We have reached a saturation point with police brutality. It’s real. Reasonable people know it’s real and more people than ever before have seen the ugly evidence that it is not only real, but deeply traumatic and constant.
Philando Castile (L) of Minnesota and Alton Sterling. (Facebook)
It’s hard to deny it when you see an unarmed behavioral therapist laying down on the ground with his hands in the air get shot by police.
It’s hard to deny it when you see Walter Scott being shot from behind.
It’s hard to deny it when you see Eric Garner being choked to death.
It’s hard to deny it when you see Philando Castile bleeding to death from repeated gunshot wounds live on Facebook.
It’s hard to deny it when you see Sandra Bland being arrested and slammed to the ground after she failed to put on her turn signal.
It’s hard to deny it when you see a second grade teacher thrown around by Texas police like a rag doll.
It’s hard to deny it when you see a body-building officer pick a shy young student up and throw her across a South Carolina classroom.
Denying the existence of police brutality, at this point, would be like denying the existence of gravity or the sun or the moon. It’s an obvious, inescapable fact of life in this country.
We’re at the point, though, where millions of us are ready for hardcore solutions. Since the brutal police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La. and Castile in suburban St. Paul, Minn. earlier this month, the one refrain that I hear over and over and over again is – “what in the world do we do about this?”
Starting on Monday, I am going to begin a 25-part series answering that very question. I’ve spent the past two years, almost to the day, searching and studying and debating the answers. What I’ve come to accept, and what I must first unpack here, is this.
Police brutality is complicated. The solutions are complicated. Bringing about substantive change on this issue is complicated. The opposition to progress on this issue is fierce. Our law enforcement and criminal justice system is not broken. It is hundreds of years old, its systems and structures are deeply engraved, and making moves that actually move the needle on police brutality will not be easy.
I’m doing a 25-part series because the problem has so many nuances and layers that need unpacking that it will take me a full month to do so. For every weekday for the next five weeks, I will chug along here and do my best to identify the problem points and point us to practical, reasonable, achievable solutions. In the end, we will lay out the problems, but will have solutions and action steps for each one.
Here’s the thing – while police brutality is a national crisis, the problem and its solutions are as local as it gets. Think Flint. Federal oversight of the water programs there wasn’t inconsequential, but the problem was deeply local in the city and with state government.
Police brutality is even more local than the Flint water crisis. Police departments, sheriff’s offices, and district attorneys each play a major role in the issue and the federal government has very little power to be deeply influential on the issue. Executive orders, federal legislation and constitutional amendments are not impossibilities, but they are long shots at best.
While some of the action must be federal, most of this series will be highly local and will require us to accept the reality that this country has nearly 20,000 police departments — with most of them marching to the beat of their own drummer. While the prospect of sweeping federal legislation is dreamy, I think we have a real opportunity at actually impacting the problem one district at a time with truly achievable actions.
Even with a 25-part series, we won’t cover it all. Other solutions will exist that I fail to mention. However, I am confident that with this plan, we could drastically reduce police brutality in this generation by well over 50%. Push up your sleeves and let’s get to work.”