Ajmel Quereshi, Senior Counsel at NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, discussed the issues of police brutality with BC law students on Monday, March 15, 2021.
Quereshi’s presentation analyzed the modern social setting in which police often use unnecessary force, key differences between defunding and reforming the police and workable approaches to police reform with Boston College law students.
Racial insurgency across America has spiked following the wrongful death of George Floyd and many factions of American politics has called for some form of change within the police force.
While some call to defund the police by redirecting police funds to education, healthcare, and socioeconomic equity, others hope for police reform in the form of diversity and inclusion awareness and training and increased police accountability and effectiveness.
Across the board, citizens want to feel safe within their communities.
“Police violence is bad legally, morally, and makes all of us less safe,” said Quereshi.
In this environment, “individuals do not reach out to police or state government officials for help, they don’t trust the police, and it makes it more likely that the police will respond with violence,” he said.
Despite noting that police brutality affects everyone in some capacity, Quereshi did not shy away from the topic of race and the disproportionality in which African Americans and people of color are targeted by the police.
Statistically, black adults are 5 times more likely than white adults to be stopped by police. Additionally, black men are 2.5 times more likely than white men to be killed by police. Finally, African Americans are 13 percent of the U.S. population but account for 24 percent of people killed by the police.
“It is not particularly new, which makes it particularly troublesome,” Quereshi said, citing the deaths of Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, and George Floyd.
Quereshi continued, saying that it is important to recognize the larger social context within which police violence occurs, examining issues like segregation and poverty.
Quereshi used President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1968 national advisory commission on civil disorders to show the relationship between racial tensions, socioeconomic disparity, and police brutality, saying, "the commission concluded that police actions were the final incidents before the outbreak of unrest in 12 out of 24 of the major protests surveyed. The commission specifically identified segregation and poverty as indicators that unrest was about to occur.”
The question remained, “what is there to be done?” With the complexity between legal and public policy strategies, Quereshi asserted that “one does not have to choose between defunding and reforming. I think we can make efforts that accomplish both.”
Quereshi said that police don’t need to be called to handle these issues such as poverty or mental health crises. Instead, like many in favor of defunding the police, he argued that social workers and mental health specialists could be called.
Quereshi cited a recent study within the Oakland Police Department as the basis for an argument in favor of police reform. The force saw a decrease in both stops and racially motivated incidents when tasked with asking themselves “is this stop actually led by concrete evidence?”
In 2017, Oakland police officers made roughly 32,000 stops. With the implementation of the concrete evidence ‘checkbox’ in 2018, officers made only 19,000 stops, with the stops of African Americans falling by over 43 percent.
In the denouncement of his presentation, Quereshi addressed the polarization of the Trump administration on police issues.
“Part of the faultiness of the Trump administration dug at racial hotlines in our country,” he said. This Trump-enhanced split has certainly caused intense mistrust and dramatically increased tension in the United States.
“What brings me hope is the renewed attention to this issue,” Quereshi said in his final statement, leaving BC students with the message that history does not have to repeat itself. There are steps to mitigate tension and repair broken bridges through avenues of inclusivity, empathy, and reimagination.