Last month, in a dispatch for The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote, "The police are representatives of a state that derives its powers from the people." The gravity of Coates's words are not lost on me, and I have considered the sentence's trueness many times in the preceding weeks. "We, the people," our founding fathers inscribed in the preamble to the Constitution. But our present condition—one that finds the NYPD constantly at odds with the community it is designed to protect—is a reality our founding fathers perhaps had not predicted: a citizenry devoid of power, and a petty police force with no sense of moral obligation to the communities it serves. The deaths of Eric Garner and Akai Gurley—and all the lives the NYPD has unfairly taken, and will likely take again—are what happens when the people have no power. I am troubled.
Yesterday, the Ferguson, Mo. police department announced that it would not release the name of the officer who shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown on Saturday. "The value of releasing the name is far outweighed by the risk of harm to the officer and his family," said Thomas Jackson, chief of the Ferguson police department.
Ersula Ore. Eric Garner. Jahmil-El Cuffee. Rosan Miller. Marlene Pinnock. Al Flowers. Alonzo Grant. This is just a sample of the men and women who have been savagely, and unnecessarily, beaten by police officers this summer. Garner’s case, in which an NYPD officer used a chokehold to restrain the 43-year-old Staten Island father, resulted in death (On Friday a medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide at the hands of the NYPD). Since then, the topic of “police brutality” has gained momentum nationwide and has sparked outcry from elected officials and community members asking for police reform. Just last week, in a meeting at New York City Hall, Rev. Al Sharpton told Mayor Bill de Blasio of his biracial son: “If Dante wasn’t your son, he’d be a candidate for a chokehold.” And it’s true. But why? How, in Obama’s America, did we end up here?