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3 Things You Can Do to End Police Killings and Fix the Criminal Justice System

Posted: Updated: 
GRENIER COOKE
 
 

We're doing a lot of talking. That's good. Now let's make them accountable.

Since the shooting of Mike Brown, more than 14 black teens have been killed by the police, including 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a boy in Cleveland, Ohio who was murdered less than two seconds after police arrived at a playground to answer a 911 call related to a black child carrying a pellet gun.

If you're a black teenager you're 21 times more likely to be shot by a police officer than if you're white. So we've been talking about racism.

If you're a minority you're especially vulnerable -- but everybody is at risk. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 400 and 500 innocent people are killed by police every year. And that doesn't include unarmed civilians shot or injured by police because they feared for their safety. And we're seeing it captured on videos, some so horrific we can't believe the officers involved can walk away with no consequences. Law enforcement in the U.S. appears to have absolute immunity to use violence at will. So now we're talking about an unchecked epidemic of police brutality.

This at the same time policing has been getting safer for 20 years in a row. In fact,you're in greater danger living in half of the largest cities in America than you are by choosing being a police officer. And while thousands of law enforcement organizations have license to use deadly force against citizens there is no national database available that reports how often that license is used.

An incendiary Daily Beast story recently noted there were 43 shootings by Chicago Police last year and 13 fatalities but "a Freedom of Information Act request for reports on all officer-involved shooting incidents in the past two years was denied by the department because it was deemed to be 'unduly burdensome.'"

According to San Jose Inside, "Approximately 750 law enforcement agencies across the country self-report data about officer-involved shootings (OIS) to the FBI. That number equates to just 4 percent of the total number departments nationwide."

So we're left with individual reports such as a recent one from the Salt Lake City Tribune, which found that more people in Utah have been killed by police than by gang members, drug dealers, child abuse or domestic disputes in the past five years. If that's any indication of a national trend, we have a major crisis on our hands. We certainly do in Utah.

So now we have more to talk about and more questions. Does a public execution on the street fit the crimes of shop lifting, small drug deals, being homeless, or just scaring an officer? What do these executions say about our law enforcement culture, their mission and training? How can the land of the free have militarized armed forces roaming the streets enforcing laws with so little transparency and accountability to the communities they serve? And most pressing, how do we turn this around?

So there's a lot to talk about. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Behind the front lines we've systematically corralled masses of Americans into the largest prison system on the planet. We have more of our people in prison than Russia, China, and N. Korea combined. And most are non-violent, so what is this colossal net we've cast over so many people? What's it really doing? And who are the 2.3 million Americans we've dragged into cages?

Last month a man named Ricky Jackson walked out of a prison in Cleveland Ohio, 39 years after a 12 year old boy who testified against him finally admitted the truth, "I don't have any knowledge about what happened at the scene of the crime."

Around the same time Michael Hanline, a 69-year-old from Ventura County CA, spent the night in his own bed for the first time in 36 years -- finally released after a long prison term for a murder he did not commit.

The Innocence Project, "a public policy organization dedicated to exonerating "wrongfully convicted individuals" estimates anywhere between 2.3% and 5% of prisoners in the US are just plain innocent. That means there could be anywhere from 45,000 to over 100,000 Americans and possibly more -- languishing behind bars for absolutely nothing. And even that doesn't begin to describe what that world behind bars is really like.

The reality is this: As an American you're way more likely to be shot by a police officer or arrested on false charges than you are to be attacked by a terrorist or contract ebola. And if you're black or brown, the chances increase exponentially. So it's good we're talking about issues that really affect us -- and not just distracted by the standard fare that sells commercial advertising on the 24-hour news cycle.

I hope you're all posting videos and writing stories to keep raising awareness. We intend to continue making documentary series and films and writing blogs about human rights. We'll be announcing another one soon. But all this talk is useless unless we band together and act.

We've been inspired by breaking news sites like Ryot.org -- that connect journalism directly to grassroots groups and coalitions that give us a clear next step.

So following their lead we'd like to introduce you to three organizations and hope you get to know and support them. The first is the National Police Accountability Project. Their name speaks for itself. Bet you haven't heard of them. Neither had we until last week. Let's change that. They can't function without your help. Same goes for theInnocence Project who we mentioned earlier.

And lastly, we'd love for you to know about Jeff Deskovic. Jeff was 17 years old when police essentially tortured him into a false confession and he was wrongfully convicted of raping and murdering a girl in his class.

After 16 years he managed to get the DNA re-tested and at 32 years old, Jeff was released and founded the "The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice" fundraising to fight for release of the wrongfully imprisoned, reform the criminal justice system and reintegrate those who have been exonerated. Read more about Jeff's foundation and support it here.

When Gandhi, that great leader of peace and equality recommended to "be the change you wish to see in the world" that wasn't just about changing hearts and minds -- but our actions as well. And as this country's great civil rights leader MLK said, "Either we go up together or go down together." Thanks for all you do.