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- Cross Colours
Written by: Mark Edwards
It has been twenty-seven years since LAPD officers were acquitted of brutally beating Rodney King, and the conversation surrounding police brutality has not changed. In fact, various forms of protests opposing police brutality have become increasingly familiar in the U.S. following the infamous LA riots of 1992.
With the help of technology, the subject of police brutality and its impact on the African American community has become more visible to the public.
In the early 90’s people rarely, if ever, saw events as graphic as the footage of Rodney King’s beating publicized in the media. Now footage from these types of incidents is almost expected, with the widespread use of smartphones and the push for the usage of police body cams.
At the time, it seemed unthinkable for a court to say that a violent assault at the hands of LAPD officers wasn’t a blatant violation of an American’s rights. The final verdict in the Rodney King case, however, sent waves through the US.
There was also the case of Latasha Harlins, a teen who was shot and killed by convenience store owner Soon Ja Du. Du was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and given just five years of probation, 400 hours of community service, and a $500 fine.
The acquittal of the LAPD officers involved in the vicious attack on Rodney King, combined with outrage from Du’s light sentencing ultimately spurred five days of rioting, causing the city of Los Angeles an estimated billion dollars in damages and the burning of Soon Ja Du’s store as well as attacks on other Asian American Businesses.
Since then, there have been a number of cases of brutality circulating in the media, so much so that headlines regarding black men and women dying at the hands of the police has become a grim norm.
Cases such as Eric Garner, a New York City father who was choked during an altercation with police and later died, is one of many African Americans who never received justice. Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who held Garner in the deadly chokehold, was ultimately found not guilty of murder despite video footage emerging via internet and television coverage proving otherwise.
Cases like these sparked the rise of today’s civil rights activists. Groups like Black Lives Matter work for social change to combat police brutality.
There is a great deal to unpack when you explore the subject of police brutality in America. Two major topics at the heart of the issue are police accountability and the disproportionate amount of African Americans unjustly killed by police.
Attention is one of the first steps in combating this tragic cycle of violence. Information enters and exits the news cycle quickly, so it’s important that those affected are not forgotten. Even 2pac emphasized the importance of awareness and remembrance when he dedicated his hit song “Keep Ya Head Up” to Harlins.
“Rodney King is in the lineage of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Trayvon Martin — that lineage of a violation. What’s different today is, the camera has brought it to light,” said Reverend Jesse Jackson recalling the Rodney King video.
A majority of African Americans would agree that they are treated less fairly by the criminal justice system, and the statistics support this claim. Black people represent 25% of the total number of victims of police shootings despite representing only 13% of the population. Moreover, members of the black community are three times more likely to be killed at the hands of police officers than their white counterparts. This disparity in treatment only fuels racial tensions in the U.S. And while violence is no way to handle violence, injustice makes it difficult for us all to “get along.”
One way to possibly combat the unequal representation in the criminal justice system is to pick up the blueprint of the civil rights leader of the past and self-represent in other areas. For example, “Operation Breadbasket” was a movement in the 60s that boycotted business profiting from black neighborhoods. This would make it less likely black people would be discriminated against and forced companies to treat them better if they wanted to keep their business.
This idea could apply to black representation in the criminal justice system today. Only 63% of African Americans are registered to vote as of 2018. If that number could rise, African Americans would have more influence on what laws get passed, and more would be eligible to serve on a jury of their peers.
If we delve into this subject focusing solely on facts, police are rarely convicted or indicted for shootings. Police have to be held accountable if people are to put their faith in the justice system.
Like the LA riots of ’92, the catalyst for many of today's protests is entrenched in injustice; police officers end the life of a black man or woman, receive little or no punishment, and the public seeks their own justice.
Maintaining a loud voice, learning from past accomplishments of civil rights leaders, and increasing representation across all aspects of society are important keys to combating the injustice that is still present today.