A national crisis requires a national response.
Sunday marks one year since unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. The local grand jury failed to indict that officer, Darren Wilson, for Brown’s death, and the Justice Department declined to bring criminal charges against him.
Here in New York, a county grand jury decided not to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner after he was placed in a chokehold that violates the NYPD’s own procedures. The Justice Department’s investigation into this case is still ongoing.
Since Garner and Brown’s tragic deaths, we have seen some incremental changes, but still no clear national solution. We cannot simply treat the symptoms of the problem; we must cure the disease.
As I return to Ferguson to join Brown’s parents, I cannot help but reflect upon where we are as a nation on this sobering anniversary.
I was in Ferguson last year and gave the eulogy for young Michael Brown at the request of his parents, and I remember the sense of loss and hopelessness that many in Ferguson felt after the death of another one of their citizens at the hands of those hired to protect and serve them.
In fact, the nation and the world then watched as demonstrators were met with a militarized response that left many of us in shock. It was as if a community was truly under siege.
The Justice Department conducted its own investigation later and concluded that there was a pattern of systemic racism in Ferguson’s police and judicial system. Those are facts.
What is not clear is how we as a country are going to address and resolve the issue of excessive police force and brutality on a national level. The Justice Department cannot independently investigate every single police department in every single locality — that is simply unfeasible.
But what we can and should do collectively is establish federal laws to address these concerns.
Body cameras for officers must be a requirement. Special independent prosecutors must be brought in for all officer-involved killings, and police departments must be systematically demilitarized. In order to repair police-community relations, we must remind law enforcement that they are serving a community of American citizens — not some war zone.
The problem is widespread. Since Brown’s life was cut short on that fateful August day, we have witnessed incident after incident, in communities all across the country, of unarmed black men and women dying at the hands of police. Video cameras do not lie, and information and social media isn’t keeping people in isolated communities any more.
If we truly want to keep this country progressing forward and leave a better society for our children, we must address this greatest challenge without delay.
I have always stated, and will continue to state, that not all police are bad — most are actually good. But when we pretend that there aren’t bad ones, or when we cover their sins, or when we look the other way, then we are doing a disservice to everyone.
A year after Garner and Brown’s deaths, we are left searching for a national resolution to a problem that has primarily plagued minority communities.
Elected officials must address this issue; Congress must take action and those running for office must give us their plans to tackle this very real concern.
We cannot leave grieving families to rely on police departments to investigate and prosecute themselves; we need outside intervention so that there is no conflict of interest, or appearance of a conflict of interest.
I often say justice delayed is justice denied. For the loved ones of police brutality, justice must be served from the top.
Sharpton is president of the National Action Network.
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