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Police accountability is desperately needed

To the Editor:

When I hear news reports about fatal encounters between the police and Blacks, I reminisce about an experience indelibly etched in my memory.

]In the early 1990s, I was pulled over by a Black police officer in Murfreesboro, North Carolina. He asked for my driver’s license and registration card. As I looked inside the glove compartment of my old, green Volvo, I noticed a small knife that I did not know was inside. The officer screamed, “Don’t touch that! Don’t touch that!” I immediately stopped. Strangely, he then whispered in my left ear, “Don’t you know that if I were a white officer, I could’ve shot you?”

I appreciated the reality check regarding contentious—often deadly—encounters between white law enforcement officers and black motorists.

It was a relief to savor the recent conviction of Officer Derek Chauvin for killing unarmed George Floyd in Minneapolis. Too often, police officers and sheriff deputies have shot and killed black and brown people with impunity. Moreover, some politicians and talking heads advocate the need for additional training for officers and, with reticence, resort to business as usual until the next fatal shooting. In other words, the aforesaid pundits seemingly whine and shine in the sunlight of media publicity. Some, to use an old Texas adage, are “all hat, no cattle.” Former Texas Governor Ann Richards once used the phrase to describe former President George W. Bush.

Further, many officers have the shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later mentality when dealing with Black motorists/suspects. By the way, training is not worth a hill of beans if the content of that training is not actualized.

Civil Rights leaders and other activists tend to focus on training as a solution. Yet, some lose sight of the importance of holding law enforcement officers accountable. Arguably, police officers are the only professionals who can shoot someone multiple times, even someone who is fleeing the police, and hide behind the blue wall of silence and qualified immunity.

Americans have a moral obligation to pressure members of Congress—the House of Representatives has acted already—to demand that the police culture be sanitized and reimagined. Therefore, accountability should be advanced by supporting the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to minimize the number of rogue cops in police departments around the United States and promote accountability.

Among other things, the George Floyd legislation would do the following: ban no-knock warrants in certain cases; mandate data collection on police encounters; prohibit racial profiling; ban chokeholds; redirect funding to community-based policing programs; alter qualified immunity for law enforcement to make it easier to pursue claims of police misconduct.

Representative Karen Bass (D-California), the lead author of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, said, “Never again should an unarmed individual be murdered or brutalized by someone who is supposed to serve and protect them,” according to MSNBC, CNN, and NPR.

In a nutshell, Black motorists and suspects should respect law enforcement; that respect should be reciprocated by the officers involved. In any event, if police officers realize that they might get sued if they engage in unlawful activities and violate the constitutional rights of Black and brown motorists, then such officers might think twice about how they interact with the public.

Keith W. Cooper

Executive Director

The Benevolence Corps, 501(c)3

Greenville