Police Shootings, Solutions and Carl Hampton

Three days after the Dallas police shootings, the outpouring of “Back the Blue” is even stronger than I predicted.

carlhampton

Before July 26, 1970, Carl Hampton called for strong community organizations

Most of the public statements, even some from African American leaders, don’t even mention the underlying 400-year old problem of racism that underlies everything. Financial support for the police is everywhere. Dozens of restaurants have opened their doors and menus for free meals for the police. Special prayer services in parks and churches have taken place and are taking place today. There will be a big service for the police on the City Hall plaza tomorrow. The increase in tax money for police activities is virtually inevitable.

What About Solutions?

“Come together,” is the cry from the establishment. “We can work out our problems later,” is added by the more thoughtful ones. Everybody wants to treat one of the symptoms, retaliation against police officers, but few are looking at the problem.

On my radio show yesterday, a wide ranges of responses came from callers. One man  agreed with the Texas Lieutenant Governor that the police shootings were the fault of the peaceful protesters. The leaders, he said, should be arrested. Protests should be banned. Thursday night’s protesters should all be rounded up and “sent back to Mexico.” I think he confused some of his issues.

Another man said that Micah X Johnson, the sniper in question, should be treated as a “quasi hero.” Most of the callers said that the problem was societal and that it would not be solved until our society is changed. I thought that was reasonable, but not very concrete.

Can We Ameliorate Racist Violence?

I’ve been puzzling over answers to this ongoing problem since I was involved in exposing the police killing of Milton Glover in Houston in 1975. Glover waved a New Testament at two patrol officers and they shot him over and over again. In their defense, they said that the book looked like a gun. They walked, of course, but not until after we made it an international scandal.

I’ve heard a lot of the “reform” suggestions before. Here is a list of them published in a statement by the Texas Green Party:

 

  • In order to prevent further police brutality, we support the use of full body cameras that cannot be disabled by officers, demilitarization, and gradual across the board disarmament of the police. All video recordings should be stored indefinitely and available to the public online, without charge, except in cases to protect the victim’s identity and dignity.

  • Every law-enforcement department should be required to keep and report data to the public regarding police violence statistics.

  • We advocate a shift in funding from policing and prisons on the local, state, and federal levels to minority communities for job creation and educational opportunities.

  • Along with the Black Lives Matter movement and other movements and organizations, we demand justice for all people murdered by the police.

  • We advocate the dismissal of and criminal investigation into all officials that allowed police brutality to continue without acknowledgement or justice.

  • We advocate the establishment and full funding of independent civilian review boards, with subpoena power, at municipal and county levels, to oversee the investigation and subsequent prosecution of law enforcement officers accused of misconduct or brutality.

  • We strongly urge jurisdictions to provide independent prosecution and to require instructions and incentives for prosecuting agencies to pursue indictments against law enforcement officers in cases of alleged misconduct or brutality, rather than withholding evidence from grand juries, as well as comprehensive reform of the grand jury system to prevent no-bills of officers when evidence is clearly sufficient to proceed to trial.

The civilian review board with subpoena power has been a demand of African American community leaders to my own knowledge since the 1980s. The Black Lives Matter group has been publishing these suggestions since 2013. I kind of doubt that young Micah X Johnson knew about these ideas, and I don’t know if it would have stopped him if he did. If some of them had been implemented, Micah X Johnson might have had a lot more hope.

In my own opinion, though, the reforms are unlikely to be instituted because of the basic class nature of the police

Who Are the Police?

I would challenge the idea that poor people and police are the same. The police work for the government, and the government is ruled by wealthy people. Their interests are not the same as the interests of poor people and workers in general.

The 1970 Black Panthers Had the Answer

At lunch with friends on Saturday, I talked with a woman who was at Thursday’s march. She didn’t think the omnipresent police around the march in uniforms, in plain clothes, in cars, on foot, and on horseback were there to “protect people’s right to march” as is being affirmed in most of the public comments. She thought they were there to intimidate the marchers and to arrest anybody who looked crosseyed. Her solution to the overall problem of hatred between poor people and police and persistent racism was direct: “The Black Panthers were right!”

She didn’t mean that everyone should arm themselves as the Panthers did in the late 1960s. She meant that strong community organizations could eventually police themselves. There would be no need for armed police in the everyday concerns of well organized communities. That’s what the Panthers thought, but they didn’t get much of a chance to try it.

Carl Hampton (click here), Houston leader of “People’s Party II,” was murdered by a police sniper on a church rooftop July 26, 1970. His cousin, Fred Hampton, and other Panther leaders had been murdered as they slept by Chicago police a few months earlier.

The Dallas shootings of July 7, 2016, may have generated a lot of feelings, but it didn’t expose a new problem. This has been around for a long, long time.

 

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