The recent violence in Ferguson, Missouri, exposes the ongoing issues of racial tension and the use of deadly force by police.
As the civil unrest settles around yet another controversial officer shooting death of an unarmed young black male, the country seems to be further divided over the past five years than during the civil rights era in the 1960s. As I watch in distress at the recent scenes in Ferguson, the images look a lot like Selma, Alabama, in 1963. I am ashamed to have to explain this drama to my 9-year-old son.
In 2014, with an African-American president, we seem to have overcome much of the racial discrimination that was so blatant 50 years ago. At the same time, we face the ugly reality that screams that some things have not changed. In the highly tense debates on the air, in print and online, some have compared the recent violence against black males to the southern lynchings that were so frequent during the 1940 and 1950s.
There are some alarming statistics compiled by the Department of Justice that analyze racial bias in police shootings. They reveal that there is a disproportionately high number of minorities who have died from the actions of police. Within the past month, there have been four unarmed black men killed by police.
Whether these incidents were within police operational procedure or not, there is still reason for concern and these incidents are worthy of an investigation.
With family members and several close friends who are police officers, I am torn between the perceived injustice toward young black men and the unfair representation of law enforcement agencies. As a youth advocate, mentor for young men and father of three sons of my own, I am personally affected by these recent events. It is so challenging for me to not react emotionally when anyone, particularly a young black male, is killed for any reason.
The desire to maintain a balanced perspective led me to a much-needed conversation with Fairfield Police Chief Walt Tibbet. He provided an insight and viewpoint that often gets lost in the propaganda and sensationalism that is regularly broadcast by the mainstream media. He talked about officer training techniques and escalating use of force. In our talk, I learned about the process of disciplinary action taken when an officer acts outside of department policies, procedures and training.
There is so much at risk from a police officer’s perspective that most civilians don’t appreciate. There are many more responsible and positive officers than not and they do a great service to the community that they serve. Unfortunately, the high-profile mistakes that some officers make unfairly taints the nobility of the entire law-enforcement profession.
With much respect to all the honest police officers, there must be more accountability for the bad seeds that exist in the field. As in most environments, the staff performance is a reflection of the leadership. If these incidents are not dealt with to the limit of the law, then the leadership is guilty of facilitating these deadly crimes against citizens that they have sworn to protect.