The latest killing by Inglewood Police spawned predictable outrage. But like too many others, 27-year-old Marcus Smith’s death is shrouded with troubling questions and contentiousness. Contributing systemic and policy factors are frequently overlooked or minimized, and sustainable remedies are rhetoric, not reality.
Inglewood’s police chief, mayor and city council appear bound by an inexplicable code of silence and insist that they cannot comment on pending investigations. Not true. They can and should communicate shareable information on high profile cases. Addressing the killings would convey a sensitivity to residents’ anxieties and desire for sound information. People understand that public officials cannot say anything that would compromise pending investigations.
Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi is with the Families for Community Safety Campaign. He is also a community organizer and has written about police/community relations and police abuse in communities of color. The following are excerpts from his writings on police killings:
“We must remember that the issue at hand is police accountability and, therefore, reject the premise that we have no right to demand that police officers who commit murder go to jail. Examples of officers being excused who commit crimes have become so common that law enforcement agencies act as if murder is legal if committed by a police officer. Not only do officers who commit crimes get excused for perpetuating violence in vulnerable communities, they are often rewarded for their acts through transfers to other assignments or law enforcement agencies. These same officers are known to have subsequently terrorized other poor and marginalized communities by committing the same crimes over and over again. Due to interpretations of state law, the files of such officers are not open to the public, leaving community members unaware of possible murderers patrolling their streets.
“Furthermore, until police officers who commit murder go to jail, families will continue to grieve the senseless loss of loved ones, taxpayers will continue to pay multi-million dollar settlements to abused victims, and officers who want to genuinely serve the community will continue to pay for the deeds of rogue comrades.”
Kokayi addresses the latest police killing in Inglewood in his article, “Beyond Speeches and Tears”
“The Inglewood Police shooting of Marcus Smith was indeed a tragic event. Our condolences go out to his family who are grieving his loss. Whatever the circumstances behind the incident, we must all admit that law enforcement agencies throughout Los Angeles County have a long history of shooting, beating and killing Black and Latino people who are often unarmed, vulnerable and defenseless. In this respect, the Inglewood Police Department is not a unique or isolated example of racist policing. However, we must also acknowledge that the masses of our people –for better or worse–still depend on the police for protection. In fact, many of our folks want, and deserve more police patrols, timely responses by the police when called, and increased police presence at community meetings. (Some of our activists even get funding from police departments or law-enforcement related agencies. In short, getting the community support around substantive plans to reform policing is a daunting, yet essential task.)
“The police chief in Inglewood has the authority to fire an officer. As organizers, we must ask the people, “Should this be so?” In order for a police officer to be tried and sentenced for murdering an unarmed person, the district attorney must file charges and put together a strong case. Unfortunately, since the D.A. shares a relationship with local law enforcement, we must expose each and every onflict of interest and ask the people, “Should this be so?” All law enforcement officers in California receive tremendous protection from the California Police Bill of Rights. This makes it nearly impossible to fire or otherwise discipline an officer, even if he or she has a track record of abuse and misconduct. ‘Should this be so?’
“Instead of generic calls for justice, we must demand that the district attorney be more aggressive in prosecuting officers for murder and/or abuse; community boards be created that give taxpayers the power to hold officers paid by their tax dollars, accountable to the fullest extent (Inglewood’s Citizens Police Oversight Commission has no real power or authority to affect change in policy, procedures or personnel); the Police Bill of Rights must be eliminated and police officers must be equal under the law-not above it.
“I recognize that Blacks and Latinos are not just killed by law enforcement. However, nothing is more tragic than having a loved one who may have been murdered by someone who is shielded by the law, keep their job and never go to jail.”
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.