Travis Page was young — just 31 — when he died in police custody in Winston-Salem last week. And like so many other Americans who have suffered the same fate, he was black.
In satisfying these requirements, Page’s death taps into a source of national outrage and shame.
Too many young, black men die at the hands of law enforcement — it has ever been thus in the United States. But in this new century what was once an epidemic of isolated incidents across the country has become a violent tapestry held together by cell-phone video and social media posts. People now have the ability to connect the dots, and they are enraged by the picture that emerges.
Parallel to the movement that has grown in response to police killings is an increasing militarization of our police departments — see Eric Ginsburg’s piece on the new Greensboro riot squad on page 12 — and the use of technology to gather evidence, which is explored further in Jordan Green’s page 10 article on the body-camera footage of Page’s death, the release of which the district attorney is resisting, even though both the mayor and city manager are laudably calling for it.[pullquote]What was once an epidemic of isolated incidents across the country has become a violent tapestry held together by cell-phone video and social media posts.[/pullquote]
It’s a misstep by the district attorney, which unlike the city administration has not realized the adjusted parameters for police work wrought largely by technology, but also by changing attitudes among government and the public. Transparency can no longer be achieved at the discretion of police departments — both for the protection of citizens and the officers themselves, who shouldn’t fear transparency if they’ve acted in accordance with the dictates of their duties. And new techniques must be espoused to right institutional wrongs.
Consider the case in Greensboro, where in response to publicized numbers showing that black people in the city were getting pulled over at a rate alarmingly higher than that of whites, the order came from the top down: No more traffic stops for minor vehicle infractions.
It’s rare, in our experience, when a police department does something meaningful in the face of legitimate criticism. And in doing so, Greensboro’s department has made a move towards becoming a modern police force.