It's easy to feel helpless in the face of injustice, but there's hope.
On July 5, 2016, police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, shot and killed 37-year-old father of five Alton Sterling.
The officers were responding to a call about an armed man when they came across Sterling, tackling him to the ground outside a convenience store. Holding his head to the pavement, one of the officers fired multiple shots. Since then, multiple videos have emerged, showing what, to many people, looks like an execution-style killing.
The following day, in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, an officer shot and killed 32-year-old Philando Castile.
According to Castile’s girlfriend, Lavish Reynolds, he was shot four times after reaching for his driver’s license at the request of the officer. Reynolds recorded the aftermath of the shooting as the officer stood with his gun fixed on the dying man.
Both Sterling and Castile were black men.
In both cases, it appears that the men were complying with instructions from the officers when they were shot. Sterling and Castile marked the 505th and 506th people shot and killed by police in the U.S. in 2016.
In times like this, it's easy to feel helpless to change an unjust system — but there are several things we can do as individuals.
In April 2015, writer Ijeoma Oluo wrote an article for Ravishly addressing this very concern. She lists a number of things you can do to address police brutality, including:
- Educating yourself on your city's police conduct review process.
- Pressuring your local elected officials to help close gaps in that process.
- Voting for local candidates who run on a platform of addressing police violence.
- Supporting legal defense funds and activism groups like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU.
Activist-led group Campaign Zero just made it really easy to find out where your state representatives stand on this issue via a new tool posted to their website, complete with ways to contact them to demand action.
Putting pressure on lawmakers to address these problems can (and does) work.
According to the Campaign Zero website, over the course of the past two years, at least 60 laws have been enacted in 28 states, with another 58 bills under consideration. Not bad, but it's only the start of what needs to be done.
Campaign Zero lists 10 things it wants to change, including:
- Ending "broken windows policing."
- Ensuring community oversight.
- Limiting the use of force.
- Independently investigating and prosecuting police killings.
- Increased community representation.
- Equipping officers with body cameras.
- Improving training.
- Ending for-profit policing.
- Demilitarizing departments.
- Reforming police union contracts.
So far, five states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, and Utah) have enacted laws that address at least three of those goals. We can do more.
These reforms are necessary to hold all people — police or otherwise — accountable for their actions.
It's not "anti-police" to believe in responsibility. A badge shouldn't function as a license to kill, and reasonable reforms to the justice system to reflect that should be welcomed by everybody, including officers.
No one should have to fear for their life when they come into contact with the police, but for many people — especially people of color — they have no way of knowing the difference between a "good cop" and a "bad cop" until it's too late.
You can be a part of the change. You can help put an end to police brutality.
There's nothing that can bring back Philando Castile or Alton Sterling — or, for that matter, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Dontre Hamilton, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Rekia Boyd, or others.
What can happen, however, is meaningful change, and that starts with you.