Other Fergusons loom on the horizon, and we shouldn't wait until an officer shoots another person and a city erupts to fix them. The lessons emerging from Ferguson can and should guide a nationwide overhaul to police reform. Now, while the whole country is focused on this issue, we should seize this moment to develop solutions that are as comprehensive as the problems are vast.
In a country that has identified black people as its criminal element, public safety (and perceived security) is more tied to the suppression of blacks than it is to the suppression of crime. And as long as the public insists on its myth of black criminality—almost as an article of faith—police practices will be impossible to reform.
This phobia of black rage is nothing new. It motivated the slave codes that prohibited blacks from handling guns. It morphs wallets into weapons. Ironically, it’s why Ferguson police responded to what was a gathering of concerned residents with armored vehicles and tear gas. Almost laughably, it even led authorities to believe that the 1963 March On Washington would surely erupt into violence.
A former U.S. airman is currently sitting in a Florida prison for what his supporters argue was a simple act of self-defense. Just two years into a 25-year sentence, he joins a list of cases that have drawn national attention to the Sunshine State’s sentencing and gun laws. Encouraged by the activity, his family is hoping to stir up interest in his case and is currently petitioning Florida’s governor for clemency.
When D.C. police killed Carey in October, the country was once again thrown into a conversation around the use of deadly force—especially as Carey’s 14-month-old daughter was in the back seat of the vehicle as police fired on it. That tragedy is the most recent in a series of high-profile cases in which unarmed black suspects have been killed by authorities under controversial circumstances.