Body cameras and civilian police review boards won’t be enough
For days now now the USA has experienced countless demonstrations in the wake of grand jury refusals to indict in the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Who hasn’t heard of “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” and “I can’t breathe”? Led by a new generation of activist Black youth, these multi-racial protests have blocked streets and highways across the nation.
Here in Chicago protesters have occupied Lake Shore Drive, King Drive, Madison Street and other thoroughfares. Other protests include die-ins, rallies, mass meetings and prayer vigils. From the North Side to the West Side and to the South Side, people are waking up to the fact that this is a national uprising, the beginning for what could be the 21st century equivalent of the 1960’s civil rights movement.
What has been the response of our Mayor? Well, he did call the cops on a large group of young people who sat in front of his office hoping for some kind of response. And there was no shortage of police at subsequent demonstrations. Other than that? A long loud silence. Even when President Obama called for introducing body cameras and announced a new commission to study police-community relations, Rahm was nowhere to be found.
That’s hardly surprising. He has had little substantive to say about police shootings even as a federal investigation has been going on since September. He backed Commander Glenn Evans of the Harrison District until Evans was finally charged with putting a gun a suspect’s mouth and threatening to kill him. Evans had already racked up dozens of citizens complaints previous to that.
The Mayor’s obvious tolerance of police lawlessness once again shows his cold contempt for the Black community. But then this was the mayor who closed 50 schools in the face of massive community opposition.
As for the national police-community study commission, President Obama appointed Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey as one of the heads of the commission. Philadelphia as paid out $40 million in lawsuits against police misconduct since Ramsey took over in 2008. And the federal government continues sending military grade hardware to local police departments, a program that has little to do with solving crimes, but a lot to do with suppressing dissent.
As the youth of Chicago marched through the streets you could hear the chant,”The whole damned system is guilty as hell!” This is not about just a few bad apples or even about broken system.
As former Chicagoan Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor says in a recent article entitled,” The system isn’t broken. It’s racist by design”:
“The question remains how, when all the parties involved refuse to address the systemic issues involving criminalization, racial profiling and mass incarceration; how many more commissions and investigations are needed to come to the obvious conclusion that the police operate above the law, and that legal institutions generally view Black people, especially Black men, as expendable?”
You should also read Black Youth100’s excellent report Agenda To Keep Us Safe to see what young people are saying about policing.
As an aldermanic candidate in the 29th ward I can see some advantages to police body cameras and a civilian review board to investigate police misconduct. But cameras and review boards by themselves are not the answer. The entire nation could watch Eric Garner suffocate to death on video and the grand jury still did not indict. And police body cameras can also increase intrusive police surveillance of law abiding citizens. As for a civilian police review board, it can only investigate brutality that has already occurred. It cannot stop it from happening.
Out on the streets of America, young people are questioning the racist system that Dr. Taylor has written about— the one that not only guns us down in the street, but is responsible for so many of the social ills that we have to cope with on a daily basis. We have a lot of work to do. I plan to put forth my best efforts both in street protests and in City Council.