Our Voices

Once again we are asking for change. When will there be progress on police brutality?

By Anthony Enriquez and Delia Addo-Yobo

Our message is clear: It’s time to limit police contact with the public and decrease the opportunities law enforcement has to introduce violence to non-violent situations. This means limiting police power to stop people on mere pretext, repealing laws that criminalize people who speak out against police abuses, and investing directly into communities instead of pouring billions into the militarized forces that kill us but have no legal duty to protect us.

At least 1,186 people were killed by police in the United States in 2022, the deadliest year for police killings on record. That’s an average of 3 people a day murdered by police: someone’s child, parent, sibling, significant other and neighbor.

Three times a day, a human being had their life snuffed out at the hands of the state, likely with little to no consequence. Most police killings in 2022 occurred where officers were called to respond to suspected non-violent offenses or no offense at all. Fully 7% of police killings occurred during a stop for a traffic violation. These figures do not include the countless number of people who were beaten, tased, maced, choked, threatened, and sexually harassed or assaulted by police officers. Police violence transforms traffic stops and other non-violent situations what should in theory be dull encounters into sites of fear, death, and brutality in the United States.

Police brutality has become a virus in America 

Around the world, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights works to advance equity and social justice, protecting human rights defenders who speak out against state-sponsored injustice. Now, more than ever, that work is needed at home, as police murders mount in record numbers and politicians dismantle First Amendment protections.

Since 2020, legislatures have introduced over 100 bills aimed at punishing or restricting protest-related activity. These laws, which often expand criminal penalties for protestors and shield from liability people who maim or kill protestors, are now being deployed by police and prosecutors to intimidate people from exercising their rights to assemble and speak truth to power.

Just as chilling, when people spoke out publicly for accountability, politicians gave police additional tools to violently repress demands for justice.

From Floyd to Nichols: change has yet to come

On January 7, 2023, Tyre Nichols was viciously beaten by police officers in Memphis who pulled him over due to an alleged traffic violation. They then beat Tyre so badly that his own family said he was unrecognizable. He died three days later.

The officers who murdered Nichols were a part of Memphis’ now-permanently deactivated SCORPION unit. The unit’s modus operandi was initiating traffic stops with the intention to look for evidence of more serious crimes, searching people’s vehicles, and arresting them.

The Supreme Court blesses these tactics, referring to them in dry legal terms as “pretextual stops.” But the people who endure them recognize them as  harassment, bullying, and terror.  Decades of research confirm that pretextual stops increase the probability of racial profiling by law enforcement. And Tyre’s case is only one example of how police can use their ever-expanding power for violent, tragic purposes.

After the police murdered George Floyd in 2020, millions of Americans assembled peaceably in city streets across the country to demand an end to police violence. Viral videos captured the violent responses of police forces that beat, gassed, and shot protestors, some of whom permanently lost their vision after being shot by police with rubber bullets.

Politicians then answered cries for justice with reforms that ended up increasing funding and resources for police forces across the country: body cameras, racial diversification of police forces, de-escalation and cultural awareness training, legislative clarifications on when the use of deadly force is “appropriate,” and reporting requirements when police seriously injure or kill people. None of these stopped police killings.

The day before the video of Tyre Nichols’ murder by police was released, Georgia governor Brian Kemp called in the national guard to crush protests by environmentalists against the construction of a police training facility in Atlanta on forest grounds that had been previously designated for protection as a city park. Earlier that week, a police SWAT team had raided a protestor encampment, shooting and killing 26-year-old Manuel Teran. Their death is the first recorded instance in the US of the murder of an environmental activist, a shameful practice in other countries such as Brazil and Honduras. In the wake of Manuel’s death, other environmental protests in Atlanta have been arrested and charged with domestic terrorism in an effort to scare the community into submission. 

“How much time do you want for your ‘progress’?” Decades ago, literary giant and civil rights activist James Baldwin questioned calls for an incremental change approach to racial justice in America. Arguably, little has changed since then, as police executions rage on across the country.

It is time, once again, to collectively raise the public conscious with our voices, demand change, and support concrete action. Supporting the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which helps protect protestors experiencing repression, is one place to start. Today, we call out injustices abroad, yet domestically police officers continue to kill indiscriminately. When people rightfully demand better, they are criminalized and punished by legislators for seeking accountability and safety.

We can and must do better.

Anthony Enriquez is the Senior Vice President, U.S. Advocacy and Litigation, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Delia Addo-Yobo is U.S. Staff Attorney, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.

Read the original article here.