Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

One Year of Distrust Based on Unexplainable Encounters

Jul 27, 2015

For the last two weeks, the nation has been watching what is going on surrounding the mysterious death (coroner says suicide) of Sandra Bland at a Texas jail. Though the District Attorney and the coroner stand by their findings, the Bland family has raised serious questions and ordered an independent review. Some have asked why there is such intense questioning about this young woman's death. There is no doubt that the officer who stopped her, ordered her to put out a cigarette and threatened to taser her was way over the line, and may have actually broken the law himself. There is also no doubt that there was no basis or need to arrest her, let alone incarcerate her for three days. Whatever the investigations will show, Bland's tragic death happened while in the custody of the corrections department of the state of Texas, and could have been impacted by that fact alone. To understand why there is such distrust between police and the communities they serve, we can look at what has taken place over the last year from the choking death of Eric Garner to Mike Brown in Ferguson, to 12-year-old Tamir Rice, to John Crawford III and many many more. When you observe the litany of cases in just one year alone, the question is, why wouldn't there be a distrust in the Black community?

There are those that believe we somehow have more cases of police brutality and misconduct now than ever before. The truth of the matter is, it's because of videos and social media that these incidents are receiving more attention and coverage today. But despite that coverage, justice and accountability are still absent in so many of these tragedies. Justice has either eluded the victim, or the case is unresolved. This is precisely why National Action Network and I have said repeatedly that unless we change policing and police accountability, we will continue to go through these horrific incidents rather than see structural and permanent change.

We must take the following measures: 1. Take prosecutions away from local authorities that may have a conflict of interest, or an appearance of one (as we were able to do in NY), 2. Lower the jurisdictional threshold to establish federal cases of civil rights violations, 3. The Justice Department must have an empowered arm to deal with police abuse outside of the local county state model, and 4. Have extensive federal guidelines on training and sensitivities.

Until all of these measures are put in place, we will continue to go through cases instead of reforming a systemic problem. Do we need another year of drama? Or do we need to really say it's time for concrete change so we can rebuild trust based on fairness? And so we can see justice instead of calling for quiet based on continued inequality.

As one who has committed his life to the cause of fighting for civil rights, I know that our work is far from done. While we have progressed in many areas, police reform is something that we as a nation must address immediately for it requires substantive change from the top. Our opponents have spent the last year telling people not to believe what they've seen with their own eyes; we've been trying to tell people that their eyes are not deceiving them. The system needs to be changed. Listening to horrific stories after stories of police abuse, we have long stood on the side of fairness and demanded answers. We believed victims and their families, and fought for them when there was no video to back us up. Today, with technology and evidence right before our eyes, there's no reason for anyone to turn the other way and ignore this grave injustice.

As the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once stated: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others."

If we all stand together to confront this modern challenge, we can and we will see the change we seek in this world.