POLICING

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More white people were killed by police last year than black people. The Washington Post reported that of the 991 people killed by police in 2015, 49 percent were white, 26 percent were black and 17 percent were Hispanic, according to the news organization’s database of fatal police shootings.

However, these numbers can be misleading when taken at face value. African-Americans make up 12 percent of the population, yet account for over 26 percent of fatal shootings. Even more striking, black males make up 6 percent of the total U.S. population yet account for 40 percent of the unarmed citizens shot and killed by police.

Since 2005, 77 of the officers involved in these shootings have been charged with a crime. Of that number, 26 have been convicted, according to CNN. In the cases actually brought to trial, three-fourths of the officers were white, and about two-thirds of the people killed were black, The Washington Post said.

In the U.S., land of equal opportunity and undying optimism of the American Dream, you are more likely to be shot by police, arrested for petty offenses and incarcerated, all depending on the color of your skin.

Why is this? Are these facts not contrary to everything America stands for?

Whether we like to admit it or not, this modern problem with policing comes at the end of a long history of structural discrimination and oppression of minorities.

In a nation that as recently as 60 years ago did not allow interracial marriage in several states, humiliated millions of Americans with segregation laws and prevented minorities from exercising their 15th amendment right to vote, can we really expect to be post-racism? Can we, as a country, in good conscience say that we are beyond these issues entirely?

One of the most tangible problems at the heart of this injustice is our judicial system. Specifically, how police killings do not allow the judicial process to occur at all.

Extrajudicial police killings bypass the trial system that is the foundation for American democracy. A government without a system that allows people to defend themselves against allegations brought upon them by the state or others and be heard by a panel of their peers is an illegitimate one.

This is the reason that jury trials are so important to the American way of life and have been a guiding principle to our leaders since before the Bill of Rights.

This is not to say that police killings are never justified. The sad fact is that many are, if not most of them. However, when a suspect is unarmed and not directly threatening the life of an officer or other civilian, they deserve their right to a trial by a jury of their peers. This basic civil right is disproportionately denied to black people in this country.

When Eric Garner pulled his arm away from police and insisted that he was committing no crime, it did not justify killing him. When Philando Castille was pulled over for a traffic violation and informed the officer of his license to carry a weapon, it did not justify his shooting.

When Terence Crutcher was standing against his car after a police officer instructed him to do so after drawing her weapon, it did not justify her pulling the trigger.

None of these people, not even the several other African Americans such as Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald and Freddie Gray received their day in court.

Another problem with our judicial system is that these officers are almost never indicted for their actions. Normally, when cases such as Eric Garner’s or Michael Brown’s are presented to a grand jury, they decline to press charges. Many departments, even now, fail to keep accountability of unjustified killings by their officers in a publicly accessible format.

This is because, in some areas, our laws permit these atrocities. If an officer simply “feels” threatened, even without any reasonable cause for feeling threatened, they are allowed to take action in any way they see fit. Similarly, juries often come in with a presumption of innocence on behalf of the officer, according to CNN correspondent Mark Geragos, a defense attorney.

When police assume that their lives are in danger whenever interacting with black people, even for something as routine as a traffic stop and proceed to use excessive force, there is a serious problem. America isn’t an occupied country. The police are here to protect, serve and be a citizen just like the ones they interact with every day.

Not allowing minority Americans to have their day in court and assuming that any officer involved in their shooting had legitimate reason to do so, is a miscarriage of justice, denying the accused access to amendments that apply to all of us equally.