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Resistance matters! When Black folk actively struggle against oppressive socioeconomic conditions, repressive laws and policies, we can stop and reverse actions that negatively affect our lives. Protests have been especially successful in reducing police killings of us. Protest and only protest can bring justice for the crimes of control police inflict upon us.

After the May 25, 2020, police murder of George Floyd, the United States was rocked by massive protests. By Aug. 22, 10,600 demonstrations had occurred throughout the U.S. empire, and another 8,700 across 74 countries. In the wake of these demonstrations, overall police killings increased, but those of Black people drastically declined.

According to the Washington Post’s “Fatal Force” database, which tracks killings by on-duty police officers, the number of people killed by police rose by nearly 100, from 958 to 1,054, between 2015 and 2021. In contrast, during the same period, the number of Black folks killed by police dropped by more than 100, from 258 to 139.

What demonstrates the effectiveness of protest even more is that the 243 Black people killed by police in 2020 comprised 23.8 percent of the total of 1,020. After the Floyd protests, the number of Black folks killed by police declined to 139, or 13.1 percent, of 1,054 people police killed that year.

The protests forced a higher degree of accountability. In response to demonstrations, city governments imposed new use-of-force policies. And officers exercised more personal restraint than previously. In the language of the profession, elected officials pressured police chiefs to shift from a “warrior” to a “guardian” mentality.

The warrior mind-set teaches officers to treat “every individual they interact with as an armed threat and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making.” Like most Black men, I’ve mainly encountered officers who operated from the warrior attitude. The authoritarian and racist subtexts of the warrior philosophy were brought home to me by a recruit during a “Policing in a Multiracial Society Program” educational session at the University of Illinois Police Training Institute.

Directly addressing me, a new officer bluntly stated, “The problem with you people is that you don’t obey ... just shut up and do what your told.”

The guardian approach to policing is the antithesis of this philosophy. Instead of power, it “emphasizes communication over commands, cooperation over compliance, and legitimacy over authority. And in use-of-force context, the Guardian emphasizes patience and restraint over control, stability over action.”

Embedded in the guardian philosophy is the idea of “community policing.” Two basic strategies animate this approach. First, it encourages building sustainable relationships with the people in the neighborhoods one patrols. Second, it stresses “tactical restraint.”

PTI teaches the guardian philosophy. Unfortunately, it is not the only institution educating future officers. Parkland College, through its criminal-justice program, also “prepares graduates to enter careers in municipal, county, state and federal law-enforcement agencies or in the private-security field.” Among the instructors in Parkland’s program is former Champaign police chief R.T. Finney, a notorious practitioner of the warrior philosophy.

Black people and local social- and racial-justice advocates remember Finney’s regime as a reign of terror. This is partly due to his role in the killing of the 5-foot-4, 120 pound, 15-year-old Kiwane A. Carrington on Oct. 9, 2009. Officially, Officer Daniel Norbits is alleged to have shot and killed Mr. Carrington. However, in a civil suit, the only non-cop at the scene, Jeshaun Manning-Carter, stated that Finney “pushed” Mr. Carrington, he “fell backward onto the ground into a seated position” and then Finney “fired a shot downward into [his] chest,” executing Kiwane.

A judge dismissed Manning-Carter’s suit.

However, the killing of Mr. Carrington is not the only questionable incident or policy during Finney’s years leading the Champaign Police Department. During his regime (2003 to Dec. 5, 2011), racial profiling was at the core of the the department’s policing strategy. In a lawsuit filed March 28, 2008, Brian Chelsey, 18, claimed that Officers Justus Clinton, Shannon Bridges and Andre Davis brutalized and hospitalized him a year earlier. At this trial, Bridges and Davis testified they were “ordered to randomly stop African American youth in the North District, check their IDs and run warrant checks.”

Racial disparities in arrests between 2007 and 2011 and traffic stops between 2004 and 2011 support Bridges’ and Davis’ acknowledgment that under Finney, the department practiced racial profiling. Though Black people represented 16 percent of Champaign’s population during these years, they made up 42 percent of the 14,095 people arrested. Illinois Department of Transportation data reveals that Black folk were stopped 48 percent more often than White people during Finney’s reign of terror.

Given his record, it is frightening to think Finney is teaching “Introduction to Criminal Justice” and “Community Policing” to prospective officers. Hip-hop artist Jamie Gatson, a friend of Mr. Carrington’s, observed, “We never got justice for the traumatic situation that changed a lot of my close friends’ and families’ lives. So for Parkland to hire him knowing he was a part of the problem is a slap in the face to our community and does nothing but reopen wounds that were never fully healed.”

For these and many more reasons, longtime activist Brian Dolinar and a coalition of eight social- and racial-justice organizations are protesting Finney’s employment. Protests will continue until he’s terminated. That is — not rehired to teach criminal-justice courses.

Sundiata Cha-Jua is a professor of African American studies and history at the University of Illinois and a member of the North End Breakfast Club. His email is schajua@gmail.com.

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