White people need to fight racism, police abuse

November 9, 2021
Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson joins Jerry Greenfield, left, and Ben Cohen, the founders of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, at an event where Ben and Jerry gave away free ice cream to bring attention to police reform at the U.S. Supreme Court on May 20, 2021, in Washington. The two are urging the ending of police qualified immunity.
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When police abuse Black people, it’s not a Black problem. It’s a white problem.

While Black people bear the brunt of police brutality, it’s white people who allow this racism to continue. 

Ours is a majority white society. White people elect the officials who appoint police chiefs. Police chiefs are overwhelmingly white. The people we pay to protect and serve are killing and brutalizing Black people before our very eyes. And we’re letting them get away with it.

In Euclid, Ohio, police officers found a young unarmed Black man sleeping, woke him up and killed him.

In Ocean City, Maryland, police officers tased and beat teenagers for vaping on the boardwalk. 

In Louisville, Kentucky, police officers kicked down apartment doors with a “no-knock” warrant and killed someone. 

When we were growing up, our mothers taught us the policeman was our friend. Black mothers have no choice but to teach their children to fear the police. 

As uncomfortable as it makes us feel, our inaction feeds and perpetuates injustice. Some of us claim to be neutral, but the reality is that neutrality preserves the status quo. If we’re not actively fighting against it, we are allowing the horrors to continue. White people need to act. We need to use our power to end injustice. 

Following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, politicians and business leaders made bold statements like Black Lives Matter. Protests erupted in the streets. Despite spending more than $1.5 billion per year  to influence Congress, Big Business didn’t make passing police reform a priority.

And Congress failed to meet the moment with a national solution.

Qualified Immunity:He was asleep in his car. Police woke him up and created a reason to kill him.

Since our national failure, the crisis has only gotten worse. More than 1,000 people have been killed by police since George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020. And hundreds of thousands more have faced inhuman abuse

But some state leaders are proving that better policing is possible. California, Colorado and New Mexico have all passed new laws to protect people’s civil rights. In those states, rogue cops are no longer immune to prosecution through a legal loophole called qualified immunity – a doctrine Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor describes as “shoot first and think later.”

USA TODAY Opinion:Faces, victims, issues surrounding qualified immunity

Now, we’re leading an effort through the Campaign to End Qualified Immunity that includes a coalition of more than 2,000 business leaders, professional athletes, police and celebrities, as well as dozens of national organizations, including Americans for Prosperity, the ACLU and hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens, to mobilize people in every state to demand integrity, accountability and better public safety. 

If we choose to use it, we white people have the power to hold rogue cops accountable and create a society where Black mothers can also teach their children that the policeman is their friend.

Qualified Immunity:Not above the law: Supreme Court can protect citizens by striking down qualified immunity

Inaction is not an option. If we tolerate the status quo, in the end, our children will find that we’ve left them a world infested with injustice and rotten to the core. 

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield are the co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and the co-chairs of the Campaign to End Qualified Immunity.

This column is part of a series by the USA TODAY Opinion team examining the issue of qualified immunity. The project is made possible in part by a grant from Stand Together. Stand Together does not provide editorial input.

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