About a year and a half ago, I was pulled over by a police officer for a broken tail light. Officer Kirk was black—I’m passably white—and he gave me no indication that our racial differences mattered in any way. He was professional and even affable the entire time, and not at all alarmed when I reached for my wallet to fetch my driver’s license. After chatting for a bit, he issued me a written warning and sent me on my way.
And that is how things are supposed to go down, in an everyday encounter between police and citizens. Many of you have probably had similar experiences, especially those of you who live in relatively crime-free neighborhoods where the cops don’t feel the need to draw their service pistols during routine traffic stops. Tragically, awfully, almost incomprehensibly, this isn’t how it goes for everyone.
— Brandon Wall (@Walldo) July 7, 2016
I suppose this is the part where I should check my privilege, but it seems perverse to call it a privilege to be treated like a human being by a civil servant, even when you are of different races. Privileges are for the few, by definition, but decent human interaction really should be the norm for everyone who isn’t actively engaged in a dangerous crime.
How can we construct a society where peaceful citizens are treated humanely by peace officers, where someone like Philando Castile is treated with the same dignity afforded to someone like me? I don’t see any simple or unitary solutions here, but part of the way forward will be grounded in conscientious and ongoing data collection. Tracking projects are necessary in order to understand whether (and where) the situation is improving, and to keep local departments accountable. FiveThirtyEight has been doing some excellent reporting on point:
"It's hard to get even a comprehensive set of facts to start the conversation when it comes to police violence." https://t.co/uTCcRcnu3Y
— Strand McCutchen (@Strabd) July 8, 2016
— Carl Bialik (@CarlBialik) July 7, 2016
— Samuel Sinyangwe (@samswey) June 3, 2015