One year ago today a Minneapolis Police Department press statement read: “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.” That man was George Floyd.
Six years ago a North Charleston Police Department officer claimed he feared for his life when he fired multiple bullets into the back of a man. That man was Walter Scott.
Earlier this year the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office “reported an unresponsive inmate at the detention center.” That man was Jamal Sutherland.
Jamal Sutherland, George Floyd, and Walter Scott should be alive today. We know their names despite the system’s best efforts to cover up or hide the truth. We know their names because their killings at the hands of law enforcement were caught on tape.
The same is not true for many of the approximately 1,000 people killed by police every year - an average of three people every day. And, that number does not include people like Jamal Sutherland, who are killed in our prisons and jails.
These videos have not only brought to light police brutality and violence, but also to the ways police misrepresent the truth. That’s why today we are releasing a free Mobile Justice App. This app enables people in the community to record and report police violence directly to the ACLU. It also empowers community members with information regarding their rights as well as important actions in your area.
In a just society, community members should not need to worry about carrying around a device to record police violence, but in reality police violence happens every day.
While this peoples’ body camera may help bring to light more police violence, we must be clear that this is not a solution to police violence. First, as the world witnessed following the police killing of Eric Garner, even video evidence is often not enough to ensure accountability. Second, while this app can help with police accountability, it cannot ensure justice.
Justice is what we are after. If the problem was “just a few bad apples,” then accountability may work. But, the actual causes of these deaths go beyond a few bad apples. They are the natural outcome of a policing system that systematically destroys Black lives and communities.
Policing in America began right here in Charleston as. It was a slave patrol. Since that time, policing has continued to serve as a tool to maintain America’s racial and economic hierarchy, from slavery, to convict leasing, to Jim Crow, to the war on drugs. Policing has become society’s “solution” to substance use, misbehaving children at school, unhoused people and, as we brutally witnessed in Mr. Sutherland’s case, people experiencing a mental health crisis.
All of the training, policies, and body cameras in the world cannot fix policing’s fundamental problem. Police have the power to use force and deprive people of their life and liberty. They cannot provide health care, treat substance use and mental illness, or provide housing or a living wage - the things that would truly enable people to live safe lives. To truly address the problem of police violence, we must drastically reduce the size, scope, and role of law enforcement in South Carolina. And, we must invest in the actual needs of the community, like trained crisis response teams and adequate mental health facilities.
But, as we work to fix the root causes of police violence and harm in our communities, we must also continue to hold individual officers accountable. That’s where the Mobile Justice App comes in.
Please download the ACLU of South Carolina Mobile Justice App from your Android or iPhone app store. Together, we will document police violence as we work to build communities that are safe and just for all.