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Making Investigations of Shootings by the Police Open, Transparent, Independent

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Reprinted from The Nation


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President Obama spoke in Selma Sunday about the past and the present, making a link between the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and the contemporary movement to address the killings of unarmed African-American men by police officers in so many communities across this country. The president reminded the crowd that "citizens in Ferguson and New York and Cleveland just want the same thing young people here marched for 50 years ago -- the protection of the law."

Unfortunately, the laws that are needed are not always in place; as a result, one of the first questions that arises after an officer-involved death is: "Are the police going to investigate the police?

This is a critical question -- so much so that one of the chief recommendations of the president's Task Force on 21st Century Policing was for independent investigations of police-involved deaths.

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In Madison, Wisconsin, where a 19-year-old African-American man was shot and killed Friday night by a local police officer, there's a better answer to the question than in most places, thanks to state Representative Chris Taylor.

Taylor was on Madison's Williamson Street Friday night when Tony Robinson, who police acknowledge was unarmed, was killed. She was getting gas as a nearby station when the shots that took Robinson's life were fired. She has been present as activists with groups such as the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition have demanded accountability and sweeping changes in police practices with a series of demonstrations that have filled the streets and, on Monday, the rotunda of the state Capitol.

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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