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Why Police Might Want to Listen to Community Stories About Police Violence

04 September 2015 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist

On September 5, families, friends and supporters of people impacted by law enforcement excessive use of force will gather to share stories at “No More Tears: Stories of Police Violence.” Justice4Dillon

In addition to high profile cases of community members killed by police, the audience will hear countless other stories that involve some other experience of excessive force, short of death, that left everyday Utahns feeling disrespected, afraid, confused and sometimes seriously injured.

These stories are hard to hear – but it is important that they be heard nonetheless. Police in precincts across the U.S. often engage in aggressive and selective enforcement of nonviolent infractions, and these tactics have painful, enduring consequences for families and communities. They are a persistent reality, in particular, for low-income communities, people of color, and vulnerable populations such as the homeless and people with mental health issues.

Just last month, the state of Utah released its first-ever “Law Enforcement Transparency Annual Report,” now required by a new law sponsored by Sen. Diedre Henderson (R-Spanish Fork) and Rep. Eric Hutchings (R-WestValley) and passed in large part by the hard work of the ACLU of Utah, Libertas Institute and other partners.

That law, SB185, and others related to deployment of tactical teams, were, sadly, inspired by the Ogden home raid that led to the death of one hard-working police officer…and eventually, the suicide of the man whose home was the target of that raid

The Transparency report revealed that 559 reported “tactical group” deployments occurred in 2014 in Utah (and that’s with only 75% of law enforcement agencies reporting). Of those deployments that resulted in forcible entry into someone’s home or business, the vast majority were for drugs. When the figures were released in mid-August, Utah – the first state to require such a report – made the national news.

Reports like this one help us begin to understand the scope of police militarization in our state. But the statistical data fall short of illustrating how this trend has devastating impacts on the lives of real people. To fill in the gaps in our understanding, we really do need to listen to the stories of people who have been hurt by police use of force.

Over the past several decades, police officers have been empowered to use violent means such a tasers, chokeholds, and other unnecessarily forceful mechanisms when they interact with the communities they serve. This endangers the people who encounter police officers, the people who happen to be nearby, and the police officers themselves.

It also destroys the respect and trust that police and community members must have for one another, in order for all of us to live safely and peacefully together.

Rather than feel defensive about the stories shared at “No More Tears” and similar events, police could consider such information to be valuable feedback they can use to make their tactics more effective, more respectful, and more protective of their own lives as well as the lives of the people they serve.

After all, police leaders in Utah have expressed a desire for the same thing that people who are afraid of the police are asking for: community-police partnerships that emphasize equity, fairness, dignity and public safety, all to prevent tragic “Stories of Police Violence” from happening again.