“Those who give up liberty for security deserve neither.” These words from Benjamin Franklin remain immortal through centuries, inspiring people to stand up for their freedom and safety. Indeed, this quote has never rung more true, as our current system of justice offers us neither.
The media firestorm surrounding the murders of Eric Gardner, Michael Brown and countless others by police forces highlights the increasingly apparent fact that our system of justice is fatally flawed. Law enforcement is becoming increasingly reliant on lethal force to combat criminals, and officers aren’t being held to the same standards as civilians. According to the National Police Misconduct Report, police officers are five times more likely to be accused of sexual assault or murder than average citizens, yet are 40 percent less likely to get convicted. We cannot tolerate this inequality in justice and the use of lethal force by law enforcement. On the CSU campus, where only 18 percent of students can be considered “minorities”, it is easy to avoid and ignore the racial aspect of law enforcement abuse. However, the tragedies in Ferguson and Staten Island are only snapshots of a larger, uglier trend of racial subjugation by our police and justice system.
We cannot tolerate a justice system in which black men are six times more likely be imprisoned than white men. We cannot pledge to a country that holds five percent of the world’s people, but boasts a quarter of its prisoners. We cannot accept law enforcement that uses lethal force on nonviolent criminals or a justice system that is content to spend billions fueling systematic poverty. The national stage is primed for action and every one of us must play a part in changing history, we cannot remain complacent any longer as we are wont to do.
Some people around campus may wonder how they can make a difference; they may feel that, as students at CSU, they are isolated from the problem and have neither the motivation or means to stand up for what is right. However, regardless of who or where you are, this is an issue that affects you and that you have the power to fight. The flaws in our law enforcement and legal system are a national phenomenon that have the ability to impact everyone, everywhere. Given the way law enforcement has been shown to treat minorities and social protesters, what is to say that any independent voice is safe from subjugation? We as students are more than capable of spurring change in our community. Here are some actions you can take right now to fight injustice in Fort Collins:
Read up on your rights. You owe it to yourself as an individual to know your rights as a citizen. Memorize the Fourth Amendment, and learn how it applies to your life. In most cases, police officers are not allowed to search you or your property without a warrant or your consent. Some law enforcement officials use consent as a way to conduct searches that would otherwise be illegal. Arm yourself with information, and do not allow yourself to be intimidated into consenting to anything against your will.
Participate in politics. Any hope we have of changing the legal system will come through elections. Therefore, it is paramount that everyone get familiar with their political representation- especially local officials. We have the most influence over leadership in our own town than officials at any other level, and yet local elections see half the turnout of state and national elections. Learn about the policies of your local leadership and attend City Council meetings. Starting the conversation with city officials takes the most effort, but will yield the greatest results.
Protect your peers. Keep an eye out for others wherever you are, and speak out when you witness discrimination or injustice in your community. Do not be afraid to videotape or record anything troubling you see or hear — it is illegal for law enforcement to confiscate your cell phone or other personal effects. As members of the social media generation, we are the most capable at capturing injustice in our communities and making the world aware of social issues. Utilize the power of multimedia for good.
Show respect to all parties. Fight for equality for all, but pay respect to law enforcement until they give you reason to revoke it. While our law enforcement and legal system are fatally flawed, that does not make every cop and judge a villain — most are hardworking people that do their best to protect their communities. Keep in mind that only 1 in 117 police officers are accused of misconduct each year, and that advocating an “us vs. them” mentality will only contribute to the problem. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, regardless of their place in the discussion.
It would be easy to wax on about “reform”and how things are going to change, but calls for action amount to nothing more than wishful thinking unless they are carried out on an individual level. Movements are only strong as their members, and true change starts through each one of us. These are some of the many concrete actions you can take today to fight for equality and justice. Get informed and get involved to protect yourself and get the wheel of change rolling in our community.
Collegian Senior Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @seanskenn.