23 Oct Tragic Deaths Bring Needed Dialog for Communities of Color
By Isaiah Muhammad
A Black person is murdered every twenty-eight hours by police, vigilantes or security guards. This stunning statistic was the centerpiece of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement’s 2013 research titled “Operation Ghetto Storm.” If these numbers might have seemed outrageous last year, this summer’s spate of murders of young Black men across the country—from Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri to Ezell Ford right here in South Los Angeles—have shined a national spotlight on the stark reality that underly them. The tragic murder of Brown in particular also highlights a troubling trend: police militarization and the use of state violence against communities of color.
A national dialog played out across our television screens and the Twitter hashtag #Ferguson connected us to a minute-by-minute virtual dialog. The wave of solidarity protests around the nation created a physical interchange as well.
“[The physical rallies] were important because they showed unity and a collective effort to fight social injustice,” notes Najee Ali, an L.A.-based activist who was present at a Leimert Park solidarity rally. “It showed we won’t sit back…We’ll stand up for our fellow activists across the nation.”
For Ali, a major success of those rallies was that they created a dialog that brought the increase in police violence in urban areas to the forefront. However, he hopes the national focus will shift to what he considers the underpinnings of the violence.
“A lot of the violence we’ve seen stems from the mistrust of law enforcement and the militarization of police. Black and Brown youth feel oppressed not only by the police, but by a society not creating enough social and economic opportunity.”
Christian Aguilar, a South L.A. youth, echoes Ali’s sentiments. “My relations with the police haven’t been that good. I feel intimidated… They just come off as too aggressive. It’s like they’re there to punish you, not protect you.”
Locally, activists and organizers are doing work to offset police militarization and violence. Patrisse Cullors, the executive director of Dignity and Power Now, is part of the larger Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in L.A. Jails. Her work involves bringing cases of police brutality to light.
“[There is] much that is underreported in terms of what’s happening in the streets and in custody,” she says.
A major effort to increase attention to and rectify this injustice is her work with allies to create a permanent Civilian Review Oversight Board for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. The board would have nine members, five appointed by the Board of Supervisors and four appointed by community organizations and partners.
Representatives of law enforcement agencies would not sit on the oversight board. In light of recent police killings where the officers involved have remained free, the board would have the power to issue subpoenas and guide the work of the inspector general.
Cullors’s work is complemented by Community Coalition, which is playing a major role in raising awareness about Proposition 47, a landmark initiative that would redirect funding from prisons to treatment, rehabilitation and education programs. The opportunities for community participation in constructively addressing California’s overcrowded prison system and L.A. County’s police brutality problem signals a looming paradigm shift that bodes well for communities of color.
Muhammad is a media writer at Community Coalition.