Police violence and the deep-seated mistrust between Black communities and law enforcement are the key civil rights issues today.
Just as earlier generations demanded the right to vote without intimidation and that education and other services be provided equally between races, Black Americans today have taken to the streets seeking justice for those murdered and abused by law enforcement and to demand reform. Sadly, many recent efforts throughout the nation to rein in discriminatory and predatory abuses by police have made little progress.
Last year, elected state leaders took some needed steps to stem abuses. But despite efforts to include an end to qualified immunity so that police could be held to the same legal standards that all public servants must adhere to, that provision was deleted from the final legislation that was passed. We call for continued critical reforms and welcome such innovations as the All Lynn Emergency Response Team (“ALERT” program) instituted by the city of Lynn to offer an alternative response to mental health crises by mental health providers rather than law enforcement.
Here in New Bedford, official efforts to curtail excessive use of force by local police failed to implement any serious reform. And rather than take action to curtail the profiling of youth documented in the Citizens for Juvenile Justice, elected leaders disparaged the report, and no action was taken.
As always, problem solving begins with the community, as those closest to the harm should be closest to the solution. That’s why the New Bedford Branch of the NAACP and Lawyers for Civil Rights (LRC), two civil rights goliaths, are creating a space to learn from the community about this issue. Included in the program will be one-on-one conversations by LRC attorneys on the rights of community members and how to manage interactions with law enforcement in a safe manner.
Black people experience daily indignities due to their race. “Know your rights” programs like this one serve to cure the lack of information and resources that allow those indignities to go unaddressed, as well as offering practical advice and guidance.
The program will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 21, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., at the offices of the New Bedford branch of the NAACP, 95 Cedar St.
We welcome input from the public and encourage those seeking guidance on safe interaction with law enforcement to take advantage of this opportunity. The NAACP and LCR look forward to hearing from and serving our community as we work together to generate solutions to unlawful encounters with police.
We see this as an emergency measure to help protect communities of color, not as a cure to the problem. We will continue to engage with elected and law enforcement officials on much-needed reform. And we’ll continue to march, vote and use the courts to protect our rights, just as those earlier generations did, to make our demands heard at all levels of government and to implement meaningful and lasting reform.
LaSella L. Hall is president of NAACP New Bedford Branch. Arielle Sharma is a staff attorney with Lawyers for Civil Rights.
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