Black teenagers, especially Black boys, are too often required to navigate a dangerous rite of passage in America—an encounter with local police for an unknown infraction that is too often rooted in nothing more than walking, running, driving or riding while Black.
Across the country parents and communities continue to experience angst and anger over real experiences of either their child, their neighbor’s child, or a young relative or friend. Often, these encounters are brief and despite the degradation and humiliation experienced by the young person—may not result in arrest and imprisonment; but, all too often, such encounters can cost them their lives.
As the nation grapples with this crisis of conscious, around the country leaders and citizens seek meaningful and lasting solutions to the issue.
Recently for example, Texas state Senator John Whitmire, D-Houston, introduced a bill that would teach ninth grade students what their rights are if they should happen to be stopped and/or detained for a traffic violation. Whitmire believes it is important for students to understand that they should not “stand their ground” on the street when they run across an out of control or rude officer. Instead, it is important they understand that proper channels exist for them to report the incident later.
In a recent interview with the Cabinet Report, a publication dedicated to news in education that brought the proposed legislation to national attention, Diallo Brooks the Director of Public Engagement for People for the American Way stated, “I think there’s a larger societal issue and it’s not just about ninth graders in school learning how to deal with police officers–it’s about what we think of policing as it relates particularly to communities of color and how that’s exacerbated in some situations by very racially biased perceptions of those communities.”
The magnitude of the situation is further impacted by what some community leaders believe is an intentional obfuscation of the magnitude of the problem and the depth of its impact on communities of color because of their inability to leverage national statistics to highlight how wide-spread the issue actually is.
For example, more than a year ago the United States Department of Justice confirmed that distinct variations in reporting requirements from state to state has likely resulted in an under-counting of arrest-related deaths.
“I am proud that California continues to lead the nation in the adoption of technology and data to improve our criminal justice system and keep our streets safe.” –Kamala Harris
This reality lends credence to Brooks assessment that although it is good to know how to deal with police officers and be respectful, there are real issues that lead to frustrations in communities of color between police and those assigned to protect and serve them. Whitmire’s legislation is just one way leaders are hoping to help mitigate the problem and address the issue.
California legislators are also taking action. Last November, they passed AB71, the Criminal Justice Reporting Act. It required all police agencies in the state to report all shootings and other incidents that involved the serious use of force by officers to the State Department of Justice (DOJ) annually. The reporting will begin in January 2017 for 2016 data.
As mentioned above, until now information on police shootings and other incidents related to the use of force by police were difficult to access, often incomplete and almost impossible to track and analyze.
Here in California, there are approximately 800 law enforcement agencies, many of which reported fatal police shootings; but too often failed to note key factors like whether the suspect/victim was armed or suffered from mental illness.
In response to the passage of AB71, the DOJ will implement a new database, Ursus, to centralize the reports. The information will also be published online and accessible to everyone so that interested parties can view it and also download the information for analysis. The Ursus database is named for the bear on the California flag.
In a statement about the new database California Attorney General Kamala Harris said, “I am proud that California continues to lead the nation in the adoption of technology and data to improve our criminal justice system and keep our streets safe.” She added, “As a country, we must engage in an honest, transparent and data-driven conversation about police use of force.”
Beginning in January 2017, the use of force data will be posted on the California Department of Justice’s OpenJustice web portal at https://openjustice.doj.ca.gov/. For a walkthrough of the proposed AB71 (Ursus) database visit www.ursusdemo.doj.ca.gov/dashboard.