The United States of America has long been considered the land of the freedom and equality. Unfortunately, this isn't true for a good many of its citizens.
In January 2014, a young, African-American man named Chris Lollie was waiting in a public place to pick up his kids from preschool in St. Paul, Minnesota. Even though he was doing nothing wrong, somebody anonymously phoned the police to report him as "loitering." After he was asked for his name and ID by a female police officer, he asks, in return, what he's done wrong and declines to give them unless the officer can give him a legal reason to do so. This man knows his rights and is acting within the law -- but things escalate nonetheless.
Officer Bruce Schmidt arrives on the scene, apparently more concerned with Lollie's decision to refuse harassment by the police than his "loitering." Gene Robinson, writing for The Daily Beast, explains what happens next :
Early on, Lollie says to the male officer, "What's going on, brother?" To which the officer replies angrily, "You're going to jail, and I'm not your brother!" as he proceeds to order the young man to put his hands behind his back (presumably for handcuffing). "Please don't touch me. That is assault!" Lollie warns. The young man pleads with the officers to stop, and to tell him what he has done wrong. "It's because I'm black," he accuses. In the background, there are sounds of the policeman's taser being charged up. The man pleads, "Please don't do this," and screams at the police, "My kids are right there! My kids are right there!" And the male cop stuns Lollie with his taser, right in front of the man's children. He cries out to passersby for help.
You can watch the full video here . It's chilling.
All charges against Lollie were later dropped after one of the school's teacher's corroborate Lollie's version of events, and after another woman who works nearby told investigators that she commonly eats lunch in the exact same location without accusations of "loitering." However, the irreversible damage had already been done. The police screwed up, and Lollie (and his children) paid the price for it.
This is all six months prior to Michael Brown's death and the Ferguson riots, which gained national attention and sparked debates across the US. As Robinson continues in his article :
This type of unjust treatment, I fear, is what African Americans, other people of color, LGBT people, and poor people have been experiencing for a very long time. It's just that post-Ferguson, we are noticing it more, hearing about it more. And I, for one, do not want to live in a country that is a "police state" for some, and not for others. That much of this division falls along racial lines is detestable to me. I am ashamed of not having seen or believed it so clearly before now.Historical Injustice and a Lack of Accountability
Unfortunately, this type of treatment by police isn't necessarily new, and unfortunately it continues. However, George Zimmerman's slaying of Trayvon Martin sparked the Black Lives Matter movement, which blossomed into both riots and protests across the across the U.S. over the next couple of years.
Interestingly, many police officers now say their colleagues simply are not doing their jobs properly, and that when they do not, they are not held accountable. Ayo & Iken reportswith these recent survey findings with respondents including about 7,900 police officers across 54 different police departments:
As a whole, about 35 percent of the officers believed protesters were motivated by a desire to see police officers held accountable for their actions.
Nearly 70 percent of black police officers said protesters wanted accountability, while only 27 percent of white officers felt the same.
The majority of the police officers surveyed said their jobs had become exponentially more difficult as a result of the police shootings of blacks and the subsequent publicity surrounding the events.
More than half of all black police officers surveyed believed they were not treated as well as white police officers regarding promotions and assignments, although virtually no white police officers agreed with this, and only about one-fifth of all Hispanic police officers agreed.
More than half of all the police officers surveyed admitted they were often frustrated with their job.
More than three-quarters of the police officers surveyed believed that police officers need to be better trained to deal with those who are having a mental health crisis, and only about 11 percent of the officers said this type of training was unimportant and was not a role police officers should be involved in.
There are a couple of takeaways here. One is that this isn't just a problem with individual officers; it's a problem with institutions as well. As much as one might like to point fingers at individual officers, the institutional racism that exists goads otherwise normal individuals, who are not necessarily racist, to act as part of a dysfunctional whole.
Another takeaway is that current measures of policing simply aren't working in a way that serves and protects everybody equally. So how do we change that?Future Solutions
One of the things that we need to think about is how we, as a society, view and respond to problems -- when we look at homelessness in the US, for example. Here, there are a couple of outreach programs for people to turn to, but all-too-often we see that the problem of homelessness is dealt with in arrests. This is the same paradigm that we see with most problems, owing to the fact that the U.S. has the highest population of incarcerated people in the world. So what could we do differently?
Rutgers University brings upthe principles of evidence-based practices (EBP), "a process in which the practitioner combines well-researched interventions with clinical experience and ethics, and client preferences and culture to guide and inform the delivery of treatments and services. The practitioner, researcher and client must work together to identify what works, for whom, and under what conditions."
They use Alberta, CA, as an example of how EBP has been applied to address homelessness:
In 2009, EBP is used to immediately house clients without precondition. The Alberta Housing Collaborative grows out of the demand for a shift toward breaking the cycle of homelessness by providing housing.
This brings together housing providers, funders, other community organizations, and the province's Ministry of Human Services to help place Albertans who are homeless in permanent and temporary housing. The Alberta Housing Collaborative uses EBP to implement "Housing First"
Research indicates that Housing First programs improve stability
Here in the U.S., the money that we put toward police and the military versus money we put toward social solutions is extremely disparate.
The problem, essentially, is that we in the U.S. view the police as the solution to most, if not all, of society's ills. We use big data and analytics to bolster these viewpoints, but, while commercial data can drive economic decisions, human decisions aren't always best served by reducing people into data points.
When your only tool is a hammer, everything starts to look like nails .A Final Word
Obviously, there's no quick and easy solution to this problem. The idea that police are all-powerful is almost just as embedded in our culture as guns are. Nevertheless, it's disgusting to think that our police forces fail to treat people with equality.
Now is the time to step up and do or say something. A society is only as good as how it treats its most vulnerable members.
Something else to think about is that if you don't speak up now, who will speak up for you when you are treated unjustly by the police, or by anybody for that matter?
We're all brothers and sisters on this big blue rock. Let's start acting like it.