The week earlier this month that the district attorney in Charlotte, N.C. determined that the police officer who killed a Black man was justified in a shooting that led to days of street protests against the police, the new Cook County, Ill., State Attorney took office, ushering in an era of hope that police will be held accountable for transgressions against Black and Latino Chicagoans.
A week later, the trial of a Charleston, S.C. police officer who shot an unarmed black man in the back ended in a mistrial, despite a shocking video that showed the moment when Michael Slager shot and killed Walter Scott. The video riveted and sickened a nation roiling over police bias against communities of color and a lack of accountability for their actions.
We’ve made so much progress in highlighting the egregious and overly harsh treatment of Black Americans, men and women, by police. Movements, such as Black Lives Matter, have proven powerful forces, aided by citizen journalists with cell phones who video tape these violent encounters. These videos stand as stark proof for those who refute the idea that police act with impunity when it comes to people of color.
And yet, officers who kill Black men need never worry that they will have to pay for their actions. These examples are emblematic of the long struggle for justice in Black communities. We take a giant step forward in the election of a strong state’s attorney who promises to hold police accountable only to take two steps back when two officers are yet again absolved of killing Black men.
The release of the officers is especially worrisome now. We have reason to fear that a Donald Trump presidency will mean the deaths of more African Americans – and Latinos – at the hands of police.
Trump has repeatedly threatened to round up, arrest, and imprison or deport immigrants, including those who are undocumented or receiving public benefits. Such an undertaking would create a police state that could violate the constitutional rights of American citizens caught in these raids.
And you’d better believe that the “law and order” apparatus that he is so keen to use against immigrants, he’d expand to use against Black Americans.
He already supports expanding the use of “stop and frisk,” the controversial police tactic that allows police to stop and question any one then frisk them for weapons. Not surprisingly, stop and frisk tactics overwhelmingly target Black and Latino men. A New York federal judge struck down the police use of the tactic in 2013, saying it violated the rights of people of color.
Our fear is that the tactic is re-instated in cities across the nation with the backing of a pro-police Trump administration. Our neighborhoods and cities would face a police state that tramples on the civil rights of people of color.
We face an administration, not just unsympathetic, but dismissive of our cause.
But there is hope that we can take strides forward. Consider the election of Kim Foxx, who ousted a pro-police state’s attorney. Foxx campaigned as a reformer who would install special prosecutors to investigate cases in which police shot citizens and push for more transparency of the criminal system.
I’m a hometown Chicago boy. I grew up watching police push my neighbors around, just because. I know the local stories of officers who’ve killed Black men and women and walk away without any accountability. But Foxx is different. She is going into this new job talking about how we need to hold police accountable. Acknowledging that is a giant step forward.
Foxx’s election didn’t make national news. It was a local election that received local attention. And her victory came from support by an energized Movement for Black Lives which is targeting district and state’s attorneys races as a strategy to force change.
That’s how we can make a difference. Our fight is local. We need to work at the local level to elect the men and women who will reform the courts and push for reform and accountability in police departments.
In the era of Trumpism that is about to take hold, it is the surest way to continue to move forward. And more importantly, it will mean the difference between life and death for millions of black and Latino men and women.
Dorian Warren is president of the Center for Community Change Action and a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. He is also a native Chicagoan.