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Southerland Reflects on the History of Police Violence and Offers Possible Solutions

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

In the aftermath of the Ferguson grand jury decision not to indict Police Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Black teenager Michael Brown, LDF Senior Counsel Vincent Southerland puts police violence in historical context and offers ways to break free from its persistence in law enforcement in an op-ed penned in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Addressing the scourge of police violence

Once again, unsurprisingly, justice has proven elusive. The grand jury’s failure to indict police officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting Michael Brown is the latest chapter in a tragic saga that began with the death of an unarmed, black teenager at the hands of a white police officer.

America’s past — not some rogue police officer, or racist bogeyman — bears the brunt of the blame for this current state of affairs. Nearly two-and-a-half centuries ago, this country was founded on ideals like equality, freedom and tolerance. Yet, racial bondage rooted in a pernicious presumption of inhumanity and inferiority was the order of the day in 1776. And while slavery is now a very distant memory, its residue — that wrongheaded presumption of inhumanity and inferiority — has cast a long and unyielding shadow that informs the attitudes and behaviors of all people, both consciously and subconsciously. Until we uproot and discard those foundational beliefs, we will remain prisoners of America’s past.

Time and again, that same presumption of inhumanity and inferiority has infected American policy. When people are not seen as human, but rather as “less than,” it becomes very easy to do all manner of things to them. That is what happened to those brutalized or killed by police. That is why, in America, we continue to assign benefits and burdens along the fault line of race.

Read the full op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.