I didn’t want to write this column.
I have tried my very best not to involve myself in the racial tensions and social unrest that has escalated between our nation’s police force and a large population of African Americans and other minority groups.
I have made a conscious effort to steer clear of discussions on the unrest in Charlotte and I have made a point of remaining neutral on the individual cases of police shootings — at least in public.
I was wrong.
Recently, I have come to the realization that I have to involve myself because I am involved. This is my country too and what affects one group ultimately affects us all. When you see an injustice and do nothing, you are just as guilty as those committing it.
Silence equals complicity. And in this, I refuse to be complacent.
I can’t look the other way when unarmed black men are gunned down by police who “feel threatened” and I refuse to curb my opinion any longer for the sake of the little white toes that may be stepped upon.
Y’all — and I say this in my best Southern accent, which is tricky ‘cause I’m from Michigan — this has got to stop.
Cops have got to stop shooting people. Just stop. For real — because this whole country is about one more shooting away from being completely up in arms.
You can’t tell me that when you saw the video of Charles Kinsey, the caregiver of a man with Autism, laying flat on his back on the sidewalk — arms raised — shouting to the heavens (and anyone else within earshot) that his charge had a toy truck and not a gun and was shot anyway it didn’t give you pause.
It was actually the turning point for me.
Thankfully, Kinsey survived. No thanks to the officer who answered “I don’t know!” when Kinsey asked, bleeding, “Why did you shoot me?”
It’s not the officer’s fault. Had the (unnamed) officer been properly trained to handle the situation, would it even have happened? I’m guessing no.
Police officers have a much lower threshold for using deadly force than, say, the military. Whereas soldiers have to follow rules of engagement — even when dealing with foreign enemy combatants — here at home, if an officer “feels threatened” he (or she) can open fire.
But there’s a serious problem with that kind of logic. And if these officers are afraid to the point where they feel the need to take an unarmed man’s life — then they are one of two things: They are improperly trained, or they are in the wrong line of work.
It is a frightening thing to think that in many police departments, a high school diploma or a GED is good enough to get you hired on. And as crazy at that sounds — I’m not making that stat up: The FBI states that “research estimated that less than 1 percent of all local law enforcement agencies require a 4-year degree.”
Good grief. You need more education than that to manage a fast food restaurant.
Before you all freak out, no, I don’t think police officers are specifically “targeting” black men. After all, no one wants to be involved with the next fatal shooting that goes viral on social media.
What I do think is that when you have a bunch of uneducated, poorly trained people in highly stressful situations — it’s going to go sideways more often than not.
And to the critics who would accuse me of being anti-police, that’s just not true. I believe you can respect officers of the law, be appreciative of their work and still demand they be held accountable when they screw up royally. These things aren’t — in a civilized society, can’t be — mutually exclusive.
It’s not entirely hopeless.
Here in Pickens County several of the local police departments have made a point of reaching out into the minority communities to solidify relations. Sheriff Clark has participated in countless community forums and held informal “Town Hall” type meetings to help ensure what has happened in Ferguson, in Charlotte, in Dallas, in Cleveland and in Tulsa — doesn’t happen here.
There’s no doubt about it, cops have a rough and often thankless job. But as long as this society demands that they be treated with an elevated level of respect, then it must follow that they are held (and that they hold themselves) to a higher standard.
Kasie Strickland is a staff writer for The Easley Progress and The Pickens Sentinel and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.