Heartbreaker in Birmingham

Jack Bernard, a retired SVP with a large national healthcare firm, has worked extensively with hospitals across the nation regarding cost containment and insurance. He was also the first Director of Health Planning for the state of Georgia.

“The police in New York City,
They chased a boy right through the park,
And in a case of mistaken identity,
The put a bullet through his heart”
~ Rolling Stones, “Heartbreaker”

 

I have a friend who is with the Newton County Sheriff’s Office. I like and respect him. That is one reason that it was so disturbing a few months ago to see a gentle, small of stature black teenager manhandled by Covington police over taking a Snickers bar from a broken school vending machine.
Manhandling of black males by law enforcement seems to take place regularly. Worse, unjustifiable police shootings of African-American men and boys are common occurrences everywhere in the USA, not just in Georgia. Our neighboring state of Alabama, where I have friends and relatives, is one of the worst offenders and is a cautionary tale for Georgia.
The last major incident was the murder at the Riverchase Galleria in Hoover, AL of 21-year-old Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford Jr., an African-American whose father reportedly worked for the Birmingham Police Department as a jailer.
Bradford had a pistol, which he was licensed to carry, at the time of the shooting, but was shot in the back. Contrary to earlier reports, he had nothing to do with the original shots fired at the mall which wounded two others.
On the broader issue of gun control, multiple gun injuries/fatalities are nothing new to Alabama (or Georgia, where the Legislature keeps loosening regulation). According to a recent report (VOX), Alabama has had 40 mass shootings since 2013.
Questionable police shootings of black men, often when they have no weapon, are nothing new in many states. However, of the 50 states Alabama had the fourth highest rate of African American deaths (7.35 per million) by law enforcement, almost 50 percent higher than white shootings (per “Mapping Police Violence”).
From 2013-2016, 303 unarmed African-Americans were shot and killed by police. Women accounted for just 25 of these deaths. These shootings of black men by police are often unjustifiable, as the many videos over the last few years have shown us. The underlying questions is “why?”
Lancet is a respected British academic medical journal. A research study regarding police shootings was published in Lancet (6-21-18), based on a survey of nearly 39,000 African-Americans.
Per Lancet: “Police killing black Americans is one of the oldest forms of structural racism in the USA. The act traces its roots to slavery.”; “There is strong evidence of systematic targeting of black Americans by police in the identification of criminal suspects, as well as in their prosecution, conviction, and sentencing in the criminal justice system.”
There are two interrelated but separate problems here which need to be addressed by Alabama (and by Georgia): Police violence against black citizens and guns in the hands of people who should not have them, permitting them to commit crimes as they did at the Riverchase
Galleria. Contrary to what some (like the NRA) would have you believe, we can take actions to improve upon both situations, if not prevent each occurrence of gun related violence.
First, police must receive basic training to understand the history of minorities in the USA and their interactions with police. Bad apples must be weeded out at the Police Academy level. Training for experienced law enforcement officers must occur on a recurring basis. Targeting of black residents via profiling must be stopped. There is a reason why only 35 percent of black respondents believe that police are doing a good job compared to 75 percent of whites (PEW, 2016). Confidential reporting instances of police racial bias should be facilitated. Finally, when instances of police brutality are discovered, appropriate punishment must be netted out.
On the broader issue of gun control, State legislation is needed to prohibit anyone who cannot buy beer from buying a weapon, strengthen background checks, restrict where people can carry guns, increase funding for community mental health programs, outlaw same-day sales with no background checks at gun clubs, and outlaw excessively large magazines and automatic rifles.
If Alabama residents want to lessen unjustifiable police brutality and the use of guns by criminal elements, they will vote for elected officials who endorse the above. The same can be said for Georgia, although the problem is not nearly as bad here. The alternative is to do nothing and see violence increase.

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