The death has been referred to as an “accidental discharge.” But there is nothing accidental about the death of an unarmed Black man by law enforcement. Our system is designed to maximize interactions between Black and brown people and police officers, which all but ensures that harm will happen. This is enforced through the practice of over-policing, initiatives that have justified increased levels of policing for the sake of the greater good, but often with adverse consequences (Scientific American).
The U.S. positions itself as a just country with a superior legal system where people are always considered innocent until proven guilty and always granted the right to a trial before a jury of their peers. Except this isn’t true at all. Despite the promise of the Sixth Amendment, we do not have an effective right to trial because today, the overwhelming majority of cases will never see a judge.
Today is the first day of a series of actions organized by the Cops Off Campus Coalition, a network of students, educators, staff, and community members passionate about abolishing policing at all levels of education. I chatted with Alecia Harger (she/they), a sophomore at UC Berkeley and representative for both UC Berkeley Cops Off Campus and the transnational Cops Off Campus Coalition. We discussed today’s Day of Refusal, Abolition May, and the significance of getting cops off of campuses.
If you’ve participated or watched protests unfold in cities across the country this past year, you may have noticed that law enforcement looked more like members of our military than neighborhood police. And that’s intentional, as, over the past decades, the U.S. has made it easier for law enforcement to access surplus military equipment for everyday use.
But race is a social construct, and social constructs have social histories. Our The first place generating criticism is in financial commitments. Companies in the U.S. pledged a collective $50 billion to various racial initiatives (Financial Times), an unprecedented response to social issues (Washington Post). But, research indicates that only $250 million has actually been spent or committed to a specific initiative (Financial Times). William Cunningham, the chief executive of Creative Investment Research, who published the study, notes that until those funds are actually spent, there’s no reason they couldn’t be retracted or allocated to another initiative. Another survey found that tech companies that made commitments have 20% fewer Black employees on average than those that didn’t (Bloomberg), adding more skepticism to some organizations’ intentions.
In the U.S., it’s legal to be kidnapped and incarcerated without being convicted of any crime. You haven’t confessed. You aren’t considered dangerous or liable to flee before your court date. You have not been proven guilty so you must, by this country’s legal code, be considered innocent. You are nonetheless told you will be incarcerated indefinitely. Your trial date may be scheduled for a few weeks from now – – or, it may not arrive for years.
Racism in drug sentencing has been debated for years. Huge disparities in mandatory minimum sentences meant possession of crack cocaine, associated with Black urban communities, was punished much more harshly than possession of the same amounts of powder cocaine, favorite of celebrities and suburbanites. These sentencing requirements contributed to the mass incarceration of Black Americans, often low-level drug offenders. Though on Monday the Supreme Court had the chance to right this wrong, it instead ruled that low-level drug offenders do not always require new sentencing under the First Step Act of 2018 (New York Times).
Hate crime charges serve as a sentencing enhancement when someone acts with bias while committing a crime. This bias must be against members of a protected class – such as a specific race, religion, or sexual orientation – and it must be a motivating factor for the crime (Time). It seems reasonable that a crime is more odious if it occurs solely because the victim is a member of an oppressed community.
Pervis Payne, a Black man who was convicted for murder 33 years ago, will be executed in December, despite DNA evidence that could prove his innocence (CNN). While the execution of an intellectually disabled person is unconstitutional, the court didn’t recognize Payne’s disability at the time of his trial (Tennessean). The Innocence Project, a legal organization that works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted, is trying to stop Payne’s execution. As of today, “375 people in the United States have been exonerated by DNA testing, including 21 who served time on death row” (The Innocence Project).
Law and Order. CSI. Hawaii-Five-Oh. American Sniper. TV shows and movies about law enforcement and the police permeate the screens of Americans across the country. Media portrayals about police officers, detectives, judges, crime fighters, and more firmly implemented into the cultural lexicon. Just because they are on TV does not mean that these shows exclusively exist for entertainment. Many shows actively depict criminal justice without showcasing the many ways it harms the lives of communities of color. These shows often work to bolster law enforcement in the eyes of white supremacy while simultaneously reducing compassion for the disproportionately Black victims of its system.