In August 2014, Charles Belk was mistakenly identified as an armed bank robber because he fit the description of a tall, bald, Black male. If it wasn’t for a few simple actions that both Belk and law enforcement abided by, his encounter could have ended in his fatal shooting as well. Since his arrest, Belk, a Durham, North Carolina native, launched a nationwide effort, #AutoErase, through the non-profit Fitting The Description, to educate and inform those about the perils of wrongful arrest records, and engage legislation to alleviate the burden and costs incurred by the innocent to remove those arrest records. North Carolina was the first state to sign the legislation into law in 2015.
Belk issued the following statement about the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, a father of seven, by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers in North Carolina.
“Too often, we are now constantly seeing news reports and video footage of men of color being fatally shot by law enforcement simply because they ‘fit a description,’ said Belk. “While we understand policing the streets of our great nation is a very difficult job and involves many risks requiring instant, quick reactions, law enforcement has proven its ability to apprehend the most dangerous of suspects, alive. Local law enforcement must end their ‘shoot to kill’ tactic, even when that encounter involves an armed suspect.”
The recent apprehension by federal law enforcement of suspected New York and New Jersey terrorist bomber, Ahmad Khan Rahami, demonstrates that officers have the training and procedures available to them to bring someone in alive. Rahami allegedly even fired at officers and several passing vehicles as he tried to elude authorities, and was not fatally shot, as so many unarmed and armed, as well as innocent and guilty suspects of color have been in recent years.
Fitting The Description calls for a system-wide change in policy by all local law enforcement agencies that would make “apprehend alive” the priority tactic used during a police encounter. This policy change would be in addition to current criminal justice reform actions to increase police transparency and accountability, undertaken by the NAACP and other organizations, calling for cutting off funding to local law enforcement agencies that discriminate; seeking independent investigations when an officer- involved shooting occurs; keeping detailed data reporting about police stops; and maintaining comprehensive standards governing the use of force.
While the community’s response in Charlotte is demonstrative of citizens that want answers and change, it serves as further proof that any of our cities are just one fatal shooting away from a Ferguson, or a Baltimore, or a Charlotte. Local elected officials and law enforcement leaders need to be proactive in their approach to criminal justice reform and not wait until it happens in their city.
“Apprehend Alive” is a good tactic that will go a long way in preserving lives and restoring community trust to avoid unrest like those we are currently seeing after a “shoot-to-kill” incident has occurred.
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