A letter about Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, John Crawford III, and Dante Parker

Here is a letter that I’m sending to various elected officials at various levels of government. I’m hoping to refine it and make some more specific calls to action, but I figure it’s better to post a working version here and keep moving than wait until I have something perfect. Taking action is more important.

Dear reader, if you would care to use any of the language below when drafting your own letters, please feel free. 

I used Common Cause to find out how to contact some officials, as well as the City of Portland and Multnomah County websites.

If you want to learn more about how systemic racism (as opposed to “a few bad apples”) has affected our criminal justice system, I recommend Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

For more information about most of the men mentioned below, a good place to start is The Root’s article.

Here’s the text of that letter:

Like many, I am deeply distressed by the shooting death last week of Mike Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Likewise the death of Eric Garner, another unarmed Black man, killed by a police officer last month in New York City. Also the death of Ezell Ford, another unarmed Black man shot by police in Los Angeles two days after Mike Brown. Also the death of John Crawford III, shot by police in a retail store while holding a pump air rifle. Also the death of Dante Parker, who died after being stunned by a Taser multiple times by police.

When I’d heard about racial profiling in the past, I thought it was an injustice. I knew that people of color, especially men of color, are more likely to be stopped and questioned by police. Through the lens of white privilege, I imagined that it was a hassle, an indignity that should not be inflicted on people based on the color of their skin.

Now I know that racial profiling has deadly consequences, as evidenced by these needless deaths.

Criminologists, social scientists and other researchers tell us that people of all races and ethnic groups commit crimes at about the same rates, so why is our justice system singling out people of color?

Any one of these deaths would have been one too many. Together, they sound a wake-up call that we can’t ignore.

I’m asking for your help in addressing this problem. It’s a systemic problem, and it’s going to take all of our efforts to dismantle. Please tell me what your office is doing to end racial profiling in our justice system, and to ensure equitable, just treatment for all people in every facet of the criminal justice system, starting with police officers on patrol.

Thank you for your careful consideration of this urgent problem.

Sincerely,

Sarah Kanning