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Michelle Alexander: "I no longer believe we can 'fix' the police"


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Michelle Alexander is a professor of law at Ohio State University and author of the bestselling book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2012), which argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” In the wake of the recent killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, as well as five police officers in Dallas, Alexander posted a moving short essay at the website Medium. Entitled “Something more is required of us now. What?,” the essay suggests that reforming police procedures or promoting “community policing” is not enough to avoid these kinds of senseless killings in the future. What’s required, writes Alexander, is “a profound shift in our collective consciousness … a shift that makes possible a new America.” Read an excerpt of the piece below, or the full text here.

In recent years, I have come to believe that truly transformative change depends more on thoughtful creation of new ways of being than reflexive reactions to the old. What is happening now is very, very old. We have some habits of responding to this familiar pain and trauma that are not serving us well. In many respects it’s amazing that we endure at all. I am inspired again and again by so much of the beautiful, brilliant and daring activism that is unfolding all over the country. Yet I also know that more is required than purely reactive protest and politics. A profound shift in our collective consciousness must occur, a shift that makes possible a new America.

I know many people believe that our criminal justice system can be “fixed” by smart people and smart policies. President Obama seems to think this way. He suggested yesterday that police-community relations can be improved meaningfully by a task force he created last year. Yes, a task force. I used to think like that. I don’t anymore. I no longer believe that we can “fix” the police, as though the police are anything other than a mirror reflecting back to us the true nature of our democracy. We cannot “fix” the police without a revolution of values and radical change to the basic structure of our society. Of course important policy changes can and should be made to improve police practices. But if we’re serious about having peace officers — rather than a domestic military at war with its own people — we’re going to have to get honest with ourselves about who our democracy actually serves and protects.

Image via Michelle Alexander at Medium.