Halloran: It’s time for police to own up


Sara Halloran, Columnist

A couple of months ago, directly after a grand jury released its decision not to indict New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo for the choking death of Eric Garner, my immediate family members and I received a surprising email from my grandfather: “I can’t let this day pass without an expression of sadness with the non-verdict in the Staten Island killing … the Thugs in Blue (killed) a defenseless man. God rest his soul.” This is the last opinion I expected from my grandfather, who is very conservative, set in his ways and still maintains that the grand jury in Ferguson “got it right.” It does not bode well for police perception in America that law enforcement has come under scrutiny in the minds of even older, white, right-wing men, a group that is historically its most steadfast ally.

Ever since 18-year-old Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, the media are uncovering cases of police brutality and racism at alarming rates. However, with the law on their side, cops have encountered little trouble convincing their support base many of these incidents required the use of deadly force. The Brown case, where a grand jury failed to even indict Darren Wilson although there should have been further exploration, is a prime example of the propagation of the “hardened thug vs. dutiful cop” scenario working perfectly. The Ferguson Police Department may have successfully painted Brown as a weed-smoking, cigarillo-stealing, disrespectful criminal in their posthumous slander campaign, but for the toy-gun-brandishing Tamir Rice and John Crawford and the wholly unarmed Akai Gurley, Garner, Ezell Ford and now Walter Scott, there is no ambiguity. Police are fearlessly killing unarmed black men (or, in the case of 12-year-old Rice, boys) in hopes that America will see their victims as the violent criminals society expects them to be.

The tide seems to be changing, especially with the widespread implementation of police body cams, which recently caught Tulsa, Oklahoma reserve deputy Robert Bates shooting Eric Harris, and the new instinct to film particularly forceful arrests, which brought Garner’s and Scott’s cases to America’s attention. Instead of acknowledging their systemic problem, police have attempted to suppress allegations of wrongdoing: most notably, besides Ferguson, they and their affiliates have arrested Ramsey Orta for recording Garner’s death, falsified Bates’ records, turned their backs to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for calling out their wrongdoing and described prepubescent Rice as “menacing.” This cowardly stance is absolutely shameful. A police force that takes, by some estimates, the lives of three of its citizens every day (compare that to other major democracies) and disproportionately targets one demographic needs to take a good, hard look in the mirror. The mentally ill, like Ford, and their families deserve better than execution during mental health episodes. Though it will not bring their loved ones back, the black community deserves justice for their lost lives, a police force that will truly protect and serve them and the attention of white people when they speak up about injustice. I am upset, and I cannot imagine how people of color are feeling.

This is an issue that will not be solved with half-measures like body cameras, which, though they are progress, still require a degree of accountability from police officers some have proven they cannot handle. There needs to be a foundational change: The violent, racist police culture that has made law enforcement a breeding ground for racist bullies must be altered. There can be no more excuses about “some bad cops,” as it is clear that the good, justice-minded people who become police officers are working within the framework of a flawed system. The police owe it to Rice, Crawford, Gurley, Brown, Garner, Ford, Scott and the countless others whose names will never be released to quit resisting and step onto the right side of history.

Sara Halloran is a Weinberg freshman. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].