THE BLOG

The President, Police Violence And Race

05/26/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Soon after Barack Obama coasted to victory in North Carolina, lost a surprisingly close race in Indiana, and all but locked up the nomination; my sense of pride in, and hope for this country was to be dashed once again. I am disheartened, not from the racially motivated trouncing he withstood in W. Virginia, but several incidences of unbridled police misconduct which expose the raw underbelly of racism in America. Police officers are our guardians of public safety, our protectors, and often face the worst criminal elements on our streets and in our jails. I respect the many thousands who perform their duties with integrity and bravery. But; there is an unacceptable level of misconduct disproportionately visited upon blacks and minorities that has me wondering what can be done to address the problem before the minority communities' hatred and mistrust boil over into the kind of unrest Los Angeles saw in the Rodney King riots.

First there was the acquittal in New York of police officers in the Sean Bell case, where 50 shots fired into a vehicle containing unarmed bachelor party occupants, was excused as a reaction to fear for the officer's safety. Then there was news footage from a chopper as it filmed Philadelphia police officers beating three young black males suspected of complicity in a shooting. The officers, reminiscent of the Rodney King beating, dragged the occupants from the auto, subjected them to a savage, unprovoked assault by more than a dozen officers; kicking, punching, and striking the trio for about a minute. Not one officer intervened; a K9 officer present showed enough restraint to avoid using the dog, though that may have been due to the fact that the officers were too thickly positioned over their prey to allow the dog to get to them.

Having lost a fellow officer a couple days earlier; shot responding to a bank robbery, police vowed that they would apprehend the last of the three suspects before the funeral of the slain officer. Regardless of the twelve hour shifts they were working, and heightened sense of urgency they operated under, nothing can serve as justification for their behavior. No doubt these were no boy scouts in that car. But in America, even the police are governed by the rule of law and this cannot be spun as a justifiable response to the situation. If they remain on the force beyond a reasonably timely internal investigation, all Americans, including the Presidential nominees should demand justice.

In Atlanta, where a 92 year old black woman was shot and killed in her own home by narcotics officers serving a no knock warrant, police admitted to falsifying the report of having witnessed a drug transaction from that address. It took a federal investigation to crack their memorized cover story leading to confessions from those involved in the murder. But; most disturbing to me is the latest incidence of a police shooting of unarmed young blacks in my own neighborhood in Inglewood, California.

A 19 year old passenger, Michael Byoune, was shot and killed and the driver wounded when police opened fire on the vehicle they were in. Claiming to have heard gunfire, and the sound of something striking their cruiser, the two officers opened fire on the vehicle containing the victims in the belief that they were the shooters. While this case is currently under investigation by three different agencies and it is too early to make a judgment as to the officers' guilt or innocence, something doesn't pass the smell test here. It is even worse that the Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks, while acknowledging this as highly tragic, has refused to label the shooting a mistake, though the victims were unarmed and no weapons or shell casings, other than the officers, were found at the crime scene. No gang membership or prior police contact has been cited by the police; a frequently carted out reason to mitigate culpability even when a victim of police abuse is found to be unarmed.

The Justice Department, politicized to the point of ineptitude under Bush, has abdicated its responsibility to address civil rights violations, in effect giving police agencies impunity from oversight. I pray that an Obama Administration is in our future, wherein an Attorney General of integrity like that of John Edwards oversees and implements policies of accountability over police agencies nationwide. The way in which the Hillary Clinton inspired blue collar voters have refused to embrace Obama, a Black man who has followed all the rules and is still viewed with suspicion is indicative of an attitude of mistrust and disdain for us. I suppose it is no coincidence that the collar of the police is blue, and a high school diploma is all that is required to have the power of life or death over citizens held in such low regard.