[I]f Coates is right, then at least some of the effort expended on making police officers wear cameras has been misdirected. It should be redirected toward the source of the impunity, which isn’t the quantity or quality evidence, but the officials that so freely disregard it.
If prosecutors and police departments are too tightly linked for due process to mean anything, then puncturing the impunity requires breaking the link. One way to do this would be for citizens at the state and local level, through ballot initiatives, to take the authority for presenting evidence of police misconduct to grand juries out of the hands of local prosecutors. That authority could be handed to publicly accountable review boards staffed with civilian lawyers from within the jurisdiction, or to special prosecutors’ offices.
Along the same lines, Albert Burneko insists that it’s not our justice system that’s broken:
The murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Sam Shepherd, and countless thousands of others at the hands of American law enforcement are not aberrations, or betrayals, or departures. The acquittals of their killers are not mistakes. There is no virtuous innermost America, sullied or besmirched or shaded by these murders. This is America. It is not broken. It is doing what it does.
America is a serial brutalizer of black and brown people. Brutalizing them is what it does. It does other things, too, yes, but brutalizing black and brown people is what it has done the most, and with the most zeal, and for the longest. The best argument you can make on behalf of the various systems and infrastructures the country uses against its black and brown citizens—the physical design of its cities, the methods it uses to allocate placement in elite institutions, the way it trains its police to treat citizens like enemy soldiers—might actually just be that they’re more restrained than those used against black and brown people abroad. America employs the enforcers of its power to beat, kill, and terrorize, deploys its judiciary to say that that’s OK, and has done this more times than anyone can hope to count. This is not a flaw in the design; this is the design.
How Coates thinks about the struggle to change America:
I’m the descendant of enslaved black people in this country. You could have been born in 1820, if you were black, and looked back to your ancestors and saw nothing but slaves all the way back to 1619, looked forward another 50 or 60 years and seen nothing but slaves. There was no reason to believe, at that time, that emancipation was 40 or 50 years off. And yet, folks resisted and folks fought on.
So, fatalism isn’t really an option. Even if you think you won’t necessarily win the fight today, in your lifetime, in your child’s lifetime, you still have to fight. It’s kind of selfish to say you will only fight for a victory that you will live to see. As an African-American, we stand on the shoulders of people who fought despite not seeing victories in their lifetime, or even their children’s lifetimes, or even in their grandchildren’s lifetimes. So, fatalism is not an option.
Vincent Warren believes that “affected communities – and youth of color in particular – must be at the center of the process of crafting reform solutions”:
The heart of the reform ordered after we won the stop-and-frisk case is a joint remedial process that brings community members and other stakeholders together to discuss and hammer out the actual law enforcement and accountability reforms.
A similar model was used in Cincinnati a decade ago, after the city was torn apart by scores of wrongful death lawsuits, a city-wide curfew, a boycott, a DOJ investigation and the most violent summer in the city’s recent history. Bringing those groups to the table yielded a decrease in the number of racially discriminatory stops and the number of civilian complaints, and an increase in black residents’ perception of fairness and professionalism by the Cincinnati police department.
The community-based reform processes in Cincinnati and just underway in New York are the models to follow. But we have to acknowledge that we need far more than a conversation, and right now, the protests in the street are bringing the pressure that will make real reform possible.
The protests are the road to reform.