Police Disonnect and Community Relations
This past weekend the Washington Post ran an article about a police involved shooting (link below). 17 months ago, a police officer shot and killed John Geer. At the time the officer killed Mr. Geer, it was undisputed by all other witnesses that Mr. Geer had his hands up, was unarmed and was involved in a conversation with another office who was a trained police negotiator. Mr. Geer stated: “I don’t want anybody to get shot . . . .And I don’t wanna get shot, ’cause I don’t want to die today.” Then he was shot and killed while his hands were raised.
Four other officers on the scene, including the officer who was speaking with Mr. Geer, all corroborate that Mr. Geer was unarmed and had his hands raised. Only the officer who shot Mr. Geer claims he moved his hands. The other four officers all contradict the officer who killed Mr. Geer. One of the other officers stated: “He killed that guy and didn’t have to.” Another officer on the scene never even felt he needed to take his weapon off safety.
And 17 months have gone by . . . No arrest, no charges, and no indictment.
And the police and prosecutors across our nation act confused, even offended, by the abysmal state of police-community relations in every neighborhood of poverty in this land.
In response, governments, both state and federal, put together ‘police-community relations’ task forces. These groups have police members, legislative members, gubernatorial appointments, the attorney general, prosecutors, judiciary members, faith leaders, and business leaders.
But what about public defenders on these groups? Public defenders are the most consistent witnesses to unfairness of our justice system. Our justice system is broken. It is racially and economically biased on a grand scale that makes justice unattainable for so many. Our leaders have created groups to investigate and make recommendations about how to improve community relations. Yet, they do not have members who will tell them about how policing is different in a poor neighborhood of color. They have no members who will tell them about the culture of adversarial intent with which police enter into these neighborhoods. They have no members who will tell them about how a grand jury works for a poor person. They have no members who will tell them of the soul crushing enormity of poverty and its consequences, most importantly with how the police then interact with the person.
But even if they did have public defenders I suggest these groups are still destined to fail. They have chosen the wrong outcome to pursue. This idea of bettering community relations is a false goal. While communities want better police relationships what they want is justice . . . real justice. One is a cause – injustice. The other is an effect – poor police-community relations. Better community relations are an outcome of real justice. It is the cause, injustice, that must be addressed. If people see real justice, if they believe that people will be treated the same under the law, if they believe police officers and prosecutors will be held accountable when they violate their duties, only then will the first step towards better community-police relations really have been taken. The goal is justice. Better community-police relations are a natural outcome.
But to address this crushing injustice, these groups would first have to acknowledge that there is injustice. To do that would be the first step towards acknowledging that there is a policing problem. That is simply not a step that leaders appear to be ready to take. Thus, these groups will go forward trying to improve police-community relations but unwilling to first address the cause of the broken relationships – injustice.
Michael Brown was shot on the street in broad daylight in Ferguson. No charges. Eric Garner’s death was videotaped while he was choked by a police officer in New York. No charges. Mr. Geer was unarmed with his hands up as witnessed by 4 police officers who all say the shooting was not justified. No charges. Until we address the crushing unfairness of injustice in these cases nothing will change.