[Meta: Is noise an appropriate list for this conversation? I hope so, but I take no offense if you immediately archive this message.]
I’ve been asked, what are you protesting for? Black lives matter, but what should we do about it, besides asking cops not to shoot people?
Well, I think there’s value in marching and protesting even without a specific goal. If you’ve been pushed to the edge for so long, you need some outlet for anger and frustration and I want to respect that and take part to demonstrate solidarity. I see good reason to have sympathy even for protesters taking actions I wouldn’t support.
As Jay Smooth puts it, "That unrest we saw […] was a byproduct of the injustice that preceded it." Or MLK, Jr: "I think that we've got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard."
If you’re frustrated with late-night protests that express that anger in ways that might include destruction of property, I encourage you to vote with your feet and attend daytime marches. I was very pleased to run into iSchool alumni at yesterday afternoon’s millions march in Oakland. Families were welcome and plenty of children were in attendance.
But I also think it’s completely reasonable to ask for some pragmatic ends. To really show that black lives matter, we must take action that decreases the number of these thoughtless deaths. There are various lists of demands you can find online (I link to a few below). But below I’ll list four demands I’ve seen that resonate with me (and aren’t Missouri-specific). This is what I’m marching for, and will keep marching for. (It is obviously not an exhaustive list or even the highest priority list for people who face this more directly than I; it's just my list.) If our elected and appointed government leaders, most of whom are currently doing nothing to lead or respond to the massive outpouring of popular demand, want there to be justice and want protesters to stop protesting, I believe this would be a good start.
* Special Prosecutor for All Deadly Force Cases
Media have reported extensively on the “grand jury decisions” in St. Louis County and in Staten Island. I believe this is a misnomer. Prosecutors, who regularly work very closely with their police colleagues in bringing charges, have taken extraordinary means in the alleged investigations of Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo not to obtain indictments. Bob McCullough in St. Louis spent several months presenting massive amounts of evidence to the grand jury, and presented conflicting or even grossly inaccurate information about the laws governing police use of force. A typical grand jury in such a case would have taken a day: presentation of forensic evidence showing several bullets fired into an unarmed man, a couple eyewitnesses describing the scene, that’s more than enough evidence to get an indictment on a number of different charges and have a proper public trial. Instead, McCullough sought to have a sort of closed door trial where Wilson himself testified (unusual for a grand jury), and then presented as much evidence as he could during the announcement of non-indictment in defense of the police officer. That might sound like a sort of fair process with the evidence, but it’s actually nothing like a trial, because we don’t have both sides represented, we don’t have public transparency, we don’t have counsel cross-examining statements and the like. If regular prosecutors (who work with these police forces every day) won’t actually seek indictments in cases where police kill unarmed citizens, states need to set a formal requirement that independent special prosecutors will be appointed in cases of deadly force.
States and municipalities should take measures so that their police forces are representative of the communities they police. We should be suspicious of forces where the police are not residents of the towns where they serve and protect or where the racial makeup is dramatically different from the population. In Ferguson, Missouri, for example, a mostly white police force serves a mostly black town, and makes significant revenue by extremely frequently citing and fining those black residents. Oakland has its own issues with police who aren’t residents (in part, I expect, because of the high cost of living here). But I applaud Oakland for running police academies in order to give the sufficient training to existing residents so they can become officers. Training might also be one way to help with racial disparities in policing. Our incoming mayor, Libby Schaaf, calls for an increase in “community policing”. I’m not sure why she isn’t attending and speaking up at these protests and demonstrating her commitment to implementing such changes in a city where lack of trust in the police has been a deep and sometimes fatal problem.
* The Right to Protest
Police must not use indiscriminate violent tactics against non-violent protesters. I was pleased to have on-the-ground reports from our colleague Stu from Berkeley this past week. The use of tear gas, a chemical weapon, against unarmed and non-violent student protesters is particularly outrageous. If our elected officials want our trust, they need to work on coordinating the activities of different police departments and making it absolutely clear that police violence is not an acceptable response to non-violent demonstration.
Did the Oakland PD really not even know about the undercover California “Highway” Patrol officers who were walking with protesters at a march in Oakland then wildly waved a gun at the protesters and media when they were discovered? Are police instigating vandalism and violence among protesters?
In St. Louis, it seemed to be a regular problem that no one knew who was in charge of the law enforcement response to protesters, and we seem to be having the same problem when non-Berkeley police are called in to confront Berkeley protesters. Law enforcement must make it clear who is in charge and to whom crimes and complaints about police brutality can be reported.
* Body Cameras for Armed Police
The family of Michael Brown has said:
Join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera.
This is an important project, one that has received support even from the Obama administration, and one where the School of Information can be particularly relevant. While it’s not clear to me that all or even most law enforcement officials need to carry firearms at all times, we could at least ask that those officers use body-worn cameras to improve transparency about events where police use potentially deadly force against civilians. The policies, practices and technologies used for those body cameras and the handling of that data will be particularly important, as emphasized by the ACLU. Cameras are no panacea — the killings of Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others have been well-captured by various video sources — but at least some evidence shows that increased transparency can decrease use of violence by police and help absolve police of complaints where their actions are justified.
Finally, here are some of the lists of demands that I’ve found informative or useful:
Millions March Demands, via Facebook
Millions March NYC Demands, via Twitter
MillionsMarchOakland Demands, via Facebook
I have valued so much the conversations I’ve been able to have in this intellectual community about these local protests and the ongoing civil rights struggle. I hope these words can contribute something, anything to that discussion. I look forward to learning much more.