By Leah Jones, Features Editor
As a white woman, I cannot speak for the pain and suffering that the black community is undoubtedly suffering after the most recent fatal police shootings of Alton Sterling on Tuesday morning in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and of Philando Castile on Wednesday in Falcon, Minnesota. I can say that the videos, recorded by Stop The Killing, Inc. and Diamond Reynolds, are disturbing and document two brutal murders by Officers Blane Salonomi, Howie Lake, and Jeronima Yanez. Though he apparently had a gun, Alton Sterling was clearly not reaching for a gun while Salonomi and Howie pinned him to the ground and shot him. Castile apparently announced to Yanez that he was licensed, and had a gun, but Yanez still shot him as he reached for his driver’s license and registration. These extreme and violent reactions by police are unnecessary and undermine the very foundation of society.
Propagated by philosophers such as Hobbes, Rousseau, and Locke, the social contract is defined very simply by Google as “an implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits, for example by sacrificing some individual freedom for state protection.” In other words, people give up some of their individual freedoms (i.e. to do whatever they want, whenever they want) in exchange for the protection provided by the order and structure of laws and governments. Everyone agrees to these rules because they are supposed to benefit everyone. In our society, theoretically, police officers are supposed to act as the protecting force, enforcing these laws that keep everyone safe. However, we see with these cases, among others, that the police do not always fulfill their roles, either due to fear, racism, or both. In fact, police officers are the aggressors. If people give up personal freedoms in exchange for protection from the government by police officers, but then police officers become the threat from which people need protecting, the social contract is undermined. There is no reason to follow these laws if they do not protect people from the very force that is supposed to protect them. When police officers serve and protect the existing power relations instead of the individuals that they are supposed to be serving and protecting, the entire system breaks down.
Additionally, these killings are racial. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton said that race played a role in the murder of Castile, and there is no doubt that it also played a role in the Sterling’s murder in Baton Rouge. It was also a factor in the killings in Washington DC, Florida, Cleveland, New York, and here in St. Louis. The Ferguson Report found systemic racism within the Ferguson police department. Even before these murders, books such as George Lipstiz’ 2006 book “The Possessive Investment in Whiteness,” among others, have documented how racism and prejudice are not only carried out by police officers, but are practiced systemically and even encoded into laws that masquerade as equalizing. If racism and violence are practiced systemically, and this violence undermines the social contract, then this police violence constitutes a gross systemic failure towards African-Americans and minorities.