The killing must stop

In a nation roiled by racial injustice, we must enact change.

Protestors held hands during a group prayer outside of the St. Anthony Police Department, where they rallied demanding justice for Philando Castile on Sunday, July 10.

Image by Liam James Doyle

Protestors held hands during a group prayer outside of the St. Anthony Police Department, where they rallied demanding justice for Philando Castile on Sunday, July 10.

by Daily Editorial Board

A police officer killed Alton Sterling for selling CDs outside his friend’s storefront. Philando Castile was met with the same fate for complying with an officer.

Never have the inadequacies of a racially biased law enforcement system seemed so clear.

Yet, we uttered those same words after the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley and Freddie Grey — the list unfurls with each passing day.

And now — after law enforcement officers killed the 123rd African American in the United States this year — we are again confronted by the increasingly onerous racial inequities of our society.

“Would this have happened if the driver and passengers were white? I don’t think it would’ve,” Gov. Mark Dayton remarked in a press conference on Thursday. “All of us in Minnesota are forced to confront that this kind of racism exists.”

For some activists, community members and allies of the Black Lives Matter cause, Dayton’s comments are reassuring — especially for those who see lawmakers as insular and high-ranking officials as complicit in the corrosive, state-sanctioned violence against the black community.

Outside his Summit Avenue residence on Thursday, Dayton apologized for the death of Castile. With the crowd’s growing clamor for justice, Diamond Reynolds — Castile’s girlfriend — rejoined, “I don’t want you guys to be sorry; I want y’all to be more careful.”

“You’ll get justice,” Dayton responded.

But more often than not, calls for justice fail to reverberate in the courtroom.

As with the acquittal of Cleveland patrolman Timothy Loehmann — who fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014 — the United States’ criminal justice system has continually proven itself as a bulwark against police prosecution. And what’s worse: investigations rarely scrutinize the past blunders of offending officers — many of whom have unstable histories. Instead, they’re sent back into the streets to terrorize black communities.

We want change. We are discomfited by our country’s injustices — the prison-industrial complex that destroys black families; our constant flirtation with “broken window” policing; a culture that conflates blackness and criminality. But promised change has not yet been attained. As a nation, that is our curse.

In countries like Norway, Iceland and New Zealand — where police officers refrain from using arms — order is maintained through de-escalation, not retaliation.

In small U.S. locales — like Las Vegas — substantive police reform has achieved success. Four years ago, Las Vegas brought de-escalation measures to the forefront of its policing mindset. In 2014, when the Justice Department reviewed the city’s reforms, it found that training and oversight had led to a decline in police shootings.

But for a militaristic, trigger-happy police culture, reform only serves to solve part of the problem.

Under the European Convention for Human Rights, police officers can only fire their weapons if it is “absolutely necessary.” In the U.S., however, police officers follow an atavistic principle: shoot if there is a “reasonable” perception of danger. And because the word “reasonable” allows police officers to use their own biases to judge conflict, prejudices about particular groups beget unjust casualties.

There are solutions available that can begin to amend rampant police bias, distrust and force. 

On Saturday, nearly 500 demonstrators gathered to protest the death of Castile on Interstate 94. For many, the occupation of I-94 was an act of poetic justice. In the 1960s, the highway’s construction displaced thousands of African Americans and erased Rondo neighborhood — once St. Paul’s most populous, vibrant black community — from the map. 

Amid a sea of clenched fists, the community’s protest on Saturday sent a powerful, trans-historical message. But, while poetic justice can mend the soul, it can’t fix a broken nation.