The failure to indict a police officer for yet another killing of a young, Black person – this time a child, 12-year-old Tamir Rice – should outrage us and cause us to look more deeply at the structures that make both Rice’s shooting and the non-indictment mutually reinforcing acts. Similarly, the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the brilliant organizing within it compels us to look at the relationship between crime and policing in a new way: it forces our society to confront how it allows the police to get away with committing crimes against Black and brown communities.
When it comes to policing, civil and human rights lawyers are myth busters. We work with organizers, activists and journalists, to bust storied myths, passed down through generations, that attempt to normalize unaccountable police power and the abuses that inevitably flow from it. We also bust the myths about Black and brown criminality that many people believe are true, but simply aren’t.
It’s wise to be wary — very wary — of the police media machine when it tells us that aggressive police practices are always justified, no matter the harm to Black and brown communities. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, ominously warned that without aggressive policing of Black and brown communities, the crime rate would skyrocket. Well, guess what? A recent New York Times editorial, New York City Policing, by the Numbers, points out that in the years surrounding the landmark ruling in the Center for Constitutional Rights’s lawsuit that the NYPD stop-and-frisk policy was racially discriminatory, the number of street stops plummeted some 91% — from 685,000 in 2011 to just 46,000 in 2014 — and the crime rate remains at an historic low. Clearly the NYPD’s backing off of its hyper-aggressive and unconstitutional stop and frisk program has not unleashed an apocalyptic wave of Black lawlessness and crime. Myth busted.
There was virtually no chance of that happening because, as we have been pointing out for several years, there is no correlation between racially discriminatory stops and frisks and the rate of crime. The presence of the practice didn’t prevent crime and its absence doesn’t create crime. But there is another, deeper myth that needs addressing beyond whether police practices curb crime; and that is how we handle police practices that are crimes in themselves.
Which brings us back to Tamir Rice. In an earlier blog post, I posed the question, when is shooting a 12-year-old child reasonable? The answer, of course, is when the child is Black and the shooter is a police officer. This was the case with respect to the killing of Tamir Rice and, predictably, a grand jury found no cause to even charge the shooting officer with a crime. This is a pattern that is all too familiar in our country where, for years, police officers have been virtually unindictable for actions that would have certainly resulted in criminal charges if committed by anyone else.
Underlying this pattern is a powerful…