Criminal Justice 101 informs us that police possess the legitimacy to use force and violence. As a consequence, police have the legitimate power to kill. Presidents have the power to order troops into war; however, they do not have the power to personally shoot and kill another human being right on the spot. They do not have the power to choke another human being to death right on the spot. As powerful as the American military, they do not exercise police authority over American citizens. The most recent police killings in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Charlotte, North Carolina added to the horrific killings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and St. Paul, Minnesota made these points awfully clear. Moreover, Criminal Justice 101 informs us that in American jurisprudence there is a presumption of innocence. How often do we hear that an individual is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law? These aforementioned episodes of police violence would beg to differ with Criminal Justice 101. Keith Lamont Scott, Terence Crutcher, Philando Castile, and Alton Sterling never made it to a court of law. As a matter of fact, we are destitute in our search to find a reason as to why they would have had to be in a court of law period.
Shortly after each of the killings of the men listed above, the respective police departments beseeched their respective communities not to rush to judgement. For example, the police woman who shot and killed Terence Crutcher in Tulsa was indicted and taken into custody. Nevertheless, we were cautioned to know that the officer has a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. This point was duly stressed and verbally highlighted and underlined. None of the dead men previously mentioned were presumed innocent. They were all presumed guilty and summarily executed. Summary executions mean that there is no due process. The judge and jury are contained within the fatal shot or shots. Due process has come to mean we accept the police accounts of what transpired. The police narrative has become quite simple: I thought he had a gun. I feared for my life. Apply these words to the killing of 12 year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.
American confuses me sometimes. On the one hand, the National Rifle Association and many Republican lawmakers are attempting to flood America with guns. They would like to see everyone carrying a gun. Some communities are seeking to arm teachers. Some communities are seeking to arm students. There are even some states that permit open carry of firearms. These same lawmakers in these respective communities swear that they respect and honor the police. They claim they love the police, but will not place a ban on assault rifles. Could not the knowledge that such weapons are floating around freely add to police fear? This confluence of irrationality wreaks havoc upon the African American community. Republican lawmakers are encouraging everyone to carry a gun. Yet, the presence of a gun or the imagined presence of a gun seals the death warrant for too many Black citizens in the United States. For example, Philando Castile was lawfully carrying a gun when he was shot and killed by a police officer. Castile was exercising his Second Amendment rights. Yes, America confuses me with its contradictions. Castile was exercising his Second Amendment rights, yet the Eight Amendment protections against “cruel and unusual punishment” could not save him. If the Constitution were a living and breathing entity, I would say that the Eight Amendment refused to save him.
The prevalent logic that has developed around police killings of African Americans seems to follow a peculiar syllogism. This peculiar syllogism involves “paid administrative leave.” For example, police officer kills an unarmed Black person. Officer goes on a paid administrative leave. Keith Lamont Scott is killed by a police officer. Police officer goes on a paid vacation. Alton Sterling is killed by a police officer. Police officer goes on a paid vacation. That police officer goes on a paid vacation. Subsequently, such logic raises a frightening question. The question is frightening simply because it has to be asked. What will it take to end the wholesale slaughter of African Americans on the part of police officers?