Update: This statement was written before Thursday night’s events in Dallas. Media outlets are reporting that 10 police officers and one protester were shot by snipers at a protest against police violence. Five officers have died from their injuries so far. In the piece below we encourage everyone to take a stand against injustice, including through non-violent protest. But, please stay safe out there. Our mission should be to bring love and non-violence to an unhinged, unjust and imbalanced situation. In the words, of Martin Luther King, Jr. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
PEACE ACTION STATEMENT, JULY 7, 2016
By Kevin Martin, President
Jon Rainwater, Executive Director
Once again, we are horrified by sight of tragic police killings, this time in Louisiana and Minnesota. Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and we stand in solidarity with their communities in mourning and outrage.
Mr. Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, has called this “a silent war against African American people.” That is a sadly accurate indictment of U.S. society, from police murders of African Americans to the obscene level of incarceration of people of color to the astonishing wealth gap between whites and people of color to institutionalized racism in its many insidious forms.
As a peace and social justice organization, we recall the Triple Evils of American society enunciated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – racism, militarism and extreme materialism. As a people, we must urgently address these sicknesses, and develop concrete policies and actions to transform and overcome them in order to build the Beloved Community.
This work includes not only creating racial harmony and justice but at the same time working in a targeted way to dismantle all forms of institutional racism in our criminal justice system. It also means ending the militarization of policing with weapons of war provided by the Pentagon to local police agencies.
Today, we join with Americans from all communities in sorrow, anger and determination for racial justice, for Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and all victims of violence and racism.
One action we can take immediately is to make our solidarity visible in communities across the country. This evening and in the coming days there will be many protest actions in cities from coast to coast and our physical presence together can speak volumes as we say NO to a continuation of this type of violence. The more of us who mobilize, and the more sustained our activism is, the larger that statement will be.
As we protest for justice and peace we also have the opportunity to push for specific changes that can bring about real justice. This fight for justice will take a nationwide movement of political organizers pushing for specific policy changes that can take down the walls of institutional racism brick by brick. Many of our local Peace Action chapters are active in the criminal justice reform movement. You can be too.
Our current criminal justice system is built up through local, state and federal level policies and practices. All of us can take action at whatever levels we see fit to push for positive changes that can transform policies in ways that can save lives. We can all pick up the phone and call our City Council members. We can ask them: “Are you active in pushing for criminal justice reform?” We can do the same thing with our state legislators and Members of Congress. We can get to know what policies are in place in our communities to hold police departments accountable and prevent police violence – and push for what is missing. We can demand that those who want our votes address these issues – or we can even run for office ourselves.
Here is a list of potential changes communities can make. It isn’t meant to be exhaustive, and you may not agree with everything on the list, but it gives some examples of concrete changes we can personally push for:
Ensure Community Oversight
The justice system must serve the community and not the other way around. To make that a reality, civilian oversight measures can both prevent problems and aid in accountability if there are violations of people’s civil rights. Oversight mechanisms can include technological measures such as body cameras and structural governance measures such as all-civilian oversight boards that are formed for by and of the community independent from the police department.
Make Lethal Force the Enemy, and De-Escalation the Focus of Policing in Tense Situations
Strong standards and policies need to be in place to prevent the egregious use of lethal force. Policies should ensure the use of minimal force so situations do not escalate and should hold police accountable for decisions that involve the use of force, especially lethal force. Significant increases in training in de-escalation are needed. Currently police receive much more training time in the use of firearms than they do in de-escalating tense situations.
Put in Place Rigorous Policies to Fight Racism & Protect Against “Implicit Bias”
Blatant racism in police departments exists far too often and needs to be rooted out by firing or disciplining offending officers. But racial prejudice isn’t always conscious. Studies show that unconscious racism impacts police behavior including whether a specific type of target is likely to be shot in a tense situation. Many criminal justice reform advocates believe training about implicit bias is needed for police leaders as well as for the rank and file. But training is only the start. Solid policies like those suggested by the National Center for State Courts need to be in place to protect against deep seated biases even after training.
End the “Broken Windows” Approach to Policing
Policing based on profiling and a focus on minor infractions can lead to escalations with deadly consequences. How many times has a broken taillight, or a person selling CDs or cigarettes senselessly escalated into a tragedy where a family loses their beloved brother, sister, father or mother? There is no evidence this popular style of policing with an aggressive focus on “quality-of-life” crimes has reduced more serious crimes. We need police departments to train police with a new less aggressive approach.
End For-Profit Policing, Prosecution and Incarceration
A profit oriented culture runs through the U.S. criminal justice system. It’s there in quotas for tickets, in municipal budgets funded by fines, in so-called civil forfeiture laws, and in mega-corporations profiting on mass incarceration. Instead of creating the proper culture of serving and protecting the community, these policies force certain communities to serve the system in a position of submission. The profit motive must be driven out of our criminal justice system.
Demilitarize Police Departments
Peace Action has seen the horrible pain created by an overly aggressive approach to “stability” in war zones the U.S. is engaged in. We don’t need that approach in communities here at home any more than we need them abroad. Peace Action is calling for an end to the Pentagon’s 1033 program (where surplus military gear is given to local police departments). Military or swat-style techniques like no-knock raids and forcibly entering private homes should also be avoided. Our police departments should not look like, or act like, occupying armies.
Create New Independent Investigation and Prosecution Mechanisms in Cases of Police Killings
It is unreasonable to expect local prosecutors to maintain their independence given how close they are to the local police force. There is an inherent conflict of interest. That’s doubly true when police are put in the position of investigating themselves. New mechanisms that allow for independent prosecution need to be built through changes in local practice and in state and federal law.
Finally, here’s one immediate action you can take right now: Please sign the petition by our colleagues at Color of Change calling for Attorney General Loretta Lynch to bring charges in the Alton Sterling case. When we all work together we can make the change needed. Let’s let the sadness in our hearts for the loss suffered by the communities of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile motivate us to make that change.
Black Lives Matter!