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“To be targeted because of what you are… that is absolutely terrifying.”

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The man who allegedly pledged to hunt down and kill LAPD officers in retaliation for what he described as abuse by a department rife with racism and corruption is now dead, according to authorities. The smoke has barely cleared at the Big Bear cabin where he breathed his last breaths, and I'm not going to speculate here about the circumstances of his death.

Instead, I want to draw attention to a comment LAPD police chief Charlie Beck made to the press yesterday, while describing the nearly week-long ordeal. 

"To be targeted because of what you are… that is absolutely terrifying," he told reporters. Beck was talking about the fear police officers felt while looking for Dorner, someone who had allegedly pledged to try to wage war on the cops and, according to reports, succeeded in killing a number before he perished. 

"To be targeted because of what you are…" That statement probably rings all too true for victims of police violence in cities like LA, where black man Rodney King was famously beaten to a pulp by a crew of police officers in a case widely viewed as racially motivated. 

While Rodney King's beating got a lot of press, what happened to him is far from unique in the United States. Statistics from all over the country repeatedly show that people of color, particularly blacks and Latinos, are beatenstop and frisked, arrested, prosecuted and convicted at rates that are entirely disproportionate in terms of both demographics and crime patterns. 

"To be targeted because of what you are" is terrifying indeed, as too many black men shot and killed by police nationwide could attest if they were still alive. The black and brown youth of New York City can attest to it. In different but important ways, gay people, transgender people and women can attest to that fear, also. 

Chief Charlie Beck is right: to be targeted because of what or who you are is terrifying, and further, it is unacceptable. That's exactly why we must confront racism in policing and law enforcement more broadly. It's why we need to end racially discriminatory practices like stop and frisk, and reign in the drug war, which is having a massively disproportionate affect on poor communities and communities of color, even though there's plenty of evidence to show that the wealthy and whites do drugs at about the same rate, if not at higher rates.

The fear of being targeted for who you are has been routinely expressed by black and brown Americans who do not trust the police because of decades of abusive practices and unfair treatment in the legal system.

"You shouldn’t be afraid to come outside and go to the store to get a soda for fear that the police are going to stop you, and you’re either going to get a expensive, a high-cost summons or you’re going to get arrested," a 41 year old African American Bronx resident told the Center for Constitutional Rights, reflecting on how stop and frisk has ravaged his community. 
CCR's report on stop and frisks in New York makes clear that this man's experience is far from unique, as does the NYCLU's extensive research:
Many people explained how having been stopped by police had changed the way they conducted their daily lives. For example, people described changing their clothing style and/or hairstyles, changing their routes or avoiding walking on the street, or making a habit of carrying around documents such as ID, mail, and pay stubs to provide police officers if stopped. One person noted, for instance, that she carries ID with her even when she is just out walking the dog. Several people expressed sadness, frustration or anger that they believed these adaptations were necessary. 

No one should have to fear for their safety simply because of who or what they are. Let's hope Chief Charlie Beck remembers his own words, even his own fear, when his department confronts vital issues pertaining to systemic racial inequities in our justice system and in his own department.

It's past time to act to reverse the New Jim Crow. And who knows? Maybe Chief Beck will reflect on his own fear over the past week and become an unlikely ally in that struggle.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.