It is by now the most disheartening of rituals in this country — the days-after backlash from an outrage involving race and the law.
Nearly every aspect of the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, has been achingly familiar: the white officer, the black kid, the tragedy, the conflicting stories. The protests, the inadequate response, the violence, the federal involvement.
Now, though, we must all move on to lessons and solutions, the ritual’s next phases. The good news is, these lessons can be learned and things can get better — even in place as racially and politically divided as Ferguson.
Mary Sanchez, an opinion page columnist for our sister paper in Kansas City, Missouri, offers suggestions in today’s Bee on Page A25. She calls for a massive voter-registration drive in Ferguson, followed by residents voting out the officials responsible for the toxic political situation there.
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Experiences in other cities point us to solutions, too.
For one, law enforcement agencies should be as diverse as the communities they’re protecting and serving. Although two-thirds of the people in Ferguson are black, the community had only three black police officers on a 53-officer force and only one black elected official in City Hall.
The 1992 riots that were touched off in Los Angeles by the acquittal of police officers in the Rodney King beating stemmed, in part, from the lack of diversity in that police department. Today, as in L.A.’s general population, blacks comprise about 1 in 10 officers at LAPD, and Latinos are the largest ethnic group on the force.
Secondly, police forces take their cues from the cities that hire them. One reason for the distrust between Ferguson’s black community and its police force was the city’s reliance on fines and fees that compounded for those too poor to pay.
Thirdly, municipalities need to unload the surplus military equipment, foster real relationships between police and civilians and handle protests with restraint. Here in Fresno, it’s encouraging that Police Chief Jerry Dyer has initiated a return to community policing strategies.
Finally, President Barack Obama and Congress could clear up many of the conflicting he-said, she-said accounts in officer shootings that erode public trust in police and fan racial hostility.
The president should announce and Congress should back a program funding video cameras for officers’ lapels and the dashboards of their patrol cars.
Though these cameras don’t alway capture everything that occurs, they are valuable tools for determing what happened and which witnesses are providing the most accurate recollections of a situation.