Another Black Man Shot by a White Cop: Our Predictable Response Is Not Working

September 20, 2016

Every time an unarmed African-American is shot by a white police officer, I can pretty much script the response. Outrage on Twitter. Trending hashtags. A call for a Department of Justice investigation. An emotional plea by activists for justice. A space subsequent civil rights lawsuit. Brief news coverage of the viral video. Then back to business as usual.  They call this insanity. We keep doing the same thing, and getting the same result.

If we are really tired of watching cops shoot African-American men for no apparent reason other than the color of their skin, it’s time for an overhaul of decades old ruling by the Supreme Court that give a safe harbor to such heinous acts. Until the United States Supreme Court issues a new ruling overturning its 1985 decision Tennessee V Gardner decision, we can brace ourselves for more shootings, more viral videos, and more cops being placed on administrative leave with pay, and more prosecutors claiming their hands are tied because of the leeway afforded to police officers involved in fatal shootings based on the Gardner decision.

In the 1985 Tennessee v. Gardner case, The United States Supreme Court ruled that deadly force may not be used by an officer unless he had probable cause to believe a suspect posed a significant threat of death or serious bodily harm to the officer or others. The court expanded upon its ruling in the 1989 Graham v Connor case by pronouncing that the standard was objective reasonableness.

These to decisions are the cornerstones of the arguments that we hear time and time again after a deadly shooting. Law-enforcement condense tell us that police officers have to make split second decisions, and as long as they reasonably believe their lives are in imminent danger, they are justified in shootings that to the lay person, appear to be unequivocal and intentional criminal acts.

It’s time to revisit this standard. It has become and often used defense for police officers, even when there is no apparent risk of harm to them or others. Clearly this standard is failing to serve as a deterrent for shootings and is preventing unlawful acts of police officers from being prosecuted. Racial bias training nor judgments against cities in civil lawsuits are enough to prevent the police brutality we have witnessed over the last couple of years. We need a stricter standard as to when deadly force can be used by an officer, thereby paving the way for a great number and swifter prosecutions of rogue officers.

Any such shift in the law requires, at a minimum, five votes on the Supreme Court. Given that the Republican Senate has been unwilling to even hold hearings for the Obama Supreme Court nominee, who by all accounts is a moderate, it’s foolish to think that Donald Trump would appoint a Supreme Court justice that would be willing to reconsider the existing Supreme Court standard on the use of force by police officers.

A Clinton presidency is our only hope of revisiting the archaic Gardner standard which is standing in the way of the prosecution of police officers. Given her pronouncements with respect to potential Supreme Court nominees, her presidency moves us closer to that fifth vote. Clinton isn’t a perfect candidate by a long shot, but she offers the most pragmatic choice for millennials and social activists who are demanding real change.

We can continue to demand Department of Justice investigation of police shootings of those like the recent one of Terence Crutcher, and a long list of African-American man that was their lives to white cops. We can trend and black lives matter on Twitter and other social media platforms. We can march in the streets and occupy police stations around the country. But until we change the standard that governs the prosecution of police officers involved in shootings, we will continue to be frustrated and reduced to outrage that is in constant competition with the latest breaking news.


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