Hall. So long as poor and disenfranchised Americans are forced to endure experiences of systemic racism and violent police oppression without any practical recourse, there will never be justice in America, nor will there ever truly be peace for those communities most affected.
Opinion By Cory Clark