Bleeding Red

In the days since the election, the conversation surrounding use of force by police has quieted some. The death of Walter Wallace Jr in Philadelphia and the subsequent release of bodycam video forces us to revisit the issue and this time, with a different perspective. Wallace Jr’s family has asked that the officers not be charged with murder as they were not trained and properly equipped to deal with the situation.

Quite magnanimous and a shift from families who, understandably, demand indictments and convictions. And while the district attorney will decide whether to press charges, who determines how are officers are trained and equipped? Wallace Jr’s officers didn’t have tasers. In the video, a woman can be heard yelling, ‘he’s mental!’ What changed in how the officers approached him? The police involved with George Floyd observed his distress and erratic behavior. What shifted in their treatment of him?

Answers to these questions matter if you believe civilians shouldn’t necessarily die for suffering from mental health issues or drug induced impairment. We are, after all, in the midst of an opioid crisis. ‘Comply and you won’t die,’ assumes that all who are in contact with police are able to follow orders. The Wallace family’s comments addresses a crucial need: retraining of police and properly equipping law enforcement, and indirectly, the need to educate communities on safe interactions with police.

A two-prong approach recognizes that both parties have a responsibility in avoiding, as much as possible, a fatal incident; it is possible to say that Officer Sheskey didn’t need to shoot seven times (or at all) and also say that Jacob Blake shouldn’t have resisted arrest; we can say that police misconduct and abuse exist and that it needs to be addressed and at the same time still respect officers and the sacrifices they make.

We can also admit that death by the hands of law enforcement is a rare occurrence. Roughly 1,000 Americans died in police shootings in 2015, representing .00031% of the general population. Around 25% of those killed are black men even though (in 2015) black men were only 6.6% of the general population. White men are also disproportionately represented, though not as drastically, at 32% of general population in 2015, but nearly 48% of victims. The vast majority of those killed are male (95%), but the conclusions the media makes about black male deaths (i.e, police officer bias and racism) aren’t made as it pertains to sex. Men make up 49% of the United States’ population, but account for nearly all of those killed by police. Is that also a matter of bias? Are police using more force against men as they assume men are more likely to be dangerous? Does disproportionateness automatically prove bias?

Use of force (lethal or otherwise) by police is sorely (un)(under)reported, but numbers alone aren’t enough to address matters of injustice and lack of accountability.

Why it’s ok to say ‘All Lives Matter’

Don’t freak out or get pissed off, but the much maligned retort to the statement, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ can be used to propel the conversation forward instead of inflaming it. At it’s core, ‘all lives matter,’ tries to negate the focus of Black Lives Matter, which is that Black people are disproportionately affected by police abuse, but ultimately, it’s an umbrella term that suggests that the protection of everyone is integral. Ok, here’s the push: don’t make it about the words, make it about the issue. If someone says, ‘all lives matter’, then that means they agree that all citizens should be assured that a routine interaction with a police officer should be without intimidation, risk of harm or death. That means they agree that individuals should have reasonable expectation that a traffic stop will not turn fatal. It should also mean that they agree that police brutality exists, that it’s wrong and that reform is necessary. Why? Because we know there are lives affected by police brutality and since all lives matter, there can be no dissension about solving the problem.

So when Trump responds to a question about how Black people die at the hands of law enforcement with, ‘so do White people,’ the reply is, ‘so what are we going to do about it?’ Even if people question the circumstances under which citizens are killed by officers (they shouldn’t have resisted/run), ask them to study up on Tennessee v. Garner that states, ‘the use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable. It is not better that all felony suspects die than that they escape. Where the suspect poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others, the harm resulting from failing to apprehend him does not justify the use of deadly force to do so.’ And this decision was regarding unarmed alleged felons. Would not the same logic apply to unarmed civilians who aren’t suspected of any crime?

Those who stay on the ‘all lives matter’ bandwagon, are presumably aware that issues of police abuse don’t just happen during the arrest or pursuit of alleged felons, but they can happen while cooperating, while pulling up to a gas station, while eating a sandwich on a train platform or walking a dog off a leash. Two individuals in the videos are identified as having disabilities. ‘All Lives Matter’ means we care about injustices especially when they happen to our most vulnerable populations.

‘All Lives Matter’ means that it’s important for police officers to be better trained in handling individuals with mental health problems or who are under the influence because being troubled or drunk shouldn’t cost you your life. It also means there’s support for alleviating police of certain duties that might be better handled by social workers or unarmed personnel so as not to overburdened an already stretched resource.

When people have no problem saying, ‘all lives,’ it means that everyone deserves equal protection under the law and that protection should be preserved and defended at all costs. Instances of inequity in this regard should be stamped out without hesitation.

When you can say ‘all lives matter,’ it quite simply means you don’t want to say ‘Black lives matter’, but what won’t be said will, without a doubt, one day be seen.