An unjust justice system: 561 deaths by police and counting

As I watched the video of two police officers executing a restrained man on the sidewalks of Baton Rouge I began to think about what needed to be done to prevent these injustices from continuing daily on American soil.

Instead my first response was a begrudging resignation that this was our reality. Police shootings have become so frequent it no longer evokes even an ounce of shock. I’ve become desensitized. This is not acceptable.

Millennials, like myself, have wearily accepted this country won’t see true change pushed into effect by Generation X or the remaining Baby Boomers. If they were planning on fighting for justice they would have done it by now.

The enthusiasm and thirst for equality that led to marches for women’s rights and racial equality, the drive that defined their generation, seems to have retired years ago. Now, many refuse to accept there is even a problem.

The facts are difficult to ignore. There have been 561 people killed by police in the U.S. since January. 561 people have lost their lives in 190 days. 72 were in California, 50 in Texas and 39 in Florida.

When you compare that with say, England and Wales, were there have been 60 deaths by police since 1990, you clearly see why people are no longer willing to sit idly by.

The police have killed more people in California in 2016 then they have in all of England and Wales in the past 26 years.

Were the police in a threatening situation and resorted to taking a life to defend their own? Maybe. I’m sure in several of the cases resorting to violence was the only option. But was killing the individual in question the only reasonable option each of the 561 times? In no reality would that answer ever be yes.

And yet few officers are ever punished for pulling the trigger while on duty.

We’ve identified the problem, now we must find a way to fix it. Not all police are hateful bigots with guns. In fact, the majority are more than likely good people who truly want to protect and serve their community.

So how does one go about reshaping the justice system? USF criminology professor Lorie Fridell may have the answer. Fridell has created a program called Fair and Impartial Policing that teaches officers to recognize implicit biases they may not even realize they hold.

Thankfully the Fair and Impartial Policing program has been adopted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which trains officers at the federal level. 

Those in attendance for the first class of this program included the DOJ Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates as well as the directors and high-ranking individuals from the four major agencies of the DOJ.

The program is estimated to reach more than 23,000 DOJ employees by the time it is completed.  

Once our law enforcement has undergone training which will hopefully weed out those with malicious intentions and train others how to safely and nonviolently resolve tense situations, the responsibility will fall on us to hold them accountable for their actions.

That accountability cannot and under no circumstances should ever be enforced with violence. Taking the lives of officers is disgusting and will only further the divide between those who serve and those they are sworn to protect.

There is a common saying that, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

Millennials have often been highlighted for their focus on social justice. Whether they get involved online like when they joined First Lady Michelle Obama to sign online petitions to #BringBackOurGirls or volunteer their time to a cause they care about, millennials are attempting to make a difference.

“I personally refer to millennials as the next ‘Great Generation’ because the degree of generosity that we’re seeing from them is quite impressive,” said Jean Case, a former executive of AOL and the chief executive of the Case Foundation. “They’re turning their idealism into action in a very real way.”

A study by Pew Research Center found 49 percent of millennials believe the country’s best years are ahead. If we want this to be a reality it is time we start truly working toward change. We cannot accept the abundance of deaths at the hands of our police as a grim reality.

Nor can we accept senseless violence against those who are putting their lives on the line every day to protect us. The misconduct of a few should not condemn the majority. Ripping innocent lives away from their families will not bring justice.

There is no doubt that change is necessary to ensure America's people are all equally protected regardless of race. However violence will not solve this growing problem. Only through peace and unity can we as a country truly heal and make the first step towards a brighter tomorrow.

Breanne Williams is a junior majoring in mass communications.