Enough is Enough

Another day, another reported police shooting, another American dead at the hands of the police. nnMany who have been shot were armed. But many were not. Yet they were deemed a danger to police or to the public. Many survive, but too many end up dead, unable to defend themselves in a court of law, unable to dispute police narratives.

Police officers have difficult jobs. They are expected to protect the public, to serve the communities in which they work, and often deal with extremely dangerous situations. They go out in their communities every day with the knowledge that there are too many guns out there, that anyone can be armed, and that a mistake can be fatal.

But that should not immunize them from accountability. Far too many men and women – mostly men and mostly African-American men – are being killed at the hands of police for us to excuse what’s happening, for us to chalk it up to collateral damage or to the dangers of the job.

The Washington Post reported 991 fatal police shootings in 2015 and 730 as of the end of September this year. That is almost three fatal shootings a day – and we are talking only about fatal shootings. The Post’s database does not include the hundreds of shootings in which the victim survives, meaning that police officers are firing their weapons far more than the death toll might indicate.

This is the problem. Sadly, though, we treat each shooting as though it has nothing to do with others. Defenders of police actions ask us to wait to judge, to allow the facts of each case to come to light. Then, when an autopsy finds that Michael Brown’s hands were not raised, or the police tell us that Keith Lamont Scott had a gun, the defenders jump up and proclaim loudly that the protesters are wrong, that they have overreacted.

But these are not isolated incidents. They are connected across geography and part of a set of larger trends - the militarization of police and the use of police as occupying forces in African American and other minority communities, the targeting of black men in particular for stops and the assumption that black men are automatically dangerous, the rhetoric of law-and-order and the casting of minority communities as war zones or “hell,” and the distortion of the presumed-innocent doctrine to assume that police deserve the benefit of the doubt and that the people they shoot do not.

This is not about “bad apples” – as John Oliver pointed out on This Week Tonight – but about a system, a culture that does not value minority lives, that view police officers as inherently more valuable than the people they police.

It is evident in the array of state and federal court decisions that grant police officers near-immunity when they draw their guns, in the way reporters give deference to what police say, in the ability of police to control the flow of information on shootings, and even in the data that is available.

The federal government, for instance, does not require local police departments to report police shootings and does not compile data, though it does keep a detailed record of officers shot in the line of duty – an indication of whose lives are valued by the Department of Justice.

This is the point where I am required to say that not all cops are bad guys, that many are ethical and conscientious and treat the people they serve with respect. These good guys make up the vast majority of men and women in blue – but their good efforts do not erase the simple fact that too many men and women die at the hands of police and that our willingness to condone these actions on the part of law enforcement turns officers into more than protectors or servants, but into judges and juries and executioners.

This is unacceptable, which is why American streets are now filled with protesters shouting enough is enough. Instead of listening and taking the protesters seriously, we turn to tired clichés. We say, as I’ve written before, that protesters do more damage than good, that minority neighborhoods are inherently dangerous, and we point to black-on-black crime and toss around the racist canard that blacks lack responsibility. That just blames the victims. Residents of cities like Chicago, Newark, Trenton, etc., are at the mercy of broken institutions — failed schools, dysfunctional governments, militarized police. They live with concentrated poverty, in segregated neighborhoods that have seen businesses close, residents flee, and despair move in.

If we were serious about addressing the question of police brutality, we would actually take the complaints made by the victims of brutal, violent officers seriously. We would stop looking for reasons to excuse the often inexcusable, hold officers accountable, and demand that the good officers break down the blue-wall of resistance.

Hank Kalet is a poet and journalist in New Jersey. Email; blog,; Twitter @newspoet41 and;

From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2016

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