The American Ethical Union stands with the people of Ferguson, Missouri, and with people around the world who have been stirred to peaceful, yet insistent action following the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer. This death is, sadly, one of many in recent times that involved an armed police officer and an unarmed civilian. And this incident is one of many more incidents in which the injured is a person of color and the officer is white. We decry the excessive use of force that has been used by police officers in our towns and cities and call upon our elected officials, law enforcement leaders, community organizations and private citizens to press for significant reforms to curtail the use of lethal force by those who are sworn to protect the public. Further, we demand that attention be paid to the ugly and profoundly disturbing evidence of racism that permeates and poisons our society.
We understand that police officers are public servants and carry with them a heavy weight of responsibility. We understand, too, that the public has relied upon police to remove dangerous individuals from the streets and ensure safety for the community. But that protection has been applied unevenly and too often the rights of citizens—especially African Americans and other people of color—have been ignored in the service of eliminating perceived dangers.
Scenes of armored trucks, snipers with automatic weapons aimed at crowds and officers wearing tactical gear remind us that our police forces have become weaponized and are prepared to use extreme force to subdue the public. For too many of our citizens, the police are seen as the greatest threat to their health and safety. Common tactics such as “Stop and frisk,” traffic stops for minimal violations and the unevenly adjudicated “War on Drugs” all conspire to portray the citizenry—again, especially people of color—with suspicion. And acting on that suspicion has been helped along by a relaxation of due process safeguards and a justice system that protects the police from prosecution in even extremely egregious cases.
The events of Ferguson have brought to light for the broader populace what has been so painfully evident for people on the receiving end of law enforcement: the line between protection and brutality is easily crossed when fear of the public is allowed to reign. We are better than that—or at least we have the potential to be better. But it is on us who stand for a just and caring society and the millions more like us who seek a peaceable world to bring the changes we seek to light in our own lives and to encourage others to do so, too.
We believe systemic change will only come about through the concerted effort of many people. As the media spotlight moves to other matters we pledge to keep our attention fixed on the long-term goal of creating a more equal, peaceful, and just society, and a more ethical culture.