We Need Candidates Who Aren’t Afraid to Say “Black Lives Matter” by Kenyatta Thomas

We need candidates who aren’t afraid to say “Black Lives Matter.” 

Atatiana Jefferson.

Botham Jean.

Trayvon Martin.

Oscar Grant.

Eric Garner.

Tamir Rice.

Philando Castile. 

I could go on, but the list is never-ending. The amount of black lives taken by our militarized and racist police system is horrifying. To the general public, the names and faces they see simply flash across their screens and then are forgotten. To the black community, their names and faces are seared into our minds as another lost brother, sister, or sibling, and a reminder that our skin color makes us a living, breathing target. 

The experience of growing up black in America is to be told constantly by your parents to always obey the police at all times. To make sure you say “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am” or “no, sir” or “no, ma’am.” To make sure your hands are on the top of the steering wheel. To make sure that your license, insurance, and registration are within arms reach so that your hands won’t go out of the officer’s line of sight if you have to grab it. 

When you’re black in America, you don’t see police officers as a person of safety or a person to go to when you’re in danger. When you’re black in America and you pass by a police officer or a cop car, your body becomes tense and your heart starts to race and you keep your hands out of your pockets and you walk a little bit faster because you don’t want to be near them for too long but you also don’t want to walk too fast because then you’ll like you’re causing trouble. 

So here are the facts:

  1. Black people are killed more often than other races by police officers.
  2. Police officers kill about 1,000 people every year.
  3. Getting killed by police officers is a leading cause of death for young black men.
  4. America needs to stop acting like there isn’t a solution to this problem.

So what is the solution?
1. Train police officers properly.

All too often, encounters with police escalate far too quickly. Police are quick to use their guns to shoot civilians. Police should be trained to de-escalate situations and use a less violent weapon first, if necessary, before using a gun. Outside of that, police officers shouldn’t just be overlords and marshalls of their cities. They should be members of their community and in order to be members of the community, they need to be educated on what makes up a community. That includes education on mental illness, racial bias, conflict resolution, engaging with LGBTQ+ youth, and so much more. If they are expected to serve and defend everyday, they should be educated on what happens and who lives in a community everyday.  

2. If they have a violent history, don’t hire them. If they start being violent, fire them

Many police officers who commit violent crimes or kill black people have a documented history of problems. They post racist content online or have connections to the KKK. They abuse their spouses or their children. The officer who killed Eric Garner had a history of disciplinary issues. If they have a record of violence, it should be as simple as don’t hire them. There’s no possible reasoning to hire someone to protect a community who already has shown they lack control. 

3. Demilitarization. 

The Zero Campaign, a police reform campaign, has compiled the military equipment that police departments across the country have received the federal government and the numbers are sickening. The police department is not the military. They do not need access to weapons of war and its been shown that when they have access to these items that they are more likely to kill civilians.  

These are only a few key things than can decrease police brutality. We can identify the solutions and how to get to a world without police brutality as much as we want, but those efforts mean nothing if we don’t also identify and elect the leaders who can make the propers changes at the legislative level. Our anger can only get us so far. It’s not enough. Anger is the wakeup call that should push you to action

Many of the Democratic presidential candidates have stances on decreasing gun violence, but when discussions about gun violence are happening on bigger platforms, police brutality isn’t included in the conversation – until Julián Castro made the connection on the debate stage last week. 

Police brutality isn’t some out of control problem that can’t be stopped. Our young black children deserve better than growing up in fear of what might happen to them if they leave the house. Our black families deserve better than being frightened over whether or not their children will come home. We deserve better than being afraid in our own homes. We must demand and elect leaders who realize that police brutality is gun violence and that black lives matter.