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A broken record of injustice: Why no charges in Jacob Blake case just emboldens a police culture of abuse

“National protests against police violence and anti-Black racism demand more than minor changes in policy and practice. They require a systemic dismantling of a culture of policing that tolerates violence and abuse, accepts extreme racial disparities, and promotes a profound lack of transparency and accountability.” – The Vera Institute of Justice

A 2017 study showed that 95% of the elected prosecutors in the country are White. So the results of these two cases, decided by White male prosecutors, is not outside of the norm.

America has a way of constantly reminding Black people that our lives and bodies don’t matter. We heard the words of so-called criminal justice officials telling us in recent weeks that no charges will be filed in the killing of Tamir Rice and the shooting of Jacob Blake. Of course these two separate conclusions did not come as a surprise to the Black community. How could they? It’s like a broken record.

Are these indignities too much? How much can such resilient people endure? Richard Pryor once asked on a comedy album, ‘How long will this bull$#!+ go on?’ I find myself asking the same question each year. Living in the wilderness we call America, the battle seems to be never ending.

The emotional roller coaster that we live as Black people is unknowable by White people, even the most egalitarian among the White masses does not have a clue about the extent of the trauma and pain we continue to suffer.

“Of 2,437 elected state and local prosecutors holding office in 2014, 95 percent were white and 79% were white men… The tremendous power and discretion in the hands of prosecutors, combined with the concentration of those positions among one demographic group, virtually guarantees inequality in our criminal justice system.” – Women Donors Network (WDN)

“I think most people know that we’ve had a significant problem with lack of diversity in decision-making roles in the criminal justice system for a long time. I think what these numbers dramatize is that the reality is much worse than most people imagine and that we are making almost no progress.” – Bryan A. Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative

White men make up about 31 percent of the population in the country but eight of every ten prosecutors are White males. Two thirds of states, do have not a single Black prosecutor. When people say just run for office, get inside the system to fix it from within I want to scream. It does not work that easily. About 85% of elected prosecutors run unopposed nationwide for a reason. People know the chances of defeating them is minuscule.

“Prosecution is about locking black people up. [As a prosecutor], you’re only doing what police officers and policies dictate and allow you to do. And the policy is to focus on certain communities. I thought that because of who I was, because of the street and academic smarts I had, I was able to do some things that were more in line with justice. But, it was like putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. In the long run, I didn’t think it was worth it, so that’s why I left.” – Kenneth Montgomery, a black former prosecutor for the Brooklyn, New York district attorney’s office

A 2014 study conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice looked at the Manhattan, New York District Attorney’s office and found disturbing disparities related to race. The study looked at 220,000 cases in New York County between 2010 and 2011. “Blacks received jail or prison sentences for misdemeanor drug offenses with 27 percent greater frequency than their white counterparts. Similarly, Hispanics received prison or jail sentences as a result of drug offenses at a rate 18 percent higher than whites… 40 percent of black and 36 percent of Hispanic defendants were offered plea bargains for misdemeanor offenses that included jail time, while whites were offered such deals just 3 percent of the time.”according to an article written by Prison Legal News.

An examination of data collected by the Washington Post relating to police killings nationwide was conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice last summer. They found that:

“Since 2015, Black people in the United States have been fatally shot by police at a rate almost three times higher than white people. More telling, when the victim of a fatal police shooting is unarmed, the racial disparity is even greater — with Black people four times more likely to be shot and killed… a young Black person in America is six times more likely than a white peer to be shot and killed by police.”

From 2015 until the middle of 2020 1,200 Black people were shot and killed by police. One of the reasons so many people are killed by police is due to over-policing. Data from the Vera Institute of Justice tells us: Police in the U.S. arrests someone every three seconds (10.5 Million arrests every year); only 5 percent of arrests are for violent crimes; Black people are about 12 percent of the U.S. population but account for 28 percent of those arrested; 240 million 911 calls are made each year but just 1 percent are for violent crimes.

The Sentencing Project reported that “At least 4.9 million individuals were arrested and booked in 2017.”

“Our analysis shows that people with multiple arrests are disproportionately: Black, low-income, less educated, and unemployed. Moreover, the vast majority are arrested for non-violent offenses… Black men and women account for 21% of people who were arrested just once and 28% of people arrested multiple times in 2017…The vast majority (88%) of people who were arrested and jailed multiple times had not been arrested for a serious violent offense in the past year…People with multiple arrests were 3 times more likely to have a serious mental illness (25% vs. 9%) and 3 times more likely to report serious psychological distress, including symptoms of depression and anxiety, than people with no arrests in the past year… 42% of people arrested and booked 3 or more times were Black…people who are repeatedly arrested and jailed are arrested for lower-level offenses, have unmet medical and mental health needs, and are economically marginalized. Arrest and incarceration of these individuals neither enhances public safety nor addresses their underlying needs.”

The system that so many people support is designed to have more encounters with the most marginalized people in the nation. Since Black people fall into these marginalized categories at a much higher rate than other groups, we will continue to see more Black people have deadly encounters with police.

For those who claim the police are just protecting themselves from dangerous armed criminals, the facts do not back this up. In 2020 just 45 law enforcement officers were shot to death nationwide according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. The largest number of law enforcement deaths last year was due to COVID-19 (186 officers). An additional 20 died in automobile crashes. The number of officers shot to death over the past seven years is: 2020 (45); 2019 (48); 2018 (52); 2017 (45); 2016 (64); 2015 (41); 2014 (49).

This is not to say the job is not dangerous, it is, but the fact that more than one thousand people per year die in encounters with police in no way compares to the number of officers shot and killed each year. I know a lot of police officers, active and retired. The stories I hear from the retired ones are significantly different than those who are actively working as officers. Their contracts relegate them to being mute, delegating statements to the higher ups and “P.R.” cops or union reps.

I cannot accept that 12-year-old Tamir and an unarmed Jacob Blake deserved to be shot by police. No one will ever convince me these were “good shoots.” I have seen too many videos of armed White people who police talked down over the years. I’m waiting to see just one of those videos of a Black person who pointed a gun or waved a knife at police and lived to tell about it.

The next Jacob Blake, George Floyd, Tamir Rice, and Breonna Taylor will certainly happen. It is like the proverbial broken record that keeps skipping and playing the same tune over and over.

District Attorneys around the country have become experts in using legal jargon to explain their rationales for not charging officers. It makes me sick.

“Human rights! Respect as human beings! That’s what America’s black masses want. That’s the true problem. The black masses want not to be shrunk from as though they are plague-ridden. They want not to be walled up in slums, in the ghettoes, like animals. They want to live in an open, free society where they can walk with their heads up, like men, and women. Is white America really sorry for her crimes against black people? Does white America have the capacity to repent — and to atone? Does the capacity to repent, to atone, exist in a majority, in one-half, in even one third of White society?” – Malcolm X (1962) Debate with James Farmer

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About The Author

Reggie Jackson

As an award-winning Senior Columnist for the Milwaukee Independent, Reggie Jackson writes about a range of African American issues. He is also co-founder of Nurturing Diversity Partners which consults with organizations about equity and inclusion.