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Black Lives Matter: Where Are the Reforms?

Updated on August 8, 2015

Motivation Behind Black Lives Matter Movement

Pulitzer Prize winning photo by Kevin Carter
Pulitzer Prize winning photo by Kevin Carter | Source

Questioning Journalistic Interests

Years ago I watched a documentary about photojournalist Kevin Carter. He won a Pulitzer Prize for a photo he had taken in Sudan of a small emaciated child being stalked by a vulture. He primarily did work involving the often violent Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa. He and many other photojournalists and war correspondents documented the violence that took place during this period. While I believe the work of journalists does us a great service, and is an essential part of any democracy, I was struck by something that was said by one of these war correspondents. After Mandela had won the presidency and peace was restored, the journalist said of herself and fellow journalists, “people got depressed”, “It was anti-climactic”, “everybody’s adrenaline levels just dropped”, “everybody was depressed and listless”. This stayed with me. While I understand this form of melancholy is not uncommon after such intense experiences, I had the realization that for emotional and financial reasons, some journalists may find it serves their interests to perpetuate conflict.

AL Sharpton Front and Center

Al Sharpton has branded himself as an advocate for black people. Any time there is a possibility that a black person’s civil rights may be infringed upon, Al Sharpton makes himself very visible as a representative for the alleged victims. If a business does not appear to have enough black employees, he will threaten a boycott, or call an “emergency meeting” to address it. It has been common practice over the years for him to organize a march on behalf of any black person that may be a victim of discrimination. In short, Al Sharpton will instigate strife on behalf of black peoples’ civil rights. I believe in some cases this has served to cause strife. If a black person may be a victim of civil rights violations, the moment Al Sharpton appears as their representative, it becomes a divisive issue in the eyes of many Americans. From their point of view, he is essentially invalidating the importance of civil rights for anyone else but black people. Many Americans also become defensive because they believe he often makes accusations of discrimination before there is enough information available to do so.

Unequal Standards of Exposure

On July 27, a black woman named Raynette Turner died in jail. She was arrested for shoplifting, and while in jail, complained that she wasn’t feeling well. The police took her to a nearby emergency room and she was cleared two hours later to go back to her cell. The next day she was found dead. There is no evidence that the woman’s civil rights were violated or that her death had anything to do with discrimination, but Al Sharpton reached out to both her family and the State Attorney General to insure there would be an investigation. The Governor has granted special powers to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate civilian deaths at the hands of police, and this will be his first such case. There have been several stories and updates written concerning this case. Meanwhile a 19 year-old unarmed white man named Zachary Hammond was shot and killed on July, 26th at what appears to be “point blank range” by police. The police had apparently set up a drug buy to entrap the victim’s 23 year-old date. It appears the victim attempted to drive away and was shot in the process. The 23 year-old suspect was arrested for 10 grams of marijuana. There was no call from Sharpton, there has been very little press on this story, and thus far, zero outrage. On July 18, an unarmed white man named Troy Goode died after being hog tied by police. He had gone to a concert and was under the influence of an unverified controlled substance. Police claim he was “acting strange and uncooperative”. He was strong armed by police, hog tied, and later died at the hospital. There has been very little coverage by the media, and no outcry from Sharpton or the public.

Not Enough Support for Reforms

A poll found that 86% of Americans support some form of police reform, yet by creating public perception that this is a black civil rights issue, many Americans find themselves unconcerned, unwilling, or downright defensive about acting on it. This has caused most of the bills and policy changes that have been proposed to be left unmoved. After the events in Ferguson Missouri, out of 65 bills filed, only 1 has passed. Al Sharpton organized marches for Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and Eric Garner. Many Americans are indifferent or even hostile, in response to these incidents. Only 13% of Americans are black. If you are a non-black person witnessing the same images of black victims associated with police violence, you may find it easier to detach from the issue, and find the conversation tiresome. Some Americans may even feel as though they indirectly are being accused of racism. If 87% of the population share this sentiment to some degree, it may be difficult to really affect change beyond headlines, talking points, and hashtags. If one can’t easily relate to the victims, action can easily give way to inertia. This is why it is critical to show all the faces affected by police violence. This issue concerns us all.

What is the Goal?

Al Sharpton has become publicly involved in cases involving black people, but is completely silent when other ethnicities are involved. I’m beginning to wonder if he is interested in changing police policy, or if he is interested in forcing the public to validate the existence of discrimination. There will always be discrimination, people will always carry biases. There will always be some Americans that just don’t like black people. Black people have been and are currently often treated unfairly, but I think we are past the point where we can stage protests and marches to fix this. The question on the existence of discrimination is not up for debate. Of course it does, but we have gone about as far as we can in our ability to legislate it. If the goal is to see policy changes and find pragmatic solutions, the approach has to be broad and it must include everyone. Not doing so has the opposite effect. Americans that see this being branded in such a one sided way become obstinate when it comes to even acknowledging there is a problem. Police become defensive, and dare I say, even more antagonistic. So the question becomes this: Is it more important that the black community receive validation on the existence of systemic racism? Or, is it more important to gain the needed support to implement policies that reduce injury and death at the hands of police?

Are We Being Played?

Stories featuring the possibility of discrimination incite strong emotion. Websites that feature these stories get more traffic. Conflict is lucrative for the press, and journalists are given purpose in the midst of reporting it. If there is peace there is less traffic to online news stories, there is less work for journalists. When there are speeches, protests, marches, and fires there is plenty of work to go around. The media is inciting division and civil unrest by keeping black victims front and center at all times, searching to find any case with even the slightest possibility of police involved violence against a black victim, and over reporting it as much as possible. At the same time police incidents involving non-black victims get buried. The vast majority of us want peace, we don’t want another Ferguson or Baltimore, but there may be some journalists who do, and whether Al Sharpton realizes it or not, he is complicit in widening the divide that is responsible.

Changing the Narrative

It isn’t too late for us to regain control of our own narrative. We need to bring all of these victims together regardless of skin color and demand changes. Gloria Allred is an attorney that specializes in cases concerning women. She has been the person responsible for trying to bring a law suit against Bill Cosby for alleged rapes. She has found dozens of women and encouraged them to come forward. She isn’t just representing the black ones, she isn’t t just representing the white ones, she is representing as many as she can, regardless of skin color. Prior to her involvement, the allegations against Bill Cosby went largely unnoticed. By assembling as many alleged victims as possible, she has made this case impossible to ignore. We need a Gloria Allred to take up the cause of police misconduct.

What About Good Cops?

There are a large number of police officers doing an exceptional job, but they are being scrutinized unfairly and there seems to be no real reward for them when they perform well. I think we should change that. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman wrote an excellent book called “Thinking Fast and Slow”. From his book I learned the term “loss aversion”. It basically means that people are more motivated to hold on to what they have versus gaining rewards. In an experiment, teachers were given a 10% bonus which amounted to about $8,000 at the beginning of the year, and if their classes did not meet the required standards at the end of the year, the bonus had to be paid back. The teachers that were given the standard bonuses at the end of the year performed significantly worse than the teachers who had it given at the beginning. One idea would be to start a program that grants new police officers and officers with clean records a significant bonus. Some conduct by police may be within the bounds of the law, but still be discourteous, and borderline abusive. Officers who are found to conduct themselves unprofessionally and officers with too many complaints will need to pay back portions, or all of that bonus in accordance with the severity and number of complaints by the end of the year. This will not only encourage and reward officers that exceed expectations, it will discourage officers who may be tempted to abuse their authority. There has been a significant loss of public trust and many police officers are feeling unappreciated, this could help bridge that divide. Body cameras would be integral in verification. Millions of dollars are being paid in lawsuits because of corrupt police officers, it would be only fair if some of that money could go to reward exemplary ones.

Needed Policy Changes

There has been nearly universal support for body cameras, so it is time we require them on a national level. This will serve to document misconduct, as well as protect officers from false accusations. There is also clearly something wrong when officers almost NEVER get indicted much less convicted of beating or killing civilians. Not only are prosecutors reluctant to make enemies with police they work so closely with, but they are aware of the unlikelihood of getting a conviction. This lies mainly on the biases of jurors. The way the laws are written, officers can use any means necessary to defend themselves and all that is required is for them to claim they feared for their safety or the safety of others. It is very difficult to prove that a police officer didn’t fear for their life when they shot someone or used excessive force. Law enforcement is a dangerous job, there is always a possibility for an officer to fear for their life. We need to rewrite the laws and the standards. Fear of safety is not sufficient enough reason for an armored trained professional to open fire and kill people. This is the change that is being met with the most resistance. It is going to take the full effort of citizens and lawmaker to make some sort of compromise that makes all of us safer. The current standard is unacceptable.

Coming Together

We need to come together instead of allowing ourselves to be divided. We all have an interest in reducing police fatalities. There is a movement to pit us against each other, and we can choose not to fall in line. When Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, it was about unity. It was about fairness for everyone. It was about all of us coming together to support one and other. Despite what the media may depict, not all of us are divided. Americans are more than capable of coming together for a common purpose. It isn’t too late for someone to unite these victims, and the public, on the much needed changes in police policy.


References

The Death of Kevin Carter: Casualty of the Bang Bang Club (2004)

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2913654/Oscars-race-row-Rev-Al-Sharpton-calls-emergency-Hollywood-meeting-insulting-absence-black-actors-nominees.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/new-york-special-prosecutor-raynette-turner_55bf8d04e4b0d4f33a035ba1

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/troy-goode-died-after-being-hogtied-cops-widespread-panic-gig-n395646

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/08/07/police-name-officer-in-fatal-shooting-of-white-south-carolina-teen-zachary-hammond/

http://www.sfgate.com/news/crime/article/Ferguson-spurs-40-new-state-measures-activists-6420161.php

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/16/body-cameras-poll_n_7079184.html

Kahneman, D. (2011) Thinking, Fast and Slow, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ISBN 978-0374275631

Troy Goode

Troy Goode was hogtied by police and later died. This is a photo with him and his family.
Troy Goode was hogtied by police and later died. This is a photo with him and his family. | Source

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    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 2 years ago from Orange County California

      Crystal

      Interesting hub and I agree with it with the exception of Gloria Allred.

      Al Sharpton is interested in only black issues

      Gloria Allred is interested in only women issues.

      Neither one of them would help the white guy that got it from the police.

      The Police definitely need more training for the new artificially generated PC country.

      The legal system both criminal and civil needs to be updated and reformed.

      The country is not prepared to handle the cyber crimes, and people need to be protected from identity theft.

      But we don't have an Al Sharpton or Gloria Allred to take our case.

      Thanks

    • profile image

      Bobby Whitman 2 years ago

      Happy to read your take on the current state of our media. I read it with great interest and was particularly impressed with your view of Al Sharpton. I came away from your piece with one phrase sticking in my head that wouldn't let go, your assertion that we may have gone about as far as we can in our ability to legislate against discrimination.

      Well I both agree and disagree. I feel that we've only been stymied in this quest, that as a people we have only reached a crossroad. I agree that we may have gone as far as we can with people such as Sharpton and Jackson masquerading as our current leaders, but fresh voices will create more opportunities in the future (even those as quiet and unassuming as yours). I can't tell you how excited I was to come across some of your work. More open discourse such as this is needed within our race.

      Time has a way of weeding out anachronisms. There is a post-Obama era ahead of us, and the euphoria of having lived through two terms of our nation's first Black president will dissipate within every race, and the quiet reflection that comes with looking back will set in. No matter what one thinks of him, I honestly feel there will be a collective sigh in the land when his administration ends. White folks won't have to openly act like they're so tolerant all the time, and will go back (wrongly) to acting their superior selves, and Black folks won't have to spend so much of their time defending Obama at all costs. Hell, the media might even try being journalists for a change.

      The way we use our vote going forward is the key. Our immaturity in the voting process was brought to the forefront with the election of our first Person of Color. We must learn to cherish this right that was won with other people's blood, learn what it truly means, and take it to a more serious level. We must stay up to date in our civic responsibilities, know our local representatives as well as our state and federal reps, and learn the issues. We must be ready to exercise that precious right to vote BEFORE election day, and not go into the voting booth blindfolded. If our state mandates voter ID cards, we can't let our being against them nullify our vote by stubbornly refusing to get one. (Get the damn card, and fight the process later!) We also must learn to be mature voters, by not just simply voting what we perceive to be in our own best interest all the time, but what would be in the best interest of our country. Forget labels and party lines. This goes for all races.

      Obama took the nation by surprise, blacks and whites alike, but especially blacks. Ten years ago, if you asked the average person whether or not a black man could be president you would get a resounding no, or at least a funny look. Well, those days have so swiftly passed. Whites, who had had centuries of exercising their right to vote, nervously took it in stride, while blacks fell all over ourselves trying to pull the lever for a man who simply looked like them. (Honestly, I was a part of the 3% of African-Americans who did not vote for Obama in 2008, and the 4% who didn't in 2012. I am neither proud nor regretful of that fact, nor am I ashamed to admit it to a pretty African-American woman such as yourself. I did my homework. I am not a sellout.) To this day I feel that while Obama was there to be chosen by blacks, fairly and squarely, black people were not ready for him.

      In wrapping this all up I'm trying to say that these have been uneasy times for race relations. Many people who don't like Obama, rightly or wrongly, and don't like where they see the nation going, may be subconsciously striking out. This in no way justifies anyone going to the extremes and taking a life. And of course I cannot prove any of this, but it's a feeling I have. The media lies to us all the time, blacks stick by Obama and stick up for him no matter what he seems to do, and it adds to the general frustration. And since the average white man can't within a mile of the president because he has all that secret service around him, they may be striking out at the blacks they see. It's a sad commentary I know, but it's just a thought.

      But things will simmer down, I think, in the future. Once we all exhale.

      Take care of yourself, Crystal. It's been a real hoot.

    • profile image

      brian 2 years ago

      I think the safest thing to be In america is a black male. I am trying to figure out how to change my skin color and appearance to black.

      I think the police need to change their skin color to black.

      Black skin makes you look stronger, younger, gives you more flexibility on what you can and can not say, reduces your chances of getting robbed, is a hit with the ladies, gives you more job security.

    • MonkeyShine75 profile image

      Mara Alexander 2 years ago from Los Angeles, California

      I read your hub with great interests. I am voting it up, and awesome

      because I support many of the things you have said. I feel the police of today enjoy been able to do what they wish, as though they have been given permission to do so. Policemen need to have deep psychological tests before they are hired

      But I disagree that race has anything to do with it because black policemen are the same. Plus I'm white, and color means nothing to me

    • Crystal McCrory profile image
      Author

      Crystal McCrory 2 years ago

      Jeff I can't tell you how much I appreciate your feedback. It is useful, insightful, and constructive. Thank you for taking the time to share that with me.

    • profile image

      Jeff Dosser 2 years ago

      Crystal, a very well thought out and presented article. I agree with most if not all of what you had to say.

      I would like to inform you a little as to the police as you appear to be someone who will listen.

      I had many years as an officer working primarily night shift in the worst part of the black community. My opinion of the police departments in general is not very high, BUT most officers out there are very dedicated ppl and would give their lives in the defense of others, & make every attempt to do a good & fair job regardless of race, religion, etc.

      Sadly however a very large percentage officers (10% +/-) are racist, bullies or both. These officers need to be controlled , and cameras are a good option for this.

      As you addressed in your article, officers need to be rewarded for good work. In today's police environment not only are they not rewarded, hard working officers are actually punished for working hard. There is an over riding environment of laziness & good ol' boy club mentality that permeates the police departments nationwide, and this 'good ol boy' mentality is the one that draws the majority of the bad officers (those bullies and racists I spoke about). A reform of the police needs to start with not only rewards, but elimination of the good ol' boy club.

      Lastly there is the issue of police violence. Most of the vids I've seen of police using force 'look' bad, but this is the way the officers were trained, & throwing someone on the ground &jumping on top may appear 'mean' or 'violent' but it is the safest way to put people in hand cuffs who don't want to be in hand cuffs, & was how they were trained. Sadly, the general public has no idea what taking people into custody entails, and so they assume that the officers are being excessively violent.

    • Wayne Juntunen profile image

      Wayne Juntunen 2 years ago

      Well written article, Crystal. As I was reading on the MSN thread you commented on, I saw that you mentioned you had written an article. So I looked on your FB page, and it led me here. This is my first time on Hub Pages, so I'll keep it simple for now. I do agree with your stance on media coverage. In a lot of cases the facts get distorted and the story sensationalized to attract more viewers and readers. There have been times where I've read some of these stories and just decided to stop reading them for awhile out of frustration. I do believe that some of this is political, and orchestrated to keep this country divided. I do appreciate your insight. You seem to be a very intelligent lady.

    • Crystal McCrory profile image
      Author

      Crystal McCrory 2 years ago

      At0, I hear what you are saying. The long history of racism is certainly ingrained and deeply imbedded, but since "other Americans aren't willing to give up their privilege" as you put it, we must figure out how to bring together all Americans on common problems. We can't force anyone to feel a certain way. We can't force anyone not to be "racist", that is why we have come to an impasse on this issue. Attempts to force that create even more division. Bringing people together the best way we can will result in more reforms.

    • profile image

      Marvin Craion 2 years ago

      First thanks for an intelligent, unbiased article Crystal. BLM must make their demands known. Obviously, the local police departments are out of control and its only escalating because of a dilatory goverment. This is a crisis and with all crisis extreme measures are taken. 1. All police department should receive immediate funding for body cams which must be worn at all times. 2.Any officer violating this rule and is involved in an arrest while not wearing body automatic grounds for dismissal. 3. All footage is uploaded to an independent owned website server where the people that are involve in an police abuse case has equal rights to that footage. These are some recommendations (for starters) that I feel should be implemented immediately .

    • profile image

      Wease 2 years ago

      You should run for public office!!!

    • profile image

      At0 2 years ago

      Nice Article, however, I think you leave out the historical analysis. First and foremost, racism is the thread which binds the United States of America. It is embedded in the very fabric of this nation. The long, dark history of racial terrorism and aggression displayed on behalf of white america towards black america for over 400 years is still very much present. It is institutionalized. This fact is overlooked in your piece. See Tim Wise and his book and lectures; "White Like Me." He breaks this down, as a white man no less. Also See, Dr. Joy Degruy and "Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome." To gain a better understanding of the trauma suffered by black people and the hands of white racism. This IS A BLACK ISSUE. It has been ever since the law of "Durante Vida" (for life) was passed making slavery a permanent marker on the African who was brought here. America has never dealt with its history of Brutal oppression against Blacks. Lastly read a book by former polic chief Norm Stamper called, "Breaking Rank." You will understand why it is easy for white officers to kill Black men. Whether armed or unarmed. No. protesting and rallying and demonstrating is still as effective today as it was years ago. The problem is other "Americans" aren't willing to give up their privilege to do so and create true equality.

    • Crystal McCrory profile image
      Author

      Crystal McCrory 2 years ago

      Thank You Eric

    • profile image

      Eric 2 years ago

      Crystal, this is a wonderful and insightful article. Thanks so much for this!

    • Crystal McCrory profile image
      Author

      Crystal McCrory 2 years ago

      You are absolutely correct. We are not different "races", we are only one race the, the human race. The language must change, consciousness, must change. Unfortunately there are people who are capitalizing off of our division. That was the entire purpose of contriving the idea that we are different races, "the divide and conquer strategy". I believe Martin Luther King Jr. was so effective because of his message of unity. We need to promote more voices that echo this sentiment, but like you said, "it doesn't grab headlines", " it doesn't energize the base".

    • profile image

      Mike 2 years ago

      Nice article,

      But maybe the problem is perception not race. Obama was elected president yet what surprised me is that it WASN"T a watershed moment in race relations. I believe more and more that the problem is politics. Namely, the Democrat's view of race. The democratic party never really got over their view that Negroes are of a separate race. During the Civil War they had the view that because they were of a separate Race is it was OK to enslave them. The republicans ensured they are of the same race and slavery was evil, they fought a war over it and freed the slaves. During The Reconstruction after the civil war Republican's replaced many businesses who's owners had dies with the former slaves who worked those businesses and established the "Reconstruction Amendments". The Democrats used that same policy to remove the appointed Republicans from the southern states' assemblies. It would be almost a hundred years since a Republican majority would form in any statehouse of the former confederacy. This was the " Jim Crow " era. and it led to segregation, but the Democrats also ignored Reconstruction Amendments in the south too. FDR was the first democrat president to try and improve relations with Negroes But he never actually changed any of the Democratic party Platform which had always been the problem. That is Looking at people as a " Race" Issue when there is only ONE race we just have different complexions. MLJ was heavily influenced by the Republic Philosophy of complete equality sadly that view, which is a very quiet, non-sexy view doesn't grab headlines. It doesn't energize the base. But it's still a Republican Ideal. and the correct one.

    • Crystal McCrory profile image
      Author

      Crystal McCrory 2 years ago

      Thank you Alan.

    • profile image

      Alan Kieler 2 years ago

      Hi Crystal, read and like your article. It is refreshing to hear a logical, rational perspective from a responsible member of the black community. Keep up the good work. I also "friended" you on FB recently, admittedly just because I liked your photo!!

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