Thanks in large part to the African American vote, Democrats have taken the House of Representatives, and though there are many issues they must use their new majority to address, none is more important than policing.
Police hold life and death in their hands, and when they do their jobs honorably and without bias, they represent the height of public service. But when they are driven by corruption and racism, police are a danger to every American — and African Americans, in particular. Blacks are 2.5 times as likely as our white counterparts to be shot and killed by police, and for young black men, the danger is even more acute. They are 21 times as likely as their white counterparts to be shot dead by police.
That truth was hammered home early Sunday morning when a 26-year-old black security guard who was licensed to carry a gun was shot dead by police at a suburban Chicago bar. The guard, Jemel Roberson, clad in clothing marked with the word, "Security," was holding a suspect at gunpoint when police arrived. But, according to witnesses, an officer shot Roberson even as people in the crowd tried to tell officers that Roberson was a security guard who worked for the bar.
Unfortunately, Roberson's story is not unique. His is yet another chapter in the ongoing saga that is police brutality in the black community. Linked by hashtags and social media outrage, the names of black victims cry out from the grave. Alton Sterling, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Philando Castile. The list is seemingly endless, and so is the specter of police brutality.
But if Democrats claim to believe in racial justice, they must go beyond the half-hearted rebukes they typically deliver about police brutality in black communities. They must stop allowing criticism of bad policing to be painted as a stand against all policing. Instead, Democrats must stand for the principles they claim to hold so dear.
That means Democrats must use their new House majority to protect the people from the kind of discriminatory police practices that cost black people their lives. So perhaps while Democrats are holding hearings about the president's treatment of corporate entities like Amazon and the Washington Post, they could also hold hearings to determine why African Americans are more likely to face police brutality than their white counterparts.
Perhaps while House Democrats are introducing legislation to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia, Democrats can also introduce federal legislation to address police brutality.
Those on the other side aren't waiting to make their move. They're working to protect bad cops right now.
On Tuesday in Philadelphia, the Fraternal Order of Police filed suit against Mayor Kenney, District Attorney Larry Krasner, and Police Commissioner Richard Ross. The police union claims in the suit that Kenney, Krasner, and Ross failed to give sufficient due process to officers who are placed on the district attorney's "do not call" list. The list is meant to keep officers off the witness stand who have been accused of serious misconduct or who have been charged with lesser offenses, sometimes while off duty.
The suit said that officers' reputations were ruined when they were placed on the "do not call" list. That confused me, since the officers already had bad reputations, and that's why they were placed on the list in the first place.
But the protections for bad policing don't end with the actions of local police unions. Last week, just before Trump fired him as attorney general, Jeff Sessions penned a memo to severely limit the use of consent decrees to make police departments stop abusive practices.
Consent decrees — court-monitored agreements between the Justice Department and local police departments meant to stop patterns of abuse — were used to great effect by the Obama administration. Fourteen departments across the country had entered into the agreements and were working to change past patterns of abuse.
Sessions obviously believed it was more important to protect police from facing the consequences of abusive behavior than it was to protect citizens from being abused.
Bad cops have friends in high places. But now that the Democrats have taken the House with the help of black voters, we have friends in high places, too.
The question now is a simple one: Will Democrats use their House majority to address the life-and-death issue that is police brutality, or will they once again leave black voters twisting in the wind?