Three Lessons for Police
What Philadelphia can learn from New York's example.
When New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio went on the record in saying that he and his wife have “had to literally train” their bi-racial son, Dante, about how to interact with police officers, it set of a battle of wills between the Mayor’s office and the New York Police Department.
De Blasio’s comments come on the heels of non-indictments over the police killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, and a wave of “Black Lives Matter” protests happening nationwide, including Philadelphia. Protesters are seeking aim to raise awareness about police brutality and call for reforms in the justice system.
Sadly, in the case of NYPD, the message has been distilled into a murky binary of black versus blue. The department has used the tragic shooting deaths of Officer Wenjian Liu and Officer Rafael Ramos to leverage their own passive-aggressive disrespect of both the mayor’s office and the community they are supposed to protect and serve. Officers have literally turned their backs at the mayor during funeral services for both officers (despite the families’ requests.) These self-interested acts have only widened the gap between police and people of color.
The Philadelphia Police Department can only learn from NYPD’s egregious mistakes. Here are three important things for police departments to consider in the wake of the protests:
You Serve the Constituents, Not Each Other
In popular culture, police departments are often depicted as a band of brothers who put themselves first. Sadly, in cases of police misconduct, art often imitates life. For instance, in the police shooting death of Akai Gurley, 28, the New York Daily News reports the rookie officer Peter Liang immediately texted his union representative in the six-and-a-half minutes after Gurley was shot, instead of seeking help. Authorities learned of the shooting from a neighbor’s 911 call.
This type of negligence only communicates that the police department put its own above the safety and welfare of the community, breeding mistrust.
You Are Beholden to the Law, Not Above It
The legal malfeasance that coursed through the veins of case of Michael Brown should be enough to make anyone think twice. In addition to his non-standard presentation of grand jury case, Prosecutor Bob McCullough allowed the highly prejudicial and problematic Witness 40 to testify in front of the grand jury, while being keenly aware that this alleged witness was not at the scene.
And in the death of Eric Garner, which was ruled a “homicide” by the coroner, officers used an illegal chokehold to subdue Garner. This is the same chokehold that killed him. And yet, despite his death, there have been no indictments in the matter of his death.
Black Lives Matter
It is a simple sentence. It does not mean that black lives matter more or that other lives don’t matter at all. It just means that black lives matter. That black people deserve justice, too. That black criminality – or even the suspicion of it – does not warrant death. It means that police officers should act without prejudice, and if they can’t do that, then they shouldn’t be on the force. It means that prosecutors need to try harder they are to get convictions for those who kill innocent black people. It means that black people can be innocent, and it’s not good enough to subscribe the death of the innocents, like Aiyanna Mo’Nay Stanley Jones, to a simple error. It means that Black people deserve an equal application of the law. It means that fear, prejudicial, race-based fear – the kind that killed Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin – does not excuse murder, no matter what the courts say.
Follow Maya K. Francis on Twitter.