Justice is sought with regard to individual slayings of African Americans, most recently Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. When President Obama mentions those particular slayings, he at the same time mentions systemic disparate treatment of African Americans in the American legal system. Plenty of statistics show police stops, arrests, prosecutions, sentencing and incarceration are pretty tough on African Americans. What’s not clear is whether this is due to systemic racism or higher rates of offending by African Americans. Each side in this debate marshals its own statistics. Progressives typically refer to Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, which unfortunately does not contain any solutions. Conservatives prefer the simple statement of Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr. when he recommends that we, “Stop trying to fix the police – Fix the ghetto!” Fixing the ghetto has proven almost impossible, and the War on Poverty made things worse.
The critical interface between suspects and the police generates the most publicity, especially when African Americans are shot by white police officers. This publicized interaction in cases over the last several years represents only the first juncture in the legal system. There are multiple later stages of the criminal justice system under criticism. Police shootings generate controversy which then includes all the later stages of the system. Discussion of perceived injustice in subsequent stages of the criminal justice system makes the statistical analysis impossibly complex for any use with the problem of police shootings based upon split-second decisions. As a result, critics place discontent of the entire system upon these split-second decisions. The slaying of African Americans becomes the mascot for all the perceived discrimination in the entire criminal justice system… and sometimes American economy. Uncertainty surrounds recent shootings until investigations, grand juries, trials and even sentencing conclude.
Lately, some have departed from the non-violence preached by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior. With these great complicated questions under discussion, addressing the problem of police shootings has a simpler solution than the larger controversies make us believe.
Most of the publicized police shootings in the last few years might have been prevented had citizens obeyed all of the following accepted rules when stopped or approached by police officers:
- Obey the instructions and orders of the police – it’s the law.
- Do not interfere with, or obstruct the police, as you can be arrested for it.
- Think carefully about your words, movement, body language, and emotions.
- Do not get into an argument with the police.
- Keep your hands where the police can see them.
- Do not run. Do not touch any police officer.
- Do not resist even if you believe you are innocent.
Out of respect for law enforcement and all lives, our leaders should educate the public about these common sense rules. This is what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have us do now.