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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

More than a "few bad apples"

Collette Flanagan, founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality in the United States, talks of "a police culture that is an orchard of poisoned trees"

Collette Flanagan, founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality in the United States recently made a statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Flanagan's 25 year old son, Clinton Allen, was killed by Dallas police in 2013.

The officer shot my son seven times, once at close range in the back. Clinton’s death at the hands of police is far from uncommon. Rather, it is something almost commonplace in communities of color, and the public outcry against police violence makes it clear that the nation is waking up to that tragic reality more and more.

The American Civil Liberties Union issued a release based on Flanagan's speech to the UN on July 13. In it Flanagan writes:

Each year, thousands of people are killed by U.S. law enforcement. For the most part, no one says their names except for their own family and friends. Every so often a handful of these thousands who have been murdered are cherry-picked as being worthy of attention for a variety of reasons: the killing was caught on compelling video; it’s particularly vicious; or because the victim is especially sympathetic.
The reality is that all people killed by law enforcement should have their names heard, and their stories told. Outside of the handful of cases that the public is aware of, the consistent loss of life at the hands of police is almost invisible. The lack of extensive media coverage of all police killings spreads the illusion worldwide that police brutality in the U.S. is an anomaly. We know that instead, it is the rule, and a source of fear, death, and anguish for communities of color in general and Black people in particular.
A common retort is that we are dealing with “a few bad apples” who happen to be spoiling the good name of the bunch. We are not. We are dealing with a police culture that is an orchard of poisoned trees, diseased at the root, bearing a relentless, deadly fruit which tears apart Black families like my own.

That the systemic issues in the United States go far beyond a" few bad apples" is reflected in statics released by the Prison Policy Initiative in June. Their report, Not just “a few bad apples” by Alexi Jones and Wendy Sawyer noted:

There is no question that the number of police killings of civilians in the U.S. – who are disproportionately Black and other people of color – are the result of policies and practices that enable and even encourage police violence. Compared to police in other wealthy democracies, American police kill civilians at incredibly high rates.

The tables they provide are shocking:

As Flanagan states:

For each one of us who fights for our rights and lives, there is a law enforcement organization pushing back. Unjust laws and powerful police unions protect U.S. police officers. The number of police officers who kill Black people who actually face a jury is statistically insignificant. Furthermore, district attorneys are generally unwilling to prosecute; they are often too cozy with police institutions they count on to win convictions; and when campaigning for office, they seek the endorsement and funds of the local police union.
Finally, police killings are not always independently investigated — more often than not, it is police departments that investigate themselves. In the first hours after an officer kills one of us, they set the narrative and tone, which is typically picked up by the county prosecutor. The fact remains that in the U.S., a police officer can violate your human rights, even kill you, and 99 times out of 100, nothing will happen. No charges, no indictment, no trial, no conviction and often not even dismissal from the police force. Put simply, the problem of police brutality in America is systemic, racist, and must be addressed as such.
These factors have coalesced and worsened over time to enshrine a very dangerous police culture in the U.S. It is dangerous for people of color, particularly Black men and boys. But it is also a great danger to the future of democracy in the U.S. When police abuse their power and use their authority unjustly — which, after all, is the authority given to them by the public, by us — they break the social contract and leave it bleeding in the street.


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