Admittedly, I am not over the live stream of Philando Castile’s death. I am not over the deaths of Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin (who died at the hands of a “neighborhood watch” member), Sandra Bland, Stephon Clark, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, John Crawford, nor of our Latin/Hispanic brothers and sisters whose names and stories are often ignored by the media – despite their incredibly high risk of being fatally shot while unarmed. I am not over the untimely deaths of all other unarmed Americans whose lives were cut short because of someone else’s fear or biases. Each new death rips open a barely healed wound while adding the weight of its own mass.
I am not anti-Police but I am, unapologetically, anti- senseless death and anti- brutality. That Robert Johnson’s name wasn’t added the list above, gives me no comfort.
The longer video (sound kicks in during the skirmish)
I believe in the necessity of a defense / peace force that serves and protects American communities. I also believe that most of the individuals who serve as part of that force are honest, serve with good intentions, and serve to great effect. Those who poorly serve their communities not only risk harming innocent citizens, but create unnecessary burdens for their fellow brothers- and sisters-in-blue. They tarnish the legacies of hardworking officers and ruin their relationships with citizens whose trust and support are necessary to create effective neighborhood partnerships – partnerships which save lives.
Where we have, societally, missed the mark is that the focus is almost always on the individual(s) involved in fatal shootings. We should want to know the details of each shooting, for the sake of the public record and for the sake of families traumatized by these events. It is not unreasonable to invest our hope in making significant changes in policing, and policies, by learning the details of each shooting. Officers involved in the fatal shootings of unarmed citizens present only half the story – the latter half. While no one officer may be a problem, it is possible that the process of determining fitness to serve is the problem. That is where the story begins.
- What is the process for determining fitness for duty of new recruits/trainees? Is the entire protocol state-wide, or are some standards local/regional?
- Officers are typically held to the standards and regulations put forth by the state, but how different is evaluation process from state to state – and regions within states?
- What part of that initial evaluation process is used to assesses potential racial/ethnic/gender/religious biases against others?
- Humans are prone to bias, so most of us show some form or bias, but some of us show stronger biases than others. What kind of anti-bias training is offered prior to hiring, and after? How extensive is the training?
- Which specific psychological evaluations are used? If none are used? Why not?
- Who gives and scores the evaluations?
- What are the qualifications of those individuals?
- Are their resumes/CVs available for review?
- Are there differences in evaluations administered in-house vs those administered by private agencies?
- Are police departments tracking the records of officers involved in cases of brutality/corruption complaints to determine if the same individuals/organizations are responsible for the pre-hire (and any subsequent) evaluations of those officers?
- Are warning signs identified by evaluators ignored or downplayed by departments?
- Are there policies for follow-up evaluations (every five years, for example)?
- Given the high levels of stress officers face, in the best of circumstances, it is not unreasonable to suggest that a psychological “check up” be given throughout the course of an officer’s career. Every officer should be given the ability to address job-related stress and then return to duty.
- Are the INITIAL evaluations re-examined, in cases where brutality/corruption complaints are filed against officers or when unarmed citizens are shot? Are there details in the initial evaluation that were deemed irrelevant then, that would later carry greater significance?
- Is there a mechanism for police officers to recommend re-evaluation when there are concerns which are not yet reported as brutality complaints or concerns which may stem from daily conversations between officers. Imagine if an officer had the ability to safely recommend re-evaluation in this case:
Racist texts read at trial of Inkster police officer accused of beating black motorist
“At least give me the satisfaction of knowing you were out there beating up n*****s right now,” said a text sent to Zieleniewski earlier this year. It was read aloud in court.
“LOL,” Zieleniewski said in his text response. “Just got done with one.”
Floyd Dent was the target of Officer William Melendez’s attack. Auxiliary Officer John Zieleniewski was reportedly Melendez’s trainee/partner. Floyd Dent’s name is not on the list, above, but under different circumstances, it could have been.
We know that the majority of officers never fire their weapons during the course of their service, and rarely, if ever, have altercations with members of the community. It is why we should be especially concerned in cases where this does occur, even more when the victims are unarmed and not a threat to the officer(s) involved. Members of police departments, who fully understand the job – having their own experiences to rely on, should be the most concerned.
Just as minority communities are plagued by being defined by our most troubled members, oddly enough, police officers suffer the same fate. It would, in almost any other circumstance, be the first step in creating a common understanding. These are communities that understand that the overwhelming majority of its members are good people who only want to live in peace and coexist with others.
Police departments should never hesitate to take the same advice it gives to communities of color, in particular: “Stand up to your most problematic members. Turn them in if they behave in ways that are violent or threatening. If those in charge aren’t doing their jobs, do it for them. Keep us all safe.”
Public service, in all of its manifestations, is both a privilege and a responsibility. Lasting relationships are formed between citizens and public servants (at all levels) who honor policing as a privilege and responsibility. While we focus individual cases and the circumstances which have contributed to each unfortunate death, there are bigger questions to ask. Asking them is not about blaming. Asking bard questions strengthens our defense/peace forces AND the communities they serve. Telling half the story, the latter half, will never get us there. We must tell the full story. We deserve no less.