3 years ago, this week. The backdrop is the Trayvon Martin shooting in Sanford, Florida, where an unarmed black teenager was killed during an altercation with George Zimmerman. While it is very difficult to predict when something like this will happen, I believe it was predictable.
Today, every one of the 1,702 African American men killed by law enforcement officers — 137 by self-defense — is a “freedgedge,” a term invented by Stanford Law Professor Jennifer Eberhardt. Any shooting of an unarmed black man by police is a clear and present danger of these words. Especially when we are seeing this violence occurring on a more consistent basis in places like Chicago and the Bronx, we are inevitably going to be left with no other option but to declare an emergency. The problem in choosing the term “freedgedge” is that it needs to mean something. Most people I have talked to think the phrase is simply a buzzword that needs to be removed from our culture because there is nothing for it. What we really need is for the “freedges” to stop killing each other.
What we need is not new slogans, but better policies to address the deep rooted problems that are allowing these cases to keep happening. We need targeted mental health outreach programs in low income communities of color that provide better access to mental health treatment, comprehensive policing practices that target dangerous individuals, prevention-focused job training programs in these communities that provide employment for the most desperate individuals, and better enforcement to protect the rights of those who live in these communities.
When we can get all of these aspects in place and provide support for the people who are most vulnerable, we can eliminate these incidents. But unfortunately, most of these crisis actions—deportation, political boycotts, economic sanctions, and political demonstrations—have already been underway for years and we have seen little or no progress in the policy arena. There was a hot mic exchange in the White House, perhaps, but we still have no national plan to address the actual underlying causes of these problems.
The next time we speak of this epidemic we are hoping for a bit more hope.