REFLECT: Police Killings Surpass the Worst Years of Lynching

The task of the current movement -- like the movements against lynching and the death penalty before it -- is to challenge, with patience and unyielding pressure, the boundaries of what is morally acceptable and to ensure that the struggle for racial equality continues its long march forward.

By Jerome Karabel - Huffington Post 

Video cameras have transformed how we view police killings. First, there was the horrifying homicide in July 2014 of Eric Garner, placed in a choke-hold for selling loose cigarettes and denied medical assistance for several long minutes despite pleading "I can't breathe" eleven times. Then there was the shocking slaying in April 2015 of Walter Scott, stopped for a non-functioning third brake light and shot in the back in broad daylight while running away from the police. Most recently, there was the fatal shooting this July of Samuel Dubose, stopped for a missing front license plate and shot in the head while attempting to drive away. In all three cases -- two of them caught by citizen videos and the third by police camera -- the victims were African-American.

In the wake of these events and protests that have done so much to focus public attention on them, our knowledge of police killings has rapidly expanded. So, too, has the issue's political salience. The videos -- and the outrage that followed -- helped ignite the most powerful civil rights movement since the 1960s. Thanks to this movement, the issues of police killings and mass incarceration are now squarely on the public agenda.

Like the movements against lynching, state-sanctioned segregation and the death penalty before it, today's movement is part of a centuries-long struggle for racial justice. These movements have repeatedly challenged the taken-for-granted practices of the day and redefined them, step-by-step, as no longer morally acceptable. As I will discuss below, this pattern describes the struggle that led to the decline and ultimate elimination of lynching, and it captures as well the ongoing fight against the death penalty that may well culminate in its abolition. Today's movements aim at a similar transformation: to define routine police killings and mass incarceration -- practices now taken for granted as normal features of American life -- as neither normal nor morally acceptable. READ MORE

Photo: A cell phone video image showing Police Officer Michael Slager firing at Walter Scott; North Charleston, South Carolina, April 2015.