The following op-ed appeared in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
Five years since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., sparked a nationwide movement against police brutality and deadly force, there is still much more work to be done to end this epidemic of violence against communities of color.
A recent study found that police are now a leading cause of death among American men overall, with black men 2½ times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than white men.
According to The Washington Post's database, police have shot and killed 60 people in Arkansas since 2016--a shocking death toll with devastating consequences for families and communities.
Public safety depends on public trust. When people are scared of the police, they are less likely to report crimes, come forward as witnesses, or show up at the courthouse to testify.
That's why every time an officer uses excessive force, it makes everyone less safe.
This is a solvable crisis, and we at the ACLU of Arkansas commend the steps that many police departments have taken to improve training in de-escalation techniques, expand transparency and accountability, combat racially biased policing, and reduce the use of force.
For instance, Little Rock recently took action to create a civilian review board with the power to review police actions and investigate allegations of abuse. Moving forward, we'll be watching to ensure this board is set up to provide meaningful accountability and transparency, as well as collaboration with the community it serves.
But across the country and here in Arkansas, progress on these types of reforms has been uneven, and the pace of police-involved shootings has not slowed. The number of deadly police shootings in Arkansas nearly doubled last year, from 12 in 2017 to 21 in 2018.
One problem is that policing remains among the rare professions without a statewide licensing board empowered to receive and act on complaints from the public. If your doctor pulls the wrong tooth or your landscape architect kills your prized rose bush, you can complain to the relevant state licensing board and have that person's license revoked.
But citizens have no similar accountability mechanism for police who violate their rights and the public trust.
State-level accountability is even more vital now that the federal government under the Trump administration has backed off its commitment to police oversight and reform. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as his last official act in office, restricted the Justice Department's ability to hold local police departments accountable through consent decrees, the court-endorsed agreements the Obama administration had used to rein in unconstitutional policing practices.
Racial bias also continues to infect nearly every aspect of our criminal justice system, including policing, where black and brown people are far more likely to be detained, harassed and killed by the police. The Plain View Project recently compiled a database of offensive and racist Facebook posts by police officers across the country.
Addressing these challenges and stemming this deadly epidemic of police violence will take a sustained commitment and a clear-eyed acknowledgement of the deeply rooted racism and injustice present at every level of our criminal justice system.
This won't happen overnight, but state and local leaders can start by implementing common-sense accountability measures that bring policing out of the shadows and into the 21st century.
Police must be accountable to the people they're sworn to serve and protect. The safety of our communities depends on it.