All around the nation communities are pushing back against state-sanctioned abuse by county and municipal law enforcement.
Since the unarmed Michael Brown was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. in August 2014, Americans have been on high alert for instances of police abuse and, often, outright murder, with plenty of video evidence to satisfy the hunch.
Earlier this month a cop in North Charleston, SC was charged with murder after a citizen turned in video of the officer shooting a fleeing, unarmed man. Riots in Baltimore in response to the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray erupted on Monday and carried over past deadline, as a state of emergency was declared.
It seems possible that by sheer force of demonstration, our communities may finally address systemic racism in our law enforcement agencies and its deadly consequences. It takes a movement to change a deeply embedded culture of racism. It feels like a movement. Is it? Dare we hope?
In the meantime, relationships between law-enforcement agencies and the communities they serve are undergoing a progressive transformation. Body and dashboard cameras, street cameras and civilians with cell phones have ushered in a new era of a focus on accountability for police, one that must be acknowledged.
So the Greensboro Police Department gets props for acknowledging that maybe people aren’t so happy with the police right now.
They got the message loud and clear back in March, when residents booed new Chief Wayne Scott at a Bennett College forum disrupted by angry activists and community leaders, who imposed their own agenda on the planned proceedings set by the city.
Or maybe they didn’t.
A press release issued by the city this week that outlined the “themes and issues” that arose from the forum seemed to stem from a different meeting entirely.
The list of initiatives includes more community outreach, professional development programs, diversity hiring, cost-effectiveness and best practices.
It’s a tepid response to a conflict that had one activist ominously describe angst among African Americans as a boiling cauldron.
“Do you hear it boiling?” he asked at the March forum. “It’s boiling. It’s bubbling and you hear it.”
Most tone-deaf among the proposals was the final dictum, “Emphasizing the nobility of policing throughout the department’s culture and the Greensboro community.”
It’s the “nobility” thing that rubs the worst. The word connotes a privileged status conveyed on police officers. But it’s that privileged status that’s at the root of the discontent.
It’s as if the statement was culled from feedback based on a focus group consisting only of officers rather than a rage-filled, distrust-laden community forum.
The lack of finesse speaks deeply to just how disengaged local police may be with the precipice upon which we appear to stand.
We’re at a national crossroads, and the Greensboro Police Department and its new chief sound like their fingers are shoved knuckle-deep in their ears.