When Will It Be Enough?

#AltonSterling

114 black men.

114 black men killed in 168 days this year by the police.

114 black men killed by the police so far this year.

When will it be enough? What will awaken us to this terror? What is the turning point for us to realize that something has gone horribly wrong?

505 people have been killed by the police this year. Killed. Their parents no longer get to call them or visit them for the holidays. Their spouses no longer cook them dinner after a long day of work. Their children no longer rush to the door in excitement to see their mother, or their father, or their parent come home. Their co-workers no longer hear their jokes. Their community no longer sees them leaving for work. Because they were killed.

505 people have been killed by the police this year.

But he had a gun.

And that gives police officers the right to kill him?

But she lunged toward my weapon.

And that gives police officers the right to kill her?

But he was a known felon.

And that gives police officers the right to kill him?

But she was chasing after me.

And that gives police officers the right to kill her?

But he was high on meth.

And that gives police officers the right to kill him?

But she was fleeing arrest.

And that gives police officers the right to kill her?

There are instances in the line of duty that police officers must use deadly force to protect their own life. Police officers risk their life to protect our communities and we should honor their sacrifice. There are so many documented examples of officers responding above and beyond the call of duty to save themselves, their brothers and sisters in the force, and their communities from aggressors with deadly weapons, actively shooting at them, seeking to harm them, seeking to rip them away from their families and their communities and their lives.

But in honoring them, we should never be afraid. And there are so many communities that are afraid of their police officers.

Because if we carry a toy gun, like Christine Lucas (a 45-year-old white woman in Maryland), we will be shot and killed.

Because if we flee an arrest, like Michael Lynch (a 37-year-old white man in Texas), we will be shot and killed.

Because if we even have a weapon, like Alton Sterling (a 37-year-old black man in Louisiana), we will be shot and killed.

When will it be enough? What will awaken us to this terror? What is the turning point for us to realize that something has gone horribly wrong?


We have become complacent, desensitized, numb to the idea that police officers have the right to kill. Since when?

“No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” — the 5th Amendment

Is due process now in the hands of a police officer, pointing a gun out of fear of her life?

Is due process now sacrificed any moment there is a whiff of danger in a situation?

Is due process now surrendered when a mentally ill man charges a police officer with a knife, caught in his own mental hallucinations of reality?

Tennessee v. Garner, the famous 1985 Supreme Court case that defined parameters of use of deadly force said:

Deadly force…may not be used unless necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious bodily harm to the officer or others.

And law enforcement establishes that the use of deadly force is a force of last result.

But when Amnesty International releases a report that US laws do not meet international human right standards for use-of-force by law enforcement, we should be concerned. The key findings:

  • None of our state statutes require that the use of lethal force may only be used as a last resort with non-violent and less harmful means to be tried first.
  • Nine states allow for the use of lethal force to be used to suppress a riot.
  • Twenty two states allow for law enforcement officers to kill someone trying to escape from a prison or jail.
  • Only eight states require that a [verbal] warning be given (where feasible) before lethal force is used, however no state meets the requirement for a warning under international standards.
  • Only two states provide by statute for training on the use of lethal force.

A government that has no set legal requirement for lethal force to be used as a last resort, allows it to be used to suppress a riot, allows it to kill fleeing prisoners, allows it to be used without verbal warning, and allows it to be used without training should paint a picture closer to North Korea than the United States. Our cinema produces movies showing valiant heroes escaping foreign prisons and countries with those use-of-force standards to return home to the US, not fleeing our prisons and our communities.

We have begun to accept deadly force as the norm. As something acceptable. That if you even approach the idea of being violent to the police, you will be targeted, beaten, and killed.

And of course, if you’re black, you’re more likely to be jailed, and killed, than your white friends. And if you’re young and black and male, you’re nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers.

This alone does not prove racial discrimination, does not prove excessive use of force is disproportionate toward black communities, or that police officers are simple more likely to target young black men. But in what world should we simply be a bystander to the disproportionate killing of our brothers and sisters? White or black? Male or female?

Have we really accepted that young black men should be more likely to be killed? Have we genuinely internalized a narrative that it is their fault, that “they should’ve known better”? Do we not see the bigger picture, the bigger problem?

“Black Lives Matter” is not a phrase that black lives matter more. It is a cry from a community that has been disenfranchised, marginalized, discriminated against, and structurally disadvantaged since the founding of this nation.

“Black Lives Matter” does not mean police lives don’t matter, or that police lives matter less. It is a plea to police officers to fight with them against a system of government whose policies disadvantage their communities as they fight against poverty, against unemployment, against low wages, against unequal health access, against brutality, against discrimination.

“Black Lives Matter” is an appeal to every other part of society to pull back the curtain and see that our policies have not equalized the playing field, they have not created equal opportunity, they have not solved the systemic issues that black communities fought against in the 1860s, the 1880s, the 1920s, the 1940s, the 1960s, the 1980s, and into today. There is a reason they are still fighting and we need to start to listen. And not just listen, but work to solve these problems.

Police brutality is simply one symptom of these larger structural issues. It impacts white communities and black communities; it impacts men and women; it impacts our whole society.

But if you grew up in a neighborhood where parents were continually unemployed, where gang violence and drugs use was high, where the sidewalks weren’t clean and the schools weren’t well-funded, where you didn’t have access to grocery stores or cars of your own or even clean water, and you lived every day in fear of “how an officer with a gun will react to [you],” (Sotomayor, p.12) and you saw communities in the very same city who had the exact opposite lifestyle, you might start to believe that the system was rigged, that the echoes from governments past still ring into today and the policies they once chose still resonate into communities, into schools, into homes, into families, and that the structures and policies we have put into place to absolve ourselves of our past sins haven’t worked to solve the problems our society once fought against.

When will it be enough? What will awaken us to this terror? What is the turning point for us to realize that something has gone horribly wrong?

Do you accept that police should have the right to kill you if you brandish a toy weapon? If you flee arrest? That your wife or husband, boyfriend or girlfriend, brother or sister, mother or father, should have to attend your funeral because of this?

When will it be enough? What will awaken us to this terror? What is the turning point for us to realize that something has gone horribly wrong?

Do you think that it is really just black people’s unwillingness to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, their inability to fight for their opportunities, to work hard? Or that they are simply more violent than other Americans?

When will it be enough? What will awaken us to this terror? What is the turning point for us to realize that something has gone horribly wrong?