Often times, looking at all the vast problems engulfing our society, it’s easy to feel inconsequential in the bigger picture. When we hear about wars, conflicts, uprisings, riots, murders, etc., it can make us feel like there’s nothing we can do to fight the enormity of it as one person. That’s natural, but it should also be known that some of the world’s most special achievements were all done by regular people who decided that inaction was simply unacceptable. We all collectively contribute to the world outside of our doors and if we don’t like what we’re seeing, we can either add to the world by doing our small part to improve society, or we can do nothing and sit back and watch as things get worse, hoping one day that the problem doesn’t come to our door.
In today’s society, we have a problem with police brutality. As Trevor Noah brilliantly stated, this is not just an African-American issue, it’s an American issue. This overreach in violence disproportionately affects minorities, but it does not only affect minorities. Not only does brutality happen across the spectrum of racial and socioeconomic lines, it also affects our family members, friends, and neighbors. Prejudice policing is destroying communities and exacerbating racial division in America. If that’s not the land you want to live in, you can do something about it.
Simply put: There are things all of us can do to make life better as a community, we just need to go out and do it. Here are a few good places to start.
Listen without being defensive
If you’re truly interested in genuine change, the most important development a person can make in their life is evolving their worldview. In fact, one can argue that being open to evolving your ideas is the precursor to even desiring to see change occur. But, the most important part of active listening is fighting the human urge to respond to someone’s social critiques by being defensive.
Sometimes when we hear someone explaining why something is negatively affecting them, we feel compelled to inform that person of all the ways our life is difficult, too. Or, we choose to only focus in on the one part of their analysis that possibly could be a negative statement about ourselves. It’s critical to listen to groups like Black Lives Matter with an open mind and heart, instead of only selectively listening to the parts you want to contest.
Do not dehumanize “criminals”
The anti-police brutality movement is not about asserting that every black person who comes in contact with the police is a great, upstanding person. It’s about believing that senseless killings and excessive force are not right, and definitely should not be focused in one community. Part of what makes America great is the commitment to due process. If someone does something wrong, they should face the consequences of the law — and not broken bones or mortal wounds before a trial takes place.
Deprogramming your mind away from seeing suspects as evil criminals with irretrievable souls is the fastest way to avoid finding yourself aligning with bigots.
Make it a voting issue in your area
Being conscious of prejudiced social ills is a great start forward. Ready to put your thoughts into action? The best way to get started is to find out who your local politicians are, and ask them one simple question: “What is your policy on ending police brutality?”
You will either have a substantive conversation with a great person serious about creating change, or you will be ignored or given an incredibly insulting or roundabout answer … which will tell you everything you need to know about their commitment to addressing this problem. As a voter, that politician should be working for your vote and you don’t need to be intimidated to remind them of that.
Join Campaign Zero
If someone ever asks you, “So, what’s the plan to end police brutality?” send them directly to Campaign Zero’s website because it breaks it down in a comprehensive 10-point plan. The site helps you find your local rep, provides an infographic on state-by-state legislation, and even tells you where the presidential candidates stand on these topics. It’s an amazing resource to utilize and an awesome cause to stand behind.
Use your privilege
Black Lives Matter and many of the other organizations fighting state-sponsored violence are predominantly comprised of black women, many of whom are also apart of the LGBTQ+ community. If black women are out protesting and you see them being abused, treated unfairly, or being discriminated against, using your privilege to intervene could help save someone’s life.
Do not be fooled into believing that protests are about violent clashes with the police, or choking on tear gas, or getting arrested. Social actions take many different forms.
Creating a social media page dedicated to tracking particular issues or cases is one great way to help out. Walk-outs are an effective way of spreading a message and can be organized at your school or in a large social group. Starting online petitions on a site like change.org is also an effective way of making your voice heard.
Donate to victims’ families
Families of the victims are often left scrambling to pay for unexpected funeral and legal costs. You can donate to Alton Sterling’s family here. You can donate to Philando Castile’s family here. Also, you can donate to the families of the five police officers murdered in Dallas by clicking here.
Advocate for mental health intervention
The part of this discussion that continues to be woefully unnoticed is how many victims of police brutality also have mental conditions. Some reports say that at least half of all police shooting victims struggled with some form of serious mental health crisis. An important part of saving lives is creating more resources to help people experiencing these issues, especially in poor neighborhoods and black and brown communities.
Record police encounters — all encounters
First, know your rights. Second, be respectful, courteous and don’t interfere with the scene taking place. Third, make sure you have a special app so if you do witness something important or you find yourself being detained, your video can’t just be easily erased.
Push to remove and punish bad police officers
It is important to realize that Black Lives Matter is not waging a war on police — it’s waging a war on bad cops. The type of officers who disrespect their badge by not upholding their duty to protect and serve citizens. The type of officers who assault the most vulnerable amongst us instead of protecting them. The type of people who shoot first and ask questions later. These are not men and women who we should be fine with keeping their jobs.
The first step can often involve contacting the police department that the officer works at (which is typically released to the public before their identity is) and demanding that the officer’s identity is revealed to the public. If you already have the officer’s name, the next step is to contact your mayor and demand that the officer be relieved of their duties. Use social media sites and online petitions to rally support for the cause.
Help good police officers speak up
In our society, where so many people are hellbent on framing this discussion as either being “pro-police and anti-black” or “anti-police and pro-black,” a lot of good officers are being caught in the crossfire of being loyal to their comrades and being loyal to the public trust. When police departments and police unions refuse to identify any officers as being unfit for the job, even after being caught on camera doing something horribly wrong, it makes life very difficult for the good officers because speaking out would make them traitorous in some people’s eyes. That is why it’s so crucial to foster an environment that helps good police officers report the bad police officers and be praised for it, instead of being punished.
This can be done by advocating for transparency from your local and state police. The creation of a civilian review board (like the one in Ferguson) can help provide everyday people with direct access to higher ups in the department, and making official recommendations to their local government. The board can also praise officers who do a good job and make sure the people who act properly are recommended by citizens for promotions.
Written by Lincoln Blades for Teen Vogue