By Ron Daniels
When will it stop? The police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager in the streets of Ferguson, Mo., coming on the heels of the killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed Black man by a policeman’s choke hold in Staten Island, N.Y. is yet another painful, traumatic reminder of the long history of occupation, torture, abuse and killing of Black people in America, particularly Black men.
Indeed, within hours of the killing of Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, an unarmed Black man with a history of mental problems, was killed in Los Angeles under suspicious circumstances. It doesn’t matter that there is an African American president of the United States or that Blacks are mayors of major American cities, run Fortune 500 companies or are pace setters as high paid and adored hip hop moguls, entertainers and athletes, the killing of Black men continues.
Once again legions of Black people and people of conscience and goodwill are in the streets in Ferguson, Mo. and in solidarity rallies across the country. But, to add insult to injury, in scenes reminiscent of the brutalizing of civil rights protesters in Birmingham and Selma in the 60s, St. Louis County Police units with sharpshooters, sniper squads, mine-resistant trucks and a “Bearcat armored truck” unleashed a ferocious assault on peaceful marchers, firing tear gas, stun bombs and rubber bullets into the ranks of terrorized protesters. The whole nation and the world witnessed this vicious onslaught against the First Amendment by highly militarized police that looked more like soldiers on the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan than the suburb of a major American city.
The question of the hour is, and has been for far too long: When will the killing of Black men and the occupation of Black communities stop?
In a book edited by Jill Nelson in 2000, titled Police Brutality: An Anthology, I wrote, “The policy of more police and prisons has been used as a substitute for policies that promote social, economic, and racial justice for people of color. This formula of ill-conceived public policy and policing practices has produced a highly combustible situation in communities of color throughout the nation.”
These words were written in the wake of the police torture of Abner Louima, the police slaughter of Amadou Diallo and the killing of a number of Black and Latino young men in the greater New York City area under suspicious circumstances. Nearly 15 years since the publication of Jill Nelson’s book, much has changed, but the killing of Black men continues.
Black people must exercise political and economic muscle to demand greater civilian control and oversight of the police. In Ferguson, Blacks are 67 percent of the population but all the political structures are dominated by Whites. This must change. Blacks and their allies must march on ballot boxes to seize the reins of power as a major step towards changing policing policies and practices in Ferguson. However, simply replacing White faces with Black faces in the corridors of power is not sufficient. Ultimately, there must be a change in the policies and practices of the police.
We must demand an end to the militarization of the police, the utilization of military tactics as control mechanisms and the profiling/targeting of Black communities. We must also demand an end to the “broken windows” and “zero tolerance” strategies that insult the intelligence and infuriate Black people. Community-policing must become the centerpiece of a human-centered, holistic approach to crime prevention and public safety in Black communities.
SIRIUSXM Radio Talk Show Host Mark Thompson has been advocating for increased community oversight of the police through the creation of Civilian Police Review Boards. This is not a new idea, but it is worthy of consideration as long as Review Boards are well funded and have independent investigatory and prosecutorial powers.
Rev. Heber Brown, Pastor of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore, is also suggesting that Black people lessen their dependence on policing authorities by instituting more self-policing structures and mechanisms in the Black community.
At the national level we must demand that the federal government stop providing funding for local police departments to purchase the kind of military hardware the nation and world witnessed being used in the assault on peaceful protesters in that night of infamy in Ferguson. At the direction of President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder should decline to fund proposals for military equipment and expand funding for proposals that promote Community-Policing. There must be a strong signal from the White House and Justice Department that military policing is taboo and Community Policing is the national priority.
Black people must also use economic sanctions/boycotts to complement protests and political action to achieve just and humane alternatives to police occupation and racially-biased policing practices. Economic sanctions campaigns should be coupled with demands for private and public sector investment in Black communities to create jobs and develop business/economic infrastructure. Ending bad policing is not enough. Black people must struggle to revitalize Black communities.
Ron Daniels is president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, he can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.