SARASOTA, Fla. -- The shooting of an unarmed African-American teen by police in Ferguson, Missouri has sparked a nationwide discussion about what some see as the militarization of the police and excessive use of force against minorities. At 7 p.m. tonight, thousands around the country will take to the streets for a peaceful protest and moment of silence to remember those who have lost their lives during encounters with law enforcement.
And from Hawaii to New York, people all across the country will be showing their unhappiness with the recent shooting of yet another unarmed African-American.
"It seems like its just open season on black males,” says Trevor Harvey with the NAACP. Like many others he says he’s been watching in awe for the last few days as the tense situation in Ferguson surrounding the Michael Brown shooting unfolds. While tragic, Harvey says this isn't the first time an unarmed black male has been killed at the hands of law enforcement.
"You talk about the Michael Brown situation, you talk about the situation that just happened in LA, but just even a couple weeks prior you have the Eric Gardener situation in New York with an unlawful choke hold,” Trevor says. “We've had [a version of] those incidents here with the Rodney Mitchell situation."
Rodney Mitchell was a 23-year-old recent college graduate who was shot by Sarasota Sheriff deputies after being stopped for a seat belt violation back in 2012. The Sheriff's Office has repeatedly said the shooting was the result of Mitchell failing to follow the deputy’s order to put his vehicle in park, and they accuse Mitchell of trying to hit the deputies with his SUV. But the community and the then teenage passenger who was in the SUV at the time dispute those claims.
In an interview with Dr. Ed James back in May, Mitchell's mom called for justice:
"I want the entire case to be torn apart so that we can prove Rodney's innocence,” Natasha Clemons said. “He was innocent from day one when it initially happened, and I also want the officers to pay for what they've done."
That situation has resulted in a lengthy and still ongoing legal battle, but Harvey says to prevent the unwarranted attacks on unarmed black males law enforcement must change their tactics.
"We do feel as an organization that community policing is one of the ways that’s going to help us combat some of these senseless murders and killing that we are seeing," Harvey says.
When she was sworn in back in January 2013, Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino said her goal was to mend the rift with the community and hopefully prevent similar shooting incidents by using the strategy:
"We are going to be implementing some new strategies in the community -- and that includes community policing. I strongly believe in that development of relationship and partnerships with the citizens of our community," DiPino said a year and a half ago. The development of that relationship is still an ongoing process.
In the meantime, Harvey tells us that the parents of minorities around the country are on pins and needles because of the Brown shooting. Some say they hope the tragedy will spark a national debate that leads to changes in law enforcement tactics.