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Issue #1739      July 13, 2016

Tipping point

America confronts race and policing

Like most Americans, we are profoundly saddened and grief-stricken by the horrific events of the past week. Two black men, Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, were murdered by police, and then five police officers were killed along with seven more police and two civilians wounded in Dallas during a demonstration protesting the earlier murders.

A peaceful protest – Black Lives Matter die-in protest at Metro Green Line against allegations of police brutality in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Our thoughts and hearts go out to the families of all those killed, civilians and police alike.

Likewise, our thoughts and support go out to the families of the more than 500 people fatally shot by police in the first six months of this year. We are grateful to Black Lives Matter for keeping the importance of the fight against racism front and centre.

The People’s World Editorial Board wants to take this opportunity to state our belief that it is not a contradiction, however, to say “Black lives matter” and at the same time condemn violence against police. That is precisely what the Next Generation Action Network, organiser of the peaceful Dallas protest said after the carnage in that city.

Now is the time for all Americans to come together and share our grief, not to be split into warring communities. Yielding to hatred and suspicion will only sow the seeds of further violence. Together, we must demand that our law enforcement agencies and elected officials work closely with grassroots communities to diagnose the causes of the escalating number of police killings of civilians who are disproportionately African Americans, Native Americans and Latinx.

We must work together to design and implement plans that will prevent more murders. It is clear that fighting violence with violence does not work. As Gandhi said, “an eye for an eye just leaves everybody blind.”

In city after city, in state after state, there have been proposals for making police agencies more accountable to the communities they are supposed to protect and serve: strong, effective civilian review boards, programs to institute and expand community policing, requirements that law enforcement officials take part in day-to-day activities in which they interact with community members, independent investigations of and prosecution of police involved in the incidents, de-escalating and limiting the use of force and ending altogether any for-profit policing schemes.

Unfortunately, most of the proposals have been blocked by right wingers intent on keeping communities at odds with each other and police officers at odds with communities.

This is an old story. Those in power who are beholden to corporations that are ripping off communities have used racism, hatred and fear to keep poor and working people apart, lest they organise together and fight for their fair share of society’s wealth.

Now, in light of the escalating violence, programs that have been proposed for greater community control of law enforcement must be implemented.

Furthermore, more effective training programs for police must be implemented.

Again, many of these programs have been proposed but are lingering in limbo because of the lack of political leadership to implement them.

For example, there are training programs that speak directly to the racial bias that has been found to be endemic in many police forces. Tests show that when police encounter someone whose hands are in their pockets, they are more likely to conclude that the person has a weapon if that person is black.

Finally, we as a nation must address the conditions that breed many of the problems we face today: institutionalised racial and gender oppression, plummeting standards of living, unemployment, job insecurity and the disintegration of many of our educational systems.

These conditions, in turn, are caused by the fact that the top one percent, with the aid and assistance of elected officials who are supposed to serve us, have been grabbing the resources of society and using them to further enrich themselves.

Take Ferguson, Missouri, for instance. The US Justice Department found that police officers there were slapping inordinately large numbers of fines on drivers. Why? In order to put more funds into the public coffers, coffers that had been emptied by tax giveaways to the super rich.

Of course, a disproportionate number of those being stopped and fined in Ferguson and across our country are African Americans and Latinos, people whose political clout is being whittled away by the same super rich who benefit from keeping things as they are.

Let us all, as Americans and as human beings who by nature care about other human beings, look at short-term methods for stopping police violence such as more community control and better police training. And let us consider long-term solutions to the conditions that give rise to growing tensions within our communities.

Let’s not yield to the demagogues who are trying to exploit tragic situations for their own selfish ends.

Next article – The Brexit vote and Spain’s elections

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