Charlotte, September 22, 2016. More murder, more anger, more confrontation between police in riot gear and protesters in the Queen City, the place my daughter and I call home. This is the city my neighbors have cherished for its easygoing manners, its kindness and conviviality.
Now we have the death of another black man, 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott, and yet another man, Justin Carr, 26, murdered in two more days of protests and violence.
Let’s look at the facts. American culture enshrines guns, along with the power of police to use them in split-seconds of uncertainty and terror. As of July 2016, US police killed at least 194 black people, according to The Guardian, the British newspaper. Given the fact that African-Americans constitute 13.3% of the US population, they are shot and killed by police at 2.5 times the rate of whites (W. Lowrey, The Washington Post, July 11, 2016).
What do we make of this? Gun laws — and police training — need transformation.
Every American police officer, from the moment of application to entry into the force, should be screened, vetted, equipped with non-lethal weapons and retrained to learn tactics other than a panicked trigger finger. Retraining means early orientation and familiarity with neighborhood streets and communities — and forming alliances of cooperation within communities to help assess risk and danger.
When police are antagonistic, power hungry, bigoted, terrified, and incapable of tolerating stress, they need reassignment or a new job altogether. Lethal handguns, both for US citizens and the vast majority of police officers, should disappear.
Guns are fiercely restricted in Japan, England, Canada, and a handful of other countries, and in the UK, Republic of Ireland, Norway, and New Zealand, regular police officers don’t carry lethal weapons (specially trained divisions do). Result? Very low homicide rates committed either by police or citizens. By contrast, the US homicide rate is 25 times higher than in any other high-income country. (Thanks, NRA).
Bottom line: We need community-police arbitration and reconciliation, bi-lateral disarmament, and a new commitment to protect precious lives. Regular police should be equipped and trained in the use of a new generation of non-lethal weapons. Given the numbers of horrific mistakes being made, in Charlotte and other cities, shooting to kill (and claiming it’s okay to do so) is no longer an option.