After a police shooting, what can be done to heal a community? 


De’Von Bailey would have turned 20 on Sunday, Aug. 18. Instead, that day marked two weeks and one day since his death.

Bailey was killed by Colorado Springs Police on Aug. 3 after he ran away from officers who were questioning him in connection with a reported armed robbery. Officers fired what sounded like — at least from body cam videos — eight shots. Bailey was hit three times in the lower left side of his back and once in the right elbow. The bullets to the back penetrated his left lung, heart and spleen. Body cam video showed Bailey did have a gun.

Shortly after Bailey died, I had the opportunity to travel to Minneapolis to visit a friend. It seemed like a divine moment for reflection; I was in the area that made national headlines three years earlier because of the death of Philando Castile. Castile was unnecessarily shot by a frantic officer in Falcon Heights, just outside the metropolis, after being pulled over because of his apparent resemblance to a criminal suspect. Officer Jeronimo Yanez of the St. Anthony Police Department killed him in front of his girlfriend and 4-year-old daughter, after he told the officer he was (legally) carrying a gun.
It got me thinking: What do communities do to heal after deadly police shootings divide people? According to a July 2018 American Civil Liberties Union report, “Two years later, there is nothing reassuring to tell the hundreds of children at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School, where Castile worked for more than a decade.”

Castile was senselessly slain by an officer who was charged with one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm, but later acquitted on all charges. The ACLU has also detailed three 'unjustified' killings by Minneapolis Police Departments since Castile’s death.

The report goes on to say, “Families, friends, neighbors, and loved ones should not have to continually brace themselves for the next police shooting. Minnesota residents should not have to march in the streets demanding justice, only to have another member of their community shot.”

Activist DeRay Mckesson, a co-founder of Mapping Police Violence and Campaign Zero, says that it is the “little” policies that make a difference in police violence. For instance, how violence is tracked by departments, what the laws are around body cam footage, what complaint process is in place, and what policies govern how an officer properly decides to escalate force.

For instance, Colorado has no firm law about public access to police body cam footage. In Bailey’s case, the shooting was almost two weeks old before the footage was released to the public.

After its release, retired El Paso County Det. Mark Pfoff told Fox21 News, “It’s definitely not clear this is a good, legal shooting.”

Pfoff goes on to say the enhanced sound, freeze frames and law citations on the police-released body cam video seem set up to persuade.

“I don’t want to say manipulated, but it’s obvious to me they knew when they released these body cams, it wasn’t going to go well,” Pfoff told Fox21. “So they wanted to make their point, so they do the freeze frames. They actually put into the video the statute that they think justifies the shooting. So, to me, that does concern me — that they’re obviously trying to influence the community.”

Mckesson also says it’s troubling, from an accountability standpoint, that most “aggregate data on police violence comes from the press.” He’s referring to databases like the Washington Post’s on “fatal force.”

The lack of progress in reducing police brutality in Minneapolis led interested organizations to work together to produce MPD150, a collaborative report which looked at the history of violence in the Minneapolis Police Department and what it could do to make “meaningful structural change.” It suggested the department transfer “social service functions to community-based agencies and organizations,” replace its “emergency intervention functions with models not based on military methods,” and redirect its “resources to support community resilience and people-directed development.”

The bottom line is that people are not anti-police, but they also don’t want to fear that an encounter with the police may cost them their lives.

Something has to change.

Pikes Peak Community College supports conversations about diversity. To learn more, go to ppcc.edu/diversity.

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