Police Brutality and Lack of Empathy in America

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In the wake of the cases of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, Takim Ndifon writes on police brutality and a lack of empathy in the US.

The past week has been  very turbulent in the United States. We have recently seen the killings of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota as a result of police brutality as well as the murder of five police officers in Dallas, Texas by a lone sniper during a Black Lives Matter protest. US President Barack Obama made two statements about the incidents within twelve hours during a NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland and cut his trip short to visit Dallas. These incidents have sparked outrage but they are nothing new. A few years ago, I watched a CNN special about the verdict of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed seventeen-year-old boy who was killed. The shooter was acquitted of all charges which sparked divisions from the verdict and raised questions about the issue of race in America.

People need not look to see that there is a problem. It cannot be said that racism is over because of the progress that Blacks in America have made over the years. Black Americans are susceptible to racial profiling and targeting by the police. From being slaves to being treated as second class citizens with Jim Crow laws to being easy targets during the war on drugs, Black Americans has constantly had to overcome institutional challenges . Last year, a white gunman when to a black church in Charleston, South Carolina and killed nine black people in order to start a race war. The way he was treated by the police was different to twelve-year-old Tamir Rice who was shot within two seconds for carrying a toy-gun in Ohio which has lax gun laws. This has sparked a movement like Blacks Lives Matter which has gained popularity over the past couple of years with a clear message of ending police brutality and calling attention to the racial imbalance in the United States. As of now, 187 black people have been killed by police this year compared to 346 blacks from 1152 people killed by people last year. Blacks are 3 times more likely to be killed by police than whites with 30% being unarmed. That is astonishing. Another problem of this is lack of accountability. 97% of cases that involves a police officer shooting an unarmed person have failed to result in charges for the police officers.

The issue of police brutality has been the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement which has grown over the past year and gained audience from US Presidential aspirants like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. They have gained support but also been opposed. Conservatives detest Black Lives Matter having viewed them as being anti-cop and trouble makers. President Obama has also been blamed with one ex-politician threatening President Obama and the movement via a tweet which he later deleted. The likes of Rudy Giulaini and Bill O’Reilly have also been vocal in their criticism claiming that they have promoted violence, a claim which is untrue. Under the Obama Administration, there have been  fewer cop deaths than the last two administrations and they have been on the wane since the Reagan days. The movement has gained support across the United States with celebrities like Beyonce, Serena Williams and Jesse Williams doing their bit.

It is obvious that there is a disconnect between the Police and Black Americans. However, it goes beyond that. The United States needs to have more empathy both in its domestic and foreign policy. President Obama recently said that the US is not as divided as people think but it has created a scenario where pro BLM (Black Lives Matter) are posited as being anti law enforcement while those who are defensive of the authorities are viewed as being anti-BLM. These two should be in a position of coexistence. People have been quick to jump to conclusions without understanding the situation. When I watched the movie, Invictus a theme that I thought stood out was empathy. Mandela understood that South Africa which had a similar situation needed to reconcile and used the sport of Rugby to unite the country. I don’t have the answers to this and this is a topic that I have seen too many times. With the US government in political gridlock, there won’t be any changes anytime soon but to move forward towards a society that is just, we need to have empathy and that is what Black Lives Matter is talking about. It is important to empathize with the person you agree with as well as the person you disagree with. I’ll also argue that the establishment needs to take a long look at itself and resolve to do better. Using the United Kingdom as a reference point, one must recall how the failure of the Metropolitan Police in dealing with the murder of Stephen Lawrence inspired by the public inquiry which resulted in Lord Macpherson declaring the police as being guilty of “institutional racism”. This inspired the Police to holding itself to review its dealings with people of colour. In effect, what is required going forward is a desire from the Police to demand more of itself and be more accountable and transparent in its dealings with the citizens being protected.

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