By Philip Smith, president of the National African American Gun Association
I have a lot of friends who are Police Officers. I get it: They have a really difficult job that I wouldn’t want to do. I have ongoing conversations with many, especially when speaking about police shootings. In most cases, we don’t agree, but we do have enough respect for each other to be honest and give reasons for our differing views. Mostly, we “agree to disagree but not disconnect.”
I don’t believe in blanket statements toward any individual or group. I am not built that way. I’d rather sit and talk with you, even if it is uncomfortable for both of us. I say all this to say I am Pro- Law Enforcement all the way, but the current legal system is built with some serious shortcomings that must be talked about and corrected immediately.
In writing my Presidential Message this month, I am beyond pain, anger, and frustration regarding the verdict of the Philando Castile shooting. Another good Black Man shot down in the prime of his life and, again, the Court System provides no answers for our community.
At this point I am tired of crying, tired of the verdicts that continually come down against us, tired of the lack of fairness in the Judicial System, tired of the “marches,” tired of the riots, tired of preachers praying for peace, tired of the carefully crafted politically correct responses in print and TV by activists on either side… And yes, I am tired of being tired.
So what do we do to stop the murdering of Black Men? I believe the answer is right in front of us, hiding in plain sight. We need to take a step back as a community and react intelligently instead of emotionally.
Here are my suggestions: First, start hiring a different type of Police Officer in America who is older and college-educated. Maturity combined with education produces a very different person compared to someone coming almost straight out of high school. Life experiences go a long way when interacting with the public.
The second suggestion is to pay Officers a lot more than they are currently earning in order to attract the best and brightest candidates. If you pay $30,000-$40,000 as a starting salary, you aren’t going to attract the best talent. You will get those individuals that have no other economic options and are being almost forced to take the job. That isn’t a desirable scenario for someone who will be interacting with the general public on a daily basis.
The last but the most important suggestion, or strategy, is to “legally challenge the foundation of the current law.” An example of this is Tennessee v. Garner. This Supreme Court decision is the basis for all “justified shootings” currently, and it was first decided in 1985 and reinforced in 1989.
Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985), is a civil case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that, under the Fourth Amendment, when a law enforcement officer is pursuing a fleeing suspect, he or she may not use deadly force to prevent escape unless “the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.” It was found that use of deadly force to prevent escape is an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment, in the absence of probable cause that the fleeing suspect posed a physical danger.
The courts have been the “legal tool” and method to change realities for African Americans in the 60’s. Now in the modern era, we need to once again develop multiple legal “Dream Teams” to start challenging this law as it is presently constructed in 2017.
We need a new standard for police and citizen exchanges. Fearing for your life is far too vague a reason for anyone to make a decision to kill someone else because of fear. I can understand if that person is physically attacking you and you have tangible evidence with your eyes and ears that he or she is trying to hurt you. Anything short of that is not acceptable.
I welcome all comments, suggestions and feedback regarding this issue at [email protected]
This post originally appeared in the National African American Gun Association’s newsletter and is reprinted here with permission.