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Opinion columnist Julia Montoya argues for police reform in the United States. 

Opinion

Fighting for criminal justice reform is more prominent in 2019 than it ever has been. Police brutality and misconduct are at the center of this issue.

Police brutality is practically legal in the United States. That may come as a shock to some of you, but if you know the names Sandra Bland, Philando Castile or Eric Garner, it shouldn’t.

Police shooting statistics in the U.S. have been holding relatively steady in recent years. Yet, the amount of police officers being held responsible for their unjust actions in the cases in which the victim turns out to be innocent or unarmed remains the same. This is because police brutality is legal and protected in our country.

The law that protects police from being held responsible for the wrongful deaths of their victims dates back to 1989, when the supreme court case Graham v. Connor took place. 

Directly from the U.S. Supreme Court text: “The 'reasonableness' of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation.” 

What this means is that if an officer believes that what he is seeing is a threat to himself or others, he cannot be held responsible for reacting with deadly force regardless of the facts. Police officers cannot be held responsible for truths they didn’t know in the moment. Beliefs do not necessarily have to be factual. Unfortunately, this protects officers from being held responsible for murdering innocent people.

All too often, this Supreme Court decision relieves officers of responsibility who react with brutal force because they are seemingly afraid of people of color. People of color are criminalized because the "threat" officers see is their skin color. Individuals have been brutalized simply because they reacted with an unfriendly tone. Remember, it is legal to record an officer with your phone or other device during a police interaction in most cases.

In the infamous Castile case, the officer who pulled him over and later shot him claimed that he believed Castile’s nose looked similar to the nose of a wanted man involved in an armed robbery, according to NBC News. His belief that this man was someone who he was not ended in the loss of an innocent man’s life.

While of course this isn’t the case with every interaction involving a police officer and a person of color, convictions of colored people for petty, nonviolent crimes are still happening at a higher rate than that of white people, according to The Daily Beast.

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which is commonly known as the crime bill, is heavily to blame for an increasing amount of civilians being incarcerated for petty crimes.

Once the act was passed, officers were sent to communities across the country to police the areas and enforce new provisions such as “three strikes,” leading to lifelong imprisonment for offenders with convictions not only involving violent crimes but also drug charges. 

This act, along with the Graham v. Connor Supreme Court case, has threatened the lives of those who are bound to have any sort of interaction with law enforcement throughout their lifetimes — those people being black and brown people. 

It is terrifying to be a person of color in the United States today. I fear that I’m going to have to teach my kids to cooperate with police or face deadly consequences.

It is important that everyone, regardless of race, keep informed about what is constitutionally right and wrong when being pulled over or approached by a police officer. I advise that everyone be cautious when dealing with law enforcement and remember that while not all police officers are dangerous, not all are as concerned with our rights or safety as they should be. 

Julia Montoya is a senior from Garden City studying English.