Credit: Tony Webster/Flickr
When a nation’s president personally and ferociously attacks one of its citizens and by extension an entire group of people, I don’t think it’s too much to ask what’s really at the heart of such vitriol. Yes- I’m speaking of 45, and yes- I’m speaking of Colin Kaepernick and his NFL colleagues.
By now I’m sure you’re all aware of the story behind Kaepernick’s protest. It began in 2016 when he sat during the playing of the national anthem. In Kaepernick’s words, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder." He was referring, of course, to cases such as those of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, which led to the Black Lives Matter movement. Later Kaepernick took to kneeling during the anthem to show respect for members of the military but insisted that he would continue his protests until "[the American flag] represents what it's supposed to represent".
Unfortunately, between the president’s rants and stunts like the one pulled this weekend by VP Mike Pence, the original intent of Colin Kaepernick’s protest has gone a little blurry around the edges. One can't help but wonder if that wasn’t precisely their intent.
What is it exactly that 45 and his VP don’t want us to see? Maybe it’s the fact that in 2015, for example, in officer-involved killings the rate of death of young black men was 5 times higher than white men of the same age. To say we need to refocus the issue is an understatement. Up until last December the FBI didn’t even have accurate data on homicides by police and depended solely on police chiefs voluntarily submitting their numbers. In fact, it was found that by using this method the bureau was recording less than half of all killings occurring nationwide.
After the unrest in Ferguson, a White House task force convened by President Obama recommended that better data on killings and the use of force by police was warranted. The basic lack of data came to light due to a project by The Washington Post and one from The Guardian called The Counted, which combined reporting with verified crowdsourced information to give a more accurate tally of the number of police involved killings. Former FBI Director James Comey announced reforms to the FBI’s data collection methods saying it was “unacceptable” that projects like The Counted had better numbers than his own agency.
Fortunately, Senator Art Haywood (Senate District 4, serving parts of Montgomery and Philadelphia counties) is placing attention back where it belongs. Haywood is the prime sponsor of a bill, SB 400, which would require an independent prosecutor be appointed when there is a deadly force incident and police officers are involved. Haywood first introduced the bill during the 2015-16 legislative session and is reintroducing it now along with co-sponsors Daylin Leach (SD-17), Jay Cost (SD-43), and Vincent Hughes (SD-7).
Senator Haywood has a simple objective. “When it comes time to investigate a police-involved shooting, let’s have more independence in the process,” said Haywood.
The initiative has met with some criticism, particularly from Wendall Morris of the Pennsylvania State Police director of the Bureau of Integrity and Professional Standards unit. “I’m confident in the ability of our internal affairs division, and our investigators and current processes that’s set up to make sure that there are fair and impartial investigations,” said Morris.
Some district attorneys have also expressed reservations saying the law would take away the rights of local DA’s to decide whether prosecution in such cases is necessary. “You’d be given that decision to someone who’s unelected, who’s not responsible to the community,” Dauphin County DA Ed Marsico said.
But isn’t that precisely the bill’s objective to keep the process apolitical and independent?
Pennsylvania ACLU director Liz Randol notes, “This would be a clear-cut way to ensure that there’s a level of separation between the local district attorneys and the police officers they’re investigating. I think most important for us, it’s about making sure that the public perceives and understands that this process has to be fair.”
SB 400 would provide fairness and a neutral review of cases in which an individual dies at the hands of police. It would also restore something fundamental to our democracy-public confidence in our judicial system. Maybe then the American flag will once again “represent what it’s supposed to represent” -not just for some of the people but for us all.
posted by Amy Levengood