Police Brutality: How Can We Combat Racist Systems?

By Betty Yirga 
Elm Staff Writer

Saheed Vassell, 34, a bipolar African-American man from Brooklyn, was fatally shot by police on Thursday, April 5. Vassell was holding a metal pipe that the police mistook for a gun after responding to a 911 call, according to Laura Dimon’s article in the New York Daily News.

Multiple witnesses from the shooting scene claimed that the police response of shooting Vassell nine times was unethical. “They just hopped out of the car. It’s almost like they did a hit. They didn’t say please. They didn’t say put your hands up, nothing,” a witness said in the article.

This is not the first police shooting incident that has made the front pages. Police brutality and misconduct that involves excessive violence has become very common in the United States. The great majority of victims that have been subjected to police brutality are African American.

Considering the case of Vassell, African-Americans have been subjected to police brutality more than other races. Forms of police brutality vary from torture, to harassment, to murder, to mistreatment, to intimidation, to verbal and emotional abuse.

A major reason why African-Americans are subject to police brutality is anti-black racism among members of predominantly white police departments. Rookie officers try to adopt the values and practices of the group, which is infused with anti-black racism, to seek success, acceptance, and promotion.

Racism is a system that needs to be eliminated with massive effort from both society and the government. It is evident we have a long way to go to end this awful system and stop depriving people of their humanity. It is crucial for individuals to take action against this issue by shedding light on the violence and injustice towards African-Americans in the United States criminal justice system.

Recognition of the unique and multifaceted ways that individuals encounter racism simultaneously with gender, class, national origin, religion, and other forms of discrimination is necessary for understanding how diverse individuals and groups exercise, resist, and organize to dismantle systems of oppression.

Moreover, when it comes to a social justice issue such as racism, revealing and challenging the stigmatization that is deeply implanted in social norms is essential. Every individual in a society should be represented and be able to advocate on their own behalf.

Likewise, advocacy for social justice must include mechanisms for increasing public participation in the process of policy making, monitoring, and implementation to hold democratic governments responsible.

People on the margins are forced into their lower status and value by the larger society around them. Recognizing individual rights means being able to create conditions under which individuals can stop being seen as objects upon which government officials and others that have more power can act, or often fail to act. They can instead become active participants in political processes in order to eliminate racism in the U.S. and prevent police brutality incidents like what happened to Vassell.

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