Cornell William Brooks
Freddie Gray wasn’t the only person to die at the hands of the police in April. Before Mr. Gray suffered three broken vertebrae during the course of his arrest by Baltimore police, 17-year-old Justus Howell was fatally shot by an unidentified officer in Zion, Ill. Like the death of Mr. Gray, Mr. Howell’s death was ruled a homicide.
On the day that Mr. Gray was laid to rest and protests and demonstrations against police brutality rung out in Baltimore, a group of local and federal law enforcement officers arrived at the home of 20-year-old Terrance Kellom, who was a suspect in a robbery case. Less than 10 minutes after police entered Terrance Kellom’s home, he was dead, shot several times by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer who was part of an inter-agency fugitive task force for reasons that remain unclear.
Then there was 37-year-old Natasha Mckenna. This 130-pound woman died after she was taser shocked four times by the Fairfax, Va. police Feb. 3, with her hands cuffed behind her back, shackled around her legs, with a hobble strap connecting both of the restraints. Police say they are still investigating.
More than 400 people have died while in police custody this year and the list keeps growing, according to an online database that compiles news reports of instances of use of deadly force. While there is no comprehensive national database compiled by law enforcement agencies of police’s use of excessive or deadly force in the United States, the number of people both severely and fatally injured while in police custody underscores a distressing symptom of the untested and overaggressive policing culture that has become commonplace in communities of color all across the country.
How many more lives of unarmed Black men and women, tragically and senselessly killed by police, will our nation have to mourn before our country moves to fix its unjust and ineffective criminal justice system?
The NAACP says no more.
The fight for better policing and greater accountability has been at the forefront of the NAACP’s work since its inception, and it’s a fight that we know how to win. One of our most recent achievements: the NAACP alongside its valiant coalition partners helping to dismantle the practice of stop and frisk in New York and leveraging a successful collaborative campaign to pass anti-racial profiling and police accountability measures. And we have no intention of slowing down.
Now the NAACP is doubling down on advocating for body worn cameras, car cameras and gun and taser cameras. The availability of video evidence of police interactions with civilians can lead to significant improvements in police accountability and trust among a community. Additionally, we must deploy the use of independent investigation bodies and the use of civilian review boards. But we cannot do it alone. Join us in our fight. Here are three simple ways that you can help.
- Join the NAACP: Become a part of the largest civil rights organization in the nation. When you become a member of the NAACP, you are doing more than joining an organization; you are becoming a part of a community. Our membership community is the reason we’ve been able to protect, defend, and fight for our civil rights and human rights for over a century.
- Help us pass the End Racial Profiling Act: The End Racial Profiling Act has been re-introduced in both the U.S. Senate the U.S. House of Representatives. The End Racial Profiling Act comprehensively addresses the insidious practice of biased treatment by law enforcement because of who you are, or who you are perceived to be, by law enforcement. Call your U.S. senators and representative in Washington and tell them to pass the End Racial Profiling Act. The switchboard phone number is (202) 224-3121.
- Support America’s Journey for Justice: Last year, our “Journey for Justice” campaign began with a 134-mile, 7-day march from Ferguson to Jefferson City, Mo., to join members of the Ferguson community in protesting the death of Michael Brown at the hands of the police, and to provide leadership to the predominantly young activists, participants in democracy. This year, we are continuing our work with America’s Journey for Justice – a trek along the 850-mile route from Selma, Ala., to Washington, DC – through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia – to highlight the need for criminal justice and voting reforms because our lives matter and our children deserve to live.
Every American deserves the opportunity to grow and thrive and reach their full potential. And every American child has the potential to become our nation’s leading scientists, entrepreneurs, scholars, lawmakers and law enforcement officials. It is us who must protect them. The NAACP remains committed to this promise – fighting to ensure that communities of color, our children especially, are judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin in the eyes of the law. For 106 years, this is what we have stood for and we will not waver.
Cornell William Brooks is president/CEO of the Baltimore-based NAACP.
This article is part of an op-ed series on behalf of the Civil Rights Coalition on Police Reform. The coalition, convened and led by the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, is comprised of over 30 national civil and human rights organizations, faith and community leaders who are working to address the nationwide epidemic of police brutality and lethal shootings, which are claiming the lives of Black men, women and youth. The series is intended to provide insight on necessary reforms to change the culture of policing in America. For more information, please visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.