By Jennifer Riley-Collins, Executive Director and Charles B. Irvin, Legal Director
Last year, we co-sponsored the “Not Here, Never Again” event on the anniversary of the birth of Emmitt Till. We held the event in the wake of the court’s decision in George Zimmerman trial for the killing of Trayvon Martin. We wanted the opportunity to educate our youth regarding how to respond when encountering the police. We trained these youth on their rights because we were determined that senseless deaths of our youth at the hands of persons acting under the color of law would not happen here.
We recognized that this was not the first time a young person’s life was stolen at the hands of law enforcement. We can easily recall Oscar Grant killed in Fruitvale Station; Henry Glover was shot to death and his body was burned by New Orleans police officers following Hurricane Katrina;Amadou Diallowas shot and killed by New York City police officers while unarmed. Mississippi has seen its own share of police misconduct which resulted in the death of thriving young men. In May 1970, two young men Phillip Gibbs and James Green were killed by the police in what is referred to as the Jackson State killings. In February 2006, Jessie Williams died of traumatic brain injury after he was beaten by a jailer in Harrison County. And on Monday, May 5, 2014, another young man, Justin Griffin, had his life taken at the hands of a law enforcement officer abusing his authority.
What happened to “protect and serve”? This motto is how we are expected to think about the officers who serve us. Did they forget? Increasingly, nationwide trends suggest that while most officers are protecting and serving, we are in a different space of “aggressive policing.” And in this space, more and more citizens are having their rights and freedoms violated. On a state by state basis, 22 states currently have a police misconduct rate above the US average of 977.98 per 100k. Mississippi is in the top five by geographic distribution. This is alarming when you consider the makeup of law enforcement around the state. Mississippi is comprised of a majority of small forces by county and municipality.
Over aggressive policing is akin to a micro-organism leading to unhealthy returns, such as the misuse of force. The Courts have also weighed in on the effects of over aggressive policing. “It is a serious intrusion upon the sanctity of the person, which may inflict great indignity and arouse strong resentment, and it is not to be undertaken lightly,” Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 17 (1967). Despite this reality, instead of “not here, never again” we find ourselves saying “here we are yet again.”
The government’s failure to hold officers accountable for misconduct or excessive use of force has endowed officers with a sense of impunity. Mississippi’s government must intervene to ensure constitutional and human rights in Mississippi are protected. Government leaders need to prioritize better training, supervision, control, and monitoring of officers’ use of force to ensure all Mississippians are safe from unlawful police violence and free to exercise their First Amendment rights.
For more information on what to do if you're stopped by the police, visit our Know Your Rights page.