My first letter to a congressperson

24 Dec 2014 10:36

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In North Carolina, the NAACP just won a campaign to get the FBI to do a full investigation of a suspected lynching-by-hanging in a small town east of here, the Charlotte Police Department is buying body cameras, the unarmed young black football player Jonathan Ferrell who was shot and killed by a Charlotte police officer last fall hasn't been demonized, and Randall Kerrick, the officer who killed Ferrell, was indicted by a grand jury and we might see him face trial.

Nonetheless, the Fraternal Order of Police has swung into high gear here as everywhere with blowback against protesters in the aftermath of the killing of the two officers in Brooklyn. The silence from protesters/organizers, here as everywhere, has been deafening. I've never written a letter to my congresspeople before, but in the absence of statements from organized groups of people (some of which I'm a member of), it's all I can think of to do.

Here's my draft:

North Carolina Fraternal Order of Police president Randy Hagler called in Tuesday's Charlotte Observer for laws and policies to protect police from citizens "who are attacking our officers at an alarming rate."

According to FBI crime statistics, out of almost one million federal, state, and municipal police, 27 died last year from injuries "incurred in the line of duty during felonious incidents." The rate of assaults and homicides on officers has steadily declined every year for over 20 years, and police work is currently less dangerous than landscaping, farming, bartending, or playing in the NFL.

On the other hand, officer-involved shooting deaths have increased by at least a third in recent years. Although police agencies do not submit the total number of people killed by their officers to the FBI, The city of Seattle found that one in five killings last year were committed by on-duty police. An estimate based on news reports suggests that police may have killed more than 710 people last year—-less than the number killed in domestic violence-related incidents and break-ins, but more than the number killed in gang-related incidents.

Black Americans have done much of the dying. The ACLU found that across the US, black people were more likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely as non-black people to experience the use of force during police encounters. Black people were less likely to be harboring contraband than whites, but were searched, arrested, and assaulted by police more often. Police are more likely to be killed by a white assailant, but black civilians are 21 times more likely than white civilians to be killed by an on-duty police officer.

There is little recourse for officer misconduct. I could not find North Carolina data, but according to Chicago Police Department data, between 2002 and 2004, Chicago residents filed 10,149 complaints of excessive force, illegal searches, racial abuse, and false arrests. Only 19 cases (0.18%) resulted in any meaningful penalty (a suspension of a week or more).

Across the country, police union representatives and Fraternal Order of Police executives are cynically using the tragic deaths of these two officers to threaten protesters who demand only the right to not be killed without due process. Hagler ridiculed politicians trying to "protect the community from our police officers" with what he called "frivolous laws." The only law protesters have called for is a law requiring police to wear body cameras, which may decrease police misconduct. I would prefer legislation compelling every police department in the US to report complete use-of-force statistics and disciplinary actions taken against police to the FBI.

Police forces would inspire confidence and trust by being accountable to the people and the nation in which they serve, rather than by trying to protect their own and smear their critics. Police forces around the country should use this moment of grief for their own to show compassion to the hundreds of families in this country who are missing someone this Christmas who was killed by a police officer this year. I encourage you to take the young protesters seriously and consider promoting legislation to improve police accountability and effectiveness.

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