By Sosamma Samuel-Burnett
Founder/President, G.L.O.B.A.L Justice; Fellow/Geopolitics & Global Justice, Centennial Institute
This week Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were shot and killed by police officers while they were being apprehended. Both were black men. While they are not the only people killed by police this year, they represent the next in a series of recent killings that have sparked political concern and racial outrage. The individual incidents have distinct sets of circumstances, but they also have certain key issues for review. The central issue is not so much whether the police officers has the right to use force, since in many of these instances they do. The issue is more whether the use of deadly force was necessary. And more precisely, the key issue is whether the race of the person being apprehended affected the police officers likelihood to use deadly force.
An estimated 505 people have died at the hands of police in 2016. Reportedly 122 or more of them were African-Americans. While I cannot say that all of these instances were without reason or without fault, I can say that whenever a single life is lost, it is worth mourning, especially when that loss is at the hands of an official of any capacity.
I appreciate and trust law enforcement in general and in their official capacity. But I also know that law enforcement is not without issues, particularly in areas where there is institutionalized poverty and concentrated numbers of racial groups. And while it is always difficult to be a police officer, and especially in the face of violence, it is also difficult to face a police officer within a community experiencing disparity and violence, sometimes at the hands of officials.
Indeed, we are surrounded by disparity and violence — physical, emotional, economic, social, political. It’s not just the lives lost that gauge this disparity and violence, but also the candidates we seek, the measures we pursue, and the tenor of our discourse. But the absence of violence does not ensure that we have peace or justice. And justice itself does not always ensure peace or equity. But justice does mean that we are seeking to do what is right.
We need to do what is right on issues of violence & disparity — physical, emotional, economic, social, political. What is right involves recognizing and stating the problem, valuing those affected by the problem, learning the roots of the problem, addressing the problem to ensure it does not continue, and working to educate our next generation to avoid the same problems in the future.
Issues of racial discrimination and systemic poverty are forms of disparity and violence that require that degree of recognition, thought, care, and action. And while we may not all have a shared understanding of what this means, we can have a shared commitment to doing what is right to alleviate these concerns. For that, I pray.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice. We are a faith-based, nonpartisan organization that seeks to extend the conversation about justice with a posture of dignity and respect.