“Routine” Police Interactions
What is a routine interaction with a police officer? It usually depends on who you are, what you are doing, and where you are. For example, if you are an adult driving a vehicle over the speed limit, inciting a violent attack on a government building, or illegally entering a closed business, it seems reasonable that your routine interaction would involve a speeding ticket, an arrest for insurrection, or an arrest for breaking and entering. For people under age 18, it seems reasonable that the consequences would be appropriate to your age.
However, if you are a minority, your perspective may be dramatically different from the perspective of a non-minority. If you are a minority, your perspective might be defined by fear for your safety, distrust of policing policies and practices, and your experience with both. Interactions with police officers might be defined by violent treatment and an assumption of your guilt. In some places, children may be treated the same as adults. For these and other reasons, minorities, both adults and children, can feel unsafe with and unprotected by police officers.
Alabama’s History of Racism in Police Departments
Long before the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and the 2020 protests against police brutality, the state of Alabama had seen decades of police brutality toward minorities. For example, in 1961, the Birmingham Police Commissioner used the Klu Klux Klan to attack Freedom Riders as they bussed through Alabama. Two years later, in 1963, the Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety used police dogs to attack children demonstrating against segregation. Because of this history, cities like Birmingham and Selma have been stained by racism and police violence.
By admitting to mistakes and by changing police leadership and policies, Alabama has made some effort to improve its treatment of minorities. But a state cannot make these changes without addressing the root of the problem.
The Question of Racism in Police Departments
According to the ACLU, a research poll in 2017 found that two-thirds of police officers across the United States believed minority killings during police encounters were outlying incidents and did not indicate a problem with racism in police departments. This means that one-third of police officers polled believed racism was a factor in minority killings during police encounters. It is only by admitting mistakes that we can correct them. Until a majority of police officers admit the problem, it will be difficult to fix it.
Waiting for Police Reform
In the meantime, while communities wait for police reform, improved communications and interactions with police officers, and fairer treatment by the courts, victims of police brutality will continue to be killed, injured, unfairly prosecuted and incarcerated, and marginalized by police departments and court systems.
Without an advocate who specializes in police brutality and Alabama law, many victims of these atrocities have gotten no satisfaction and no justice. It’s time for that to change.