On January 3rd, 2021 Memphis Police officers were involved in a violent arrest with 35-year-old Landreo Lurry and witnesses say they went too far. I must say I agree wholeheartedly that they went too far and that police officers in America typically do.
Video of police brutalizing man in front of his family in his front yard:
What’s wrong with this video and other arrest videos that are similar to this one? Inadequate training and states having the discretion over how to mandate police training, and the protections placed upon officers who brutalize instead of protect and serve.
Did you know that the U.S. Constitution gives no general police powers to the federal government, meaning that it’s up to the individual state to decide how police training will be mandated? In Indiana and 36 other states, police officers can act as an officer for 12 months before they must complete basic training to become a police officer, and during those 12 months, officers have “full authority to detain, arrest, incarcerate, or even kill without ever attending basic police training” according to The Institute for Criminal Justice Training Reform (Reeves 1). This gives wanna-be cops and current officers a ridiculously unnecessary amount of power over their community and allows them to develop a God Complex.
So, aside from a complete reform of a racist “justice” system, what needs to be done to stop cops from brutalizing community members? Well, we can most definitely start with training and getting rid of ‘qualified immunity’ for police officers.
Police academies began to adopt an aggressive, military approach to training in the 60’s and 70’s, amid the escalating “war on drugs” and electoral successes of politicians campaigning on “law and order”. “The problem is we treat a police academy kind of like we treat a military boot camp”, said Lorenzo Boyd, a former law enforcement official and the director of the Center for Advanced Policing at the University of New Haven “We should treat it more like a classroom setting where we’re allowed to ask questions and use critical thinking skills” (Preston 1). Police recruits in basic training spend a median of 60 hours on firearms instruction and 51 hours on self-defense skills, according to a 2006 Bureau of Justice Statistics report. A median of 11 hours is spent on cultural diversity and only eight hours on mediation and conflict resolution (Preston 2).
What these training hours and choice of shooting targets say to me is that using guns and force against civilians is more important than trying to understand us, which is why the January 3rd incident with MPD bothers me so badly. The cops were called to help with a domestic issue and approached the family with violence. “I didn’t call you to beat him. It’s a simpler way,” the woman who made the call said about the altercation. Now, instead of calling the police, officers who we are supposed to trust to protect us and be outstanding community members, Black and Brown families will choose to deal with issues on our own.
Another video of the attack from a different angle:
During the 60 hours of firearms training, officers are taught “to shoot center-mass and so forth.” They know that “death is likely to occur,” according to Oakland Police Academy Director Richard Tillman, who spent three decades with the Detroit Police department. Tillman says that cops don’t want to aim for arms, legs, or other parts of the body that are smaller and likely to move around in these situations just in case you miss the person and the bullet ends up elsewhere (Neher 1). Under case law set by the U.S. Supreme Court, police officers can use lethal force when they reasonably perceive their lives or others’ lives are in danger. The problem in this, though, is that everyone’s perception of danger is different and the belief that your life is in danger can be subjective at times. Also, what about judge of character? Who’s to say that the man or woman behind the gun isn’t biased like the Floridian cops who used the mugshots of Black men as target practice at a shooting range? That’s where racial and social sensitivity classes and implicit bias training come in and change attitudes, perceptions, and misconceptions.
See below for disturbing viral trend of police departments using Black male mugshots at shooting range:
As for qualified immunity, we need to completely get rid of that. Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that keeps police officers safe from civil lawsuits, thus making them invincible and untouchable. This alone allows cops to act any kind of way they see fit and get away with it and we see this all the time with cases such as George Floyd’s, Breonna Taylor’s, and Tony McDade’s. The crimes and brutality committed by uniformed officers who are supposed to be outstanding, law-abiding community members is not representative of the motto “To Protect and to Serve”. These officers take a Hippocratic Oath for policing, not even realizing that it’s actually a Hypocritical Oath. We need officers who are willing to undergo a total reform of a racist system, racial sensitivity training, and officers who actually want “To Protect and to Serve” and not get defunded.
What “to protect and to serve” looks like to me:
· “First, do no harm”- Collaborating with public health officials and harm reduction advocates to enhance public safety and community health. Learn how to properly respond to people with mental health illness and/or drug addiction. Show some compassion and be a good human.
· To value human life- Stop treating civilians like you’re at war with us. We are your neighbors, not your enemies. Remember that, like Landreo Lurry of Memphis, TN, the people you hurt have a family of their own to go home to.
· Be responsible and have integrity- Work as if every action has consequences. While America has an unjust, racist institutional structure that allows cops to get away with brutalizing and even killing black/brown community members, good cops must work with intention. They must understand that, even though the law may let you off easily, society won’t.
· Know your community- Get to know the people who you are sworn to protect and to serve and let them get to know you. Improve your communication skills and build rapport with the public because you will see some of them at the most tragic and chaotic moments of their life. In those moments, they will need someone who is compassionate and comforting.
· Cultural Awareness- With racial tension at a peak, it is important to be cognizant of the differences between cultures. This awareness requires a high level of eagerness to learn and cultural sensitivity. This is not necessarily something that can be learned by sitting in a classroom, rather it requires years of practicing allyship, inclusivity, and immersing yourself in multiple cultures that are different than your own.
What does “to protect and to serve” look like to you?
By Change Agent Deja Price