How We Can Use the Pain and Grief in Ferguson to Change America's Police Practices

Black and white photo of a memorial for Michael Brown during protests in Ferguson, MOBy: Jamelle Bouie
The decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson for his role in the shooting death of Michael Brown shines a spotlight on the flawed criminal justice system that we have set up in this country. An unarmed teenager was shot and killed by a police officer and that officer will never see the inside of a criminal courtroom. It's tough to wrap my head around how this is still possible in this wonderful country of ours, but unfortunately Mike Brown is one of hundreds of unarmed citizens who die from over zealous police officers year in and year out. This has to stop.

How do we begin the process of reversing the decades old mistrust between black Americans and the police who so often treat them like villains in their own communities? For starters, living in the town you serve should be a prerequisite to be a police officer. No one knows a community better than its residents and no one understands the trials and tribulations of a community better than those who live in that community.

The town of Ferguson is a case study on how not to build a police department. Ferguson is a predominately black town that has three black police officers. The vast majority of the 50 white police officers don't live in Ferguson, Officer Darren Wilson included. These white police officers do not know or understand the community they are tasked with policing and that is evident in the massive racial disparity in the police tactics. Blacks are stopped, searched, ticketed, arrested, and charged at an exponentially higher rate than the white citizens in Ferguson, even though whites were more likely to be in possession of illegal contraband when they were searched.

Living in the town you police is one thing that needs to change, but it is not the only. Every single police officer in this country should be required to wear a 'Go-Pro' type camera on their uniform that can not be turned off or manipulated in any way. The cities that have instituted this policy have seen a dramatic decline in 'use of force.' Police Officers do not like the idea of being watched at all times and they have fought equipping cameras on them with an unusual stubbornness, but we the people are in charge and if we demand it then it doesn't matter what police think. If these departments are able to afford riot gear and military style weapons they can afford to place a camera on officers sunglasses or ties.

Lastly, the way the criminal justice system treats police who shoot unarmed citizens has to change. District Attorneys are not the appropriate people to be tasked with investigating officers involved in a shooting because of their glaring conflict of interest. District Attorneys are often very close with the police departments in the towns they represent and are loathe to ever seriously investigate shootings that involve an officer.

The Michael Brown case is exhibit a of this conflict of interest. I won't go too in-depth into how a grand jury works, but the old saying about a grand jury indicting a ham sandwich comes to mind. It is typically not difficult to secure a charge from a grand jury and they are often a rubber stamp for the District Attorney. So the question then must be asked if a District Attorney is actively working to make sure no indictment is handed down, but uses the cover of a grand jury to shield himself.

If we take District Attorneys out of the equation then maybe we will see a more just way of determining whether a police officer used excessive force when they kill an unarmed citizen. Every county should create a special position for someone or a group of people to be in charge of all investigations involving the police. Police have proven they can not police themselves and it is time we the people start holding them accountable if they shoot and kill an unarmed citizen.
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