Can’t You Hear Us?

“It’s time we stop / Hey, what’s that sound? / Everybody look know what’s going down…”

Steven Stills and Buffalo Springfield (1966)

There is a hard truth that needs to be understood among the ranks of our nation’s police.

It’s this, As long as police use the threat of deadly force as a way to gain compliance, they will always be seen as untrustworthy extensions of Jim Crow to most black Americans.

This reality will never change unless the number of persons killed by police each year is greatly reduced.

George Floyd’s death may have been the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” Only the coming years will tell. But improving police will be dependent on police (and the rest of white society) effectively responding to the question, “When will you stop killing us?”

Police leaders today must answer this question which has reverberated on the streets of America since the summer of 2014 when Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, MO and has yet to be answered.

It was after Ferguson that we learned the exact number of persons killed by police each year was much greater than that which was reported by police agencies to the FBI. It was also the time when deaths by police began to be counted by journalists. Those numbers (approx, 1,000 annually and approximately 1/3 people of color) have been relatively unchanged over the past six years.

This question from black American must be answered, “When will you stop killing us!” Why is it are we not answering it?

Since Ferguson, police have heard this cry and know that the answer lies in raising the bar as to when deadly force will be used. Yet, for the most part, silence remains. This question needs an immediate, honest, and accountable response. No longer can individual police agencies and their leaders ignore this important question which will greatly affect our nation’s future.


As a former police leader, I feel compelled to offer an answer. Here are some immediate steps that police leaders must take:


1. “I HEAR YOU!” Publicly announce that you and members of the police department hear this question from black America and are now taking the following steps in order to answer this question.

2. RAISE THE DEADLY FORCE STANDARD. Raise the standard (by policy) to “absolute necessity” (the current standard in the European Union to highlight the department’s commitment to protecting life. See summary below).

3. DE-ESCALATE AND GET RID OF DANGEROUS PRACTICES. Undertake intensive training focussed on conflict management, de-escalation, and less-than-deadly methods to control violent persons. (This means banning “chokeholds,” shooting at fleeing vehicles, and placing strict controls on “no-knock” search warrants.)

4. PEER INTERVENTION. Require Peer Intervention and a moral commitment to step in when a colleague is violating law or department policy, or about to embarrass him or herself.

5. RESPECT, RESPECT, R-E-S-P-E-C-T! The quality of policing can be measured by the respect shown to citizens when they encounter a police officer. Officers who are Emotionally Intelligent, practice Procedural Justice, and are able to demonstrate care for others are essential to effectively policing a society such as ours.

6. GET REAL WITH COMMUNITY-ORIENTED POLICING. Make bold steps in the Community-Oriented Policing model to listen, get closer to, and work with, those the department serves.

7. MONITOR AND REPORT SUCCESSES. Monitor your effectiveness in re-building community trust through an on-going and real-time feedback system such as OpenPolicing.org.

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The right to life: Article 2,
European Convention on Human Rights

Article 2 of the Convention protects the right to life. It comprises three main requirements: (i) a prohibition on unlawful killing by State agents; (ii) a duty to investigate suspicious deaths; and (iii) a positive obligation, in certain circumstances, to take steps to prevent an avoidable loss of life.

The full text of Article 2 is as follows:

  1. Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. No
    one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the
    execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction
    of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law.
  2. Deprivation of life shall not be regarded as inflicted in
    contravention of this article when it results from the use
    of force which is no more than absolutely necessary:
    (a) in defence of any person from unlawful violence;
    (b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent
    escape of a person lawfully detained;
    (c) in action lawfully taken for the purpose
    of quelling a riot or insurrection.