We’re right in the midst of the UK election season, which officially lasts 38 days. That’s roughly a month of campaigning. While I cannot vote in this election, I am keeping up with the parties’ stances, so that I can persuade my boyfriend, who can vote (for the first time!), to vote with a purpose, rather than to vote for whoever is ‘probably gonna lose’. The two issues that I have a vested interest in are drug policy reform (let’s use some sense and invoke some leniency here, people) and immigration laws, for obvious reasons (Say No to Xenophobia!!!).
Meanwhile, back in the good ole USofA, election season has also kicked off…20 months early. So while hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on the seemingly dozens of presidential candidates’ campaigns (I mean really, is every person who has ever held public office running for president??), I feel like I can say with a reasonable amount of certainty that many important issues will be ignored.
I predict that the two main issues no one will be able to shut up about are 1.The Economy and 2. Health Care
And while those are unarguably very important issues, they are not the issues that are plaguing the country.
The United States criminal justice system needs to be reformed. Badly. Quickly. There is an institutional racism that lies just under the surface, barely out of plain sight, throughout the entire system (police, courts, prison). This selective enforcement, discrimination and harassment has its’ roots in the “War on Drugs“. For anyone interested in the detailed and documented history of this, I can suggest some wonderful books, but I am not here to provide a history lesson today. I am here to make a lesson of the present.
Last week, my boyfriend and I were scrolling through YouTube’s most watched videos and happened upon the video posted by Fox News of the shooting of a black man by a white police officer in Muskogee County, Oklahoma. Just so there is no confusion (because there have been a few shootings of black men by white police officers in Oklahoma recently…), this was not a case of an ‘unarmed black man’. The man did have a gun. I will argue, however, that the cop used this man for target practice. He shot with excessive force (as if shooting in and of itself is not excessive force…). He shot this man five times. In the back. He then kept the gun pointed at the (obviously dead) man for the next few minutes, and refused to let a friend check on him. There was an utter lack of compassion. It was completely un-human.
The video made me physically sick. I cannot understand that kind of flippancy for another human’s life. I do understand that the job of a police officer comes with many challenges, and that there is a need to deal with the challenges in a way that laypeople cannot sympathize with (I studied criminal justice, and so my ‘understanding’ is from an academic perspective. I do not purport to fully grasp the ins and outs of police work). Additionally, I am not suggesting that there are no good cops. Policing is a necessary part of every society, and many are doing their part to keep our country safer.
What I am suggesting, is that there is a cancer that has been spreading throughout the system. Black men have been killed by cops without reason throughout America’s history. But we haven’t had access to smart phones, which can video anything and everything and then be disseminated to everyone, everywhere, throughout America’s history (or in this case, wearable body cameras). The point that I am trying to make is that this is not a phenomenon. And it is not an issue that can be solved by firing a few ‘bad apples’.
Something needs to change.
And someone needs to make it their issue in this upcoming election season. No more baseless murders protected by a failing institution need to happen before someone in power gets upset enough to demand an overhaul. Due to the complexity of the issues America is suffering, one policy change ain’t gonna cut it.
There needs to be drug policy reform. It’s all well and good if people choose to persistently and ignorantly assume that all black men are engaging in illicit drug use, everyone has the right to their opinion in America, after all. But their ignorance should not impact an entire group of people in the paramount way that it does now.
There needs to be gun law reform. Contrary to the ideas of many Texans and Alabamians whom I have spoken to, this would not consist of Obama showin’ up at your front door and takin’ your guns. But there needs to be fewer guns. Less access to guns. Guns need to be harder to get! Because it’s too easy to kill people right now. And that’s not cool.
There needs to be police reform. The entire training for police needs to be reconsidered. The culture of the boys in blue needs therapy. Hey, how about some actual therapy?! Police go through some struggles that civilians don’t. It might help to talk about it. Going to Afghanistan isn’t the only cause of PTSD. And there’s plenty of other psychological phenomena that occur from the amount of stress from this job…
So we’ve got new laws, new training, and addressing mental health. Now let’s get the people who don’t deserve to wield this power out of their current positions, and let’s move some new recruits in. I really have no suggestion on how to do this, but I’m sure someone out there does. Or could come up with one if they decide that this is an issue worthy of a brainstorming session.
I think that this is the most pressing domestic issue facing the United States of America at this time. The longer we wait to demand reform, the more black men (and black women, and hispanic men and women, and people with mental health issues…), some armed, some unarmed, will be killed across the country. Some of these stories will make national headlines. Many won’t.
This issue may not affect you directly. That’s all the more reason why you should care. People in power have a habit of not really listening to the plight of the people who it does affect. Say something. Make it an issue worth talking about. Make your local politicians and your presidential candidate of choice know that you think it’s an issue.
I will hold my breath for this reform. #ICantBreathe
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