Black power advocate Kwame Ture (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael) once said, “There are answers to the right questions.” In that spirit, consider the question seven-year-old Marissa of Montpelier, Vermont, one of America’s whitest states, asked weeks into a worldwide protest to end excessive force against black people: “I thought the police were supposed to keep us safe. I thought we were supposed to call them when we needed help. Now I'm wondering, who do we call when the police are being unsafe?”
What should we do when powerful institutions misuse their power? The question strikes not only at the heart of American law enforcement, but at the heart of American institutions nationwide—from police stations to schoolhouses to houses of worship. Who do we call when institutions entrusted to care for the most vulnerable cater instead to the racially powerful while ignoring demands for justice from the racially marginalized?
Unfortunately for Marissa from Montpelier, the answer from a former Philadelphia police chief proved inadequate:
Well, first, you let a grown up know what's going on so they can take action, because we don't need police officers doing things like some that you’ve seen on some of the videos that have been shown recently … police officers are there to help … don’t hesitate to let a grown up know so people like me, that used to be a police chief, can take action and do what we need to do to make sure that we only have police officers that are there to serve and protect people, not to harm people.
The chief’s tone confirmed a serious misconception when it comes to addressing racism. Too many Americans ...1
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