The following was written by Daisy Devine for her new column series, “The Thing About Hope”. Devine’s series will be published in the second edition of every month.
It is a strange thing to be aware of the history you are living, and an even stranger thing to be living so many different parts of it all at once.
However, today I want to focus on one specific part of that history- the current fight against police brutality in America.
As a country, we have continuously defaulted to the quickest way out in times of great change. We know that if we begin to start the process of reworking these systems so deeply ingrained into our society, we will finally have to reckon with all that we don’t know. We will be forced to acknowledge we still don’t know how to deal with mental illness and addiction, or poverty and homelessness. We are so used to responding to these issues with policing and imprisonment that imagining a world in which that response could be different is a difficult — and maybe more importantly, scary — thing to comprehend.
I cannot blame those who are scared of what such a large shift could lead to. But to disregard change out of fear only acts as a disservice to yourself, so I challenge you to hold your fear, feel it, and then listen anyway.
Our current way of policing is not something I would describe as broken. Not because it works or because it is good, but because a thing cannot be considered broken if it is functioning in the exact way it was intended to. And make no mistake, the police have always been meant to target people and communities of color. According to Time Magazine, the Carolinas formed their first form of police in 1704 with the sole purpose of acting as a “slave patrol”, while in the North, their primary focus was to protect the property of wealthy white families.
In the present day, this institution remains one that allows for Black people to be 2.8 times more likely to be shot by police than white people, despite being 14 percent likely to be unarmed at the time they are shot, compared to a white person’s 9 percent, as documented in a study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
We live in a country where police accountability is a rarity. The Police Integrity Research Group’s data found that since 2005, only 104 law-enforcement officers have been arrested in connection to a fatal shooting that occurred on-duty. That number may seem small, but it becomes even smaller, as only 35 of those arrests resulted in a conviction.
In 2019 alone, only 27 days saw no one killed by the police, and that roughly 1,000 people have been killed by police each year, according to Mapping Police Violence; if we draw that average out, that means in the past 15 years, around 15,000 people have been killed by police, yet only 35 of their murderers have been held to any sort of accountability.
The job of police was never to function as judge, jury, and executioner. Yet, for 338 days last year, they did just that.
This is not what a just world looks like, but we continue to justify these killings as if any justification makes the death of someone’s father, mother, brother, sister or child make any more sense. We jump to defend this because it has become our normal, and because we don’t know how not to.
The restructuring of the ways in which our police operate would not be an effort to leave us without some form of protection and law enforcement. In many forms of change, like “defunding” — which at its core is just the reallocation of some, but not all, funds to more appropriate institutions — we still want and need someone on the other end of the line when you call 911.
But we also need being Black in America to not be a death sentence.
This cannot happen until we begin to reduce police budgets and reinvest those funds into community based initiatives; until we end qualified immunity — a legal doctrine in the United States that aims to protect government officials from being held accountable for “mistaken judgements”; and until we create alternatives to police for those in mental health crisis or for those with mental disabilities.
What we need is real systemic change, and when we need it is now.
Even those who have done the very worst things still deserve a fair trial, because once we begin to consider only some are worthy of that right, we create an unjust and immoral world. And this is, sadly, exactly what we have done.
I do not care about the past of a person in the moment they are killed. I do not care if they resisted arrest. I do not care if they have indeed done a bad thing. I care that we give them what we promised in our Constitution. I care that we stay true to our word.
Because sleeping in your own home, in your own bed, does not warrant death. So we say her name- Breonna Taylor.
Running through a neighborhood wearing a hood does not warrant death. So we say his name- Ahmaud Arbery.
Walking home at night wearing headphones does not warrant death. So we say his name- Elijah McClain.
There are countless others whose names I could mention, and even more whose names we will never hear.
I understand that it is in our nature to prefer what we know, and to want to stay in the things in which we are comfortable. But comfortable has yet to get us anywhere worth traveling to.
All of this is not to say we must agree on the ways in which we should go about changing such complex configurations of our laws and those who we entrust to enforce them; this is to say that until we agree, as a whole, that something has to change, we will forever walk in circles, and the voices that fill the streets will endlessly echo.
We will move through these times, that is for certain.
What happens after the moving, however, is a history entirely unwritten.
When you write your piece, I ask you to write it for us all, and to never fault in the pursuit of new realities. Allow yourself to grow, your ideas to be forever challenged, and your heart open to endless change.
It is in living this way we find not just our place, but a peace that knows no bounds, and we build a world worth passing on to those who will inevitably follow.
Daisy Devine is a senior at the Enumclaw High School.