The sustained crisis of police brutality, followed by charade of grand juries, charges, and trials – culminating either in a deadlocked hung jury or a unanimous exoneration of the officer(s) involved, has pushed tens of millions of Americans to a point of apathy or even hopelessness. Many have told me that they were already there last year, or the year before, but today, more than any single point I can remember, the collective despondency has reached a crescendo.
I had very little hope that the officers who shot and killed Terence Crutcher or Philando Castile would be held responsible, but the operable word there is “hope.” While I had little, I still had some. Each shooting was woefully and excessive unnecessary. Crutcher and Castile were non-violent men. Neither committed any violent crimes or threatened the officers in any way. Both incidents were filmed. Both men were amazingly popular in their respective communities. For all of those reasons, and more, a very small part of me still held out a tiny sliver of hope, that some charge, any charge, would stick.
But it didn’t. And, like we’ve seen in thousands and thousands of cases that came before these, the officers were set free, and walked out of the court room, spiffy and polished, with toothy grins on their faces. The system that had so reliably set other brutal cops free before them, had performed as scheduled.
That system that is beating us, demoralizing us, humiliating us, did not simply create itself. It was designed by real people with have bad intentions. It has architects, bricklayers, experts, engineers, repairmen, and security guards. It has insurance. It has endless streams of revenue. It has attorneys. It has lobbyists. It has PR firms. It has several million employees.
If you ever had the impression in any one of the police brutality cases that have ripped your heart out across the years that we were fighting against a single brutal cop, that’s where your mistake began. While each case of police brutality, on the most granular level may be unique, with different cops, and victims, and circumstances, and evidence – the results are the same, in case after case after case, because what we aren’t fighting just against that one cop, or that one police department, but against well-funded, well-organized, heavily fortified machine.
Holding a single cop responsible for their brutality is as difficult as holding an unethical, dishonest President of the United States responsible. The overwhelming majority of Americans believe Donald Trump is dishonest, but holding him responsible for his dishonesty, now that he is in office, has proven itself to be a tenuous, frustrating battle. As it turns out, the government has no authentic mechanism in place to ensure that the President of the United States is a person of integrity other than the fact that we get to vote every for years for who holds that office. Pre-president Trump was a menace, but now he is a menace with tens of thousands of staff members, billions and billions of dollars, and the most powerful military in the world at his fingertips.
Trump is no longer simply a terrible private citizen– he holds an office, in a system, governed by a unique set of laws and powers. He is generally backed, now, by the majority in the House, Senate, and even the Supreme Court. The power of Trump, as President, or any President for that matter, is widely accepted. But what I need you to know is that brutal police, no matter how random, no matter how horrible their record, no matter how heinous and destructive their actions, appear to be nearly as powerful as the President of the United States when it comes to actually holding them accountable.
The Supreme Court backs them. The strong majority of conservative Republicans, and an unspeakable amount of Democrats, back them. The District Attorneys they work with day in and day out, back them. Powerful police unions and the NRA back them. Junk scientists, who’ve built their entire careers testifying for money that police violence is nearly unavoidable, back them.
The fight against police brutality in America is not even David versus Goliath – it’s David versus an army of Goliaths. For us to ever win, for police brutality to be reduced, for corrupt and brutal cops to ever be held accountable, our organization, our anger, our protests – cannot simply move from incident to incident, tragedy to tragedy. And I understand why we do it that way, but we must find a way to express our outrage about individual cases of injustice, while focusing our time, energy, and resources on dismantling the systems that make such injustices possible in the first place. In my opinion, it’s time for a national reboot on how we fight back against injustice in America.
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