Activists and experts of all persuasions are weighing in. There are calls for increased empathy, community policing, training in de-escalation tactics, systemic changes to the criminal justice system, increased accountability for officers who shoot people without justification, and increased attention to the marginalized conditions in which many people of color live in American's cities. Each of these efforts promises to help reduce the number of deadly police shootings and also improve the morale and lives of countless people.
Harvard Law Professor Ron Sullivan -- an expert in both critical race theory and criminal law -- maintains that no solution to the problem of the racially disproportionate police shootings can occur without society taking an honest look at the legacy of slavery and without taking proactive, honest efforts to address the bias and implicit bias that lingers in all of our institutions, including policing.
In a Q&A in Harvard Law Today, Professor Ron Sullivan explains that: "And the difficulty thus far has been the intransigence of police officers, of law enforcement, to even admit that they treat white citizens preferentially and citizens of color unequally. Once that admission is made, then and only then can meaningful change produce the sort of fruits that some of these policy changes should produce."
Fundamentally, as all the commentators recognize, there is something very wrong with the mindset of policing. Somehow policing has become too militarized, too reactionary, too apathetic, and too adversarial -- especially as regards to people and communities of color. There is clearly something very wrong when whole parts of our country feel literally under siege by the police as an occupying army and when people die after routine traffic stops.
There may not be any miracle solutions, but we can begin by taking an honest look at the problem (like Professor Sullivan suggests) and then attempting to shift the mindset of policing in the direction of compassion, empathy, and reverence for human life by drawing upon all the recommended approaches -- including bias and implicit bias training, de-escalation tactics, community policing, and adherence to the rule of law through criminal increased accountability for officers.
We are all in this together -- the guardians and the guarded, the people who are served and protected and those who do the serving and protecting. Every effort that moves the dial in the direction of collectivity and reverence for human life is going to be a positive development in policing.
In many respects, the issue of police violence and the breakdown of trust between the police and the communities they serve is the civil rights issue of the day. The alarm bell has been sounded and the evidence has been submitted in gritty real-time footage. Time is of the essence to address this societal dilemma that is costing so many lives. If not now, when?