issues

How the Next President Can Help Repair Race Relations

Opal Tometi is the Executive Director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration and a Co-founder of Black Lives Matter.

'We must pursue systemic accountability'

Racism should be a core concern for all Americans, in every area of our lives. Implicit bias—our subconscious associations of race—­permeates everything that we do. And we must pursue systemic accountability to fix it. The next President must apply the lens of race to all core issues, including health care, immigration, jobs, criminal justice, climate change and education, and create a Cabinet-­level position dedicated to racial equality and justice.

More immediately, however, we must address the problems with race and policing. The killing of unarmed black people is the most egregious example of the dehumanization of black lives in the U.S., which has left too many black people devalued, disregarded and disposable. Here are four main steps the next President must take to address this.

First, we must defund police departments that have shown problems with racism. Police cannot be allowed to continue aggressive, violent and often unconstitutional policing with impunity. In 2017 the federal government will give approximately $4.2 billion to local police departments. The President has control of $1.6 billion of those funds through the awarding of a discretionary grant program and must use it to make a statement about our commitment to fair policing practices.

Second, we must enforce provisions of the Department of Defense’s 1033 program, which transfers surplus military equipment to police departments. Despite President Obama’s 2015 Executive Order limiting this process, the value of distributed equipment has increased, totaling $494 million so far in 2016. Not only is the use of military equipment unnecessary, it also sends a message to communities that local police are at war with black and brown people. Military-­grade equipment has been used across the country to violently quell peaceful protests and has resulted in a move toward aggressive policing practices like SWAT raids, of which there was a 1,566% increase from 1980 to 2014.

Third, we must investigate prosecutors. A study by the Guardian found that police killed 1,134 civilians in the U.S. in 2015, yet prosecutors charged officers with crimes in only 18 of the cases, and those numbers do not account for extralegal killings and daily incidents of brutality. The lack of accountability at all levels of government perpetuates the problem. Across the country, local prosecutors lock up members of black and brown communities at alarming rates for low-level, often non­violent offenses but too often refuse to hold accountable the police officers who are involved in the killing, harassing and abuse of those black and brown communities. Prosecutorial inaction perpetuates police violence and supports the current culture of impunity.

Finally, we must create a committee to address the long-standing discrimination against black people in America. The President should issue an Executive Order to establish a reparatory-­justice commission that will examine the lasting legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and mass criminalization.

Tometi is a co-founder of the #BlackLivesMatter Network and the executive director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration

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