Black and Blue
If 2015 was the year the issue of police violence finally came screaming back into the public consciousness, 2016 was the year we simply could not ignore it. Which in some ways is a good thing — greater awareness leads to more voices that lead to more questions that hopefully someday lead to more solutions and greater understanding and all that stuff.
But this was 2016, which, true to form, decided to crap all over even the slightest of silver linings. This was a year that underscored, and in many ways seemed to fortify, the divisions between communities of color, which often bear the brunt of over-zealous policing, and a police force that feels increasingly under attack.
A steady clip of videos featuring unarmed black men dying at the hands of police (Keith Lamont Scott, Terence Crutcher, Philando Castile) triggered even more nationwide protest in 2016, even as mistrials in Ohio and North Carolina revealed what little such damning video evidence can even accomplish in a justice system that at times seems incapable of holding police accountable for their actions. It was the year a lone gunman targeted cops at a Dallas Black Lives Matter protest, killing five and wounding seven; the gunman, who’d been kicked out of the Army and blacklisted by black power groups, reportedly told police that he was upset about recent police shootings before they robot-bombed him to end the deadly standoff. It was the year someone ambushed and executed a beloved San Antonio police detective (who was, by all accounts, a shining example of we want a modern police officer to be) in broad daylight outside the local police headquarters (the suspect now says he was angry about a child custody dispute and “lashed out at somebody who didn’t deserve it”). The same year a San Antonio police officer shot and killed Antronie Scott because he thought his cell phone was a gun.
This year was also when we got a glimpse of how hard it will be to pass even minor police reforms on the local level. Earlier this year, more than 90 percent of local police union members voted they no longer had confidence in San Antonio Police Chief William McManus to lead their department because he fired the officer who killed Scott (before reversing course and allowing him to stay on the force, that is) and dared to consider reforms for police use of force. The mayor’s office ultimately hammered out, and the majority of city council approved, a new contract with a police union that had refused to even consider police reforms at the negotiating table – including rules baked into the agreement that effectively cover up officer misconduct after enough time has passed, rules that remain untouched in the city’s new five-year deal with the union.
As 2016 draws to a close, local police reform activists have already started to drop out of a task force convened by Mayor Ivy Taylor to bridge the gap between law enforcement and a disaffected community that desperately needs good policing right now. For many, we end 2016 with a better understanding of the roadblocks ahead, but only the haziest idea how to move forward. — MB