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Ferguson: Confronting "A Nation of Cowards"

November 26, 2014

Picture by sarah-ji, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Picture by sarah-ji, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Last night’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson for fatally shooting 18-year-old unarmed Michael Brown came as an immense disappointment to many. There are on-going issues that we as Americans need to deal with as a result of years of institutional racism and systemic biases toward communities of color.

The reality that minorities will experience a police officer's threat or use of force, according to the Department of Justice’s Police Public Contact Survey in 2008, more than whites is a serious grievance that is oftentimes swept under the rug until a high profile case like Brown’s is brought to light. When police officers are perceived to act with impunity when it comes to African Americans and other minorities, grievances are not being addressed.

The death of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old Staten Island, NY man who died after being placed in a chokehold, the shooting and subsequent death of a 12-year old boy Tamir Rice in Cincinnati, OH and John Crawford who was killed holding a toy gun in the toy section in a Wal-Mart, all highlight the very real risk of fatality when there is an encounter between law enforcement and a person of color.

In tackling these issues head-on, we must focus on reforming the way law enforcement deals with African Americans and other communities of color. Reforming policies requires partnerships built on trust; partnerships are fine as long as both communities and law enforcement agencies are willing to put in the work. Anything less would simply be paying lip service to resolving these issues.

Following the death of Michael Brown, a coalition of 14 national civil and human rights organizations and leaders issued a Unified Statement of Action to Promote Reform and Stop Police Abuse. The Statement is a list of recommendations which MPAC has endorsed and advocated on behalf of at various times.

The list includes:

  • A final update and release of the DOJ’s June 2003 Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies;
  • Passage of the End Racial Profiling Act introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Cardin (MD) (S. 1038) and in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (MI) (H.R. 2851);
  • A full accounting of police-involved killings of African Americans nationwide;
  • Mandatory racial bias and sensitivity training for all law enforcement personnel;
  • The required use of police officer Body-Worn Cameras (BWC) to record every police-civilian encounter;
  • Better accountability of the use and potential distribution and use of federal military weapons by local law enforcement; and
  • Greater oversight of police officers through the formation of a national police commission.

President Obama made a statement addressing the very real grievances plaguing communities of color and the need for reform: “We need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation. The fact is in too many parts of this country a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color. Some of this is the result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country ... But what is also true is that there are still problems and communities of color aren’t just making these problems up.”

Attorney General Holder’s remarks on our national conscience still hold true, “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

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