Police, community and race

By DJ VINING

KENNESAW, Ga. – Law enforcement has recently come under heavy fire for its actions and methods of interacting with those who break the law.

What needs to be done about police officers and their use of deadly force? What are the pros and cons of police having body-worn cameras? What needs to be done about police officers who mistreat African-Americans in our communities?

Tough questions like these require tough answers, and they were answered Monday in a panel discussion at Kennesaw State University. The panel consisted of speakers who have studied criminal justice and the community.

This is such a timely issue in our community. The Black Lives Matter movement is a perfect example of why something like this needs to be discussed.

Panel members Dr. Carolyn Carlson (left), Marcus Coleman (center), and Dr. Richard Hutchinson (right) (Photo by D.J. Vining)
Panel members Dr. Carolyn Carlson (left), Marcus Coleman (center), and Dr. Richard Hutchinson (right) (Photo by D.J. Vining)

One of the hot topics in this discussion was on the use of deadly force with police officers. With all of the riots that broke out due to deadly force incidents, like in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, it is a very powerful issue.

Community activist Marcus Coleman responded to the use of deadly force by police.

“Yes, in extreme situations, absolutely, deadly force can be necessary,” Coleman said. “But when you see the disparities in the actual lives that were being victimized by this deadly force, it should raise caution.”

But, Coleman said, sometimes deadly force is used when it shouldn’t be.

“If an officer is talking to a mentally ill individual, that they know is the case, this individual is wielding a knife, and there are six plus officers that are surrounding him, there is absolutely no need to open fire and kill that individual,” Coleman said. “If you can’t handle that situation, then you need to find a new profession.”

Another topic in the discussion was about privacy and the use of body cameras being worn by officers.

Moderator Dr. Peter Fenton, a criminal justice professor, says that President Barack Obama recently approved for body cameras to be worn by police officers in an attempt to provide more transparency for police behavior and to lessen police misbehavior.

Dr. Carolyn Carlson, a communication professor, led the panel on the topic of body cameras.

“Everybody is on their best behavior when a camera is involved,” Carlson said. “When the officers tell the people they encounter they’re being recorded, they act better, the officer acts better, the public acts better.”

Carlson also made everyone aware that they have the right to record with their own device whatever they want, whenever they want. Police officers cannot make someone stop recording. The most they can do is tell that person to back away. Carlson encouraged everyone to practice this right when they have the opportunity.

The discussion came to a close with what should be done about law enforcement and the treatment of minorities, in this case African-Americans. Dr. Richard Hutchinson, a sociologist, gave a simple answer, which was that certain police officers need to change their discriminatory policy. He used the example of African-Americans being pulled over because of their race.

“If there’s no reason to believe that someone has committed a crime and all they’re doing is driving while black,” he said. “That’s not a sufficient reason to pull them over.”

Final solutions by each panel member were proposed to the audience to wrap up the discussion. Coleman said it best with his final statement.

“Police training reform, prison reform, grand jury reform,” Coleman said. “Panels like this who have similar views and views that are not so similar, it takes those of us to be able to sit down and effectively implement policy that makes this place a safer place for liberty and justice for all, instead of just some.”

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