We all start by believing the police. The man in uniform protecting us against the bad guys, whether black or white, carries a certain romantic appeal. Then, our experience either reinforces that vision or fails to do so.
In black communities, the situation is reversed. The police officer is viewed as an occupying force, a dangerous individual, who can arrest people based on a capricious standard, and send them away to jail. Reversing that image requires a proactive attempt to engage with law-abiding citizens and become known as a benificent ally.
In certain black communities, however, the police are not engaged in a proactive way and actually make their images worse. Those are the individuals who have driven the overriding story about police officers and youth of color. And it takes a whole lot of effort to change that.
Thank God, now, Cleveland has begun to do so. In an agreement with the Justice Department, the police department has agreed to systemic changes designed to codify a more productive relationship with all the citizens they exist to protect. Significantly, a civilian will head the internal affairs division. This idea seems like a long overdue transition. Just like a special prosecutor is hired for political malfeasance, this civilian will prevent the “blue wall” of silence in the face of police abuses.
Other steps in the far-reaching program apply as well. Officers are prohibited from using force if someone talks back to them or as punishment when they try to flee. They can’t “pistol whip” individuals and the use of stun guns will be strictly monitored. A special panel will review cases where the use of force is involved.
The program isn’t perfect, but it represents a recognition of the problem and a desire to change. And that’s all the protestors are really demanding.