We Must Build Trust Between People and Police

Monday, July 11, 2016
A photo of police tape
In the past several days we have seen intolerable violence around the country and we mourn the lives lost. Two separate police killings, of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, have devastated and sickened Americans who have seen race-based violence against black men and women by police officers too many times. Then, in Dallas, five police officers were killed by a sniper during a peaceful protest against police brutality in response to the deaths of Sterling and Castile.

In our own state we have seen fatal shootings by police of John T. Williams in Seattle, Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco, and most recently Che Taylor in Seattle. While each situation is different, these incidents are not isolated. So far this year, at least 121 black people have been killed by law enforcement around the country, and 50 officers have been killed on the job. Far too many lives needlessly have been lost; many people of color feel terror in interactions with police; and even the most professional police officers are put at risk by the callous violence of other officers.

The trust between police and community members is weak because police are the enforcers of a justice system that is fundamentally biased against black, brown and poor people. America's uneven justice puts everyone at risk.

For the sake of all of us, for our own humanity, we must all strive as never before to build a justice system that protects all of our community members.

The death of Alton Sterling in Louisiana, where police body cameras failed to work during the killing, demonstrates that tools like body cameras are not the solution to police violence; perhaps they can be a tiny piece of reforming the criminal justice system. For the many police departments that are implementing body camera programs and pilots, we urge those departments to train officers that the purpose of body cameras is to ensure people's constitutional rights, and moreover, to recognize the limitations of this technology. All departments must invest in meaningful training in bias-free policing and de-escalation techniques for officers.

In the aftermath of the Dallas shooting, it is also important to recognize that protests are taking place all across the country, including in Washington. Peaceful protest is an essential part of our democracy.

The ACLU long has fought to end police violence, to promote equal and respectful treatment for all, and to protect the right to protest. In the days, weeks, and years to come, we will continue that fight and work with deep commitment to end this cycle of violence.