By Libero Della Piana
President Obama gave yet another historic speech Wednesday at the mass memorial service for the five Dallas police officers gunned down during a protest of the police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minn.
In a way few can do, Obama called the country together to reach across the gaping divide that was exposed this week. He summed up the divided understanding many Blacks and whites have about policing and police violence. He suggested reality is more complex than the simple rhetoric we hear in the media and encourage all sides to empathize with the other.
Of course empathy is important and we should encourage it. But the president falls short; empathy alone will never end the regular and widespread killing of black people in disproportionate numbers. It’s a racist system, not a few individual racist police that devalues black lives and leaves us dead so easily.
Narratives on all sides of the police issue often make the same mistake as the president. They understand police killings as simply a matter of individual actions that are solved by individual culpability.
One version of the narrative says that the majority of police are good and don’t go around killing people without warrant. Those who shoot innocents are aberrations, bad apples who should be separated from the rest. They need better training or more rigorous screening.
Another version says that many police officers are just plain racist. They are bigots who are either afraid or hateful of black people or both. Police need individual prosecution and punishment for their crimes.
Certainly we need better training and recruitment procedures in police departments. We also need serious consequences for police misconduct, brutality and murder. But none of those things will likely end the long history of police abuse and killings of people of color. That’s because police killings are a natural outgrowth of institutions that have implicitly biased policies and practices.
Continue reading: Empathy Alone Won’t Stop Police Killings
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