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Protesters organize at City Hall on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 at a “Justice for Daunte” rally in Athens, Georgia. Organized by District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker, the event called for an end to mass incarceration and policing as it is used today and instead fighting for more community resources. (Photo/Taylor Gerlach; taylormckenziephotography.com)

On April 12, Oglethorpe County Deputy Michael Norton Davis pulled over a 27-year-old Athens resident named Patrouski Hodges for speeding on U.S. Highway 78. While Hodges was pulled over on the right side of the road, Davis’ patrol car hit Hodges’ vehicle. When the deputy approached Hodges’ vehicle and began to give commands, Hodges drove off, and Davis fired at his car three times, hitting it twice. No one was injured in this incident. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has charged Davis with two counts of aggravated assault,and he has since been fired.

Police are meant to serve a vital purpose in our community to protect and serve their fellow citizens. But again and again, in our community and all over America, where police are supposed to be mediating and solving problems, they are escalating tension and violence.

Georgia law states that deadly force shall be permitted when a suspect possesses a deadly weapon or object, they pose an immediate threat of physical violence to the officer and others or when there is cause to believe the suspect is involved in a crime involving the infliction of serious harm. In this case, Davis’ use of a gun was essentially useless. Why shoot at someone for a traffic incident?

In the United States, we have seen many recent instances of police resorting to violence and even murder in situations where it isn’t necessary. 948 people have been shot and killed at the hands of police in the past year as of June 11, 2021, according to The Washington Post. 948 too many. Additionally, this number does not necessarily account for all of the civilian fatalities that are never reported, as our country lacks accurate national-level databases on fatal encounters with police officers.

We need in-depth change within our country’s entire policing system in order to stop this brutality. It is our responsibility as U.S. citizens to hold our police officers accountable, from federal law enforcement to our local sheriffs, especially since this unnecessary violence is occurring right here in the Athens area.

Luckily, Hodges walked away from this event unharmed. However, George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Philando Castile and countless others have lost their lives due to unnecessary, deadly police force.

It is extremely important to recognize the racial bias within our policing systems. According to a national study of misdemeanor arrests, the Boston University Law Review discovered that the “black arrest rate is at least twice as high as the white arrest rate for disorderly conduct, drug possession, simple assault, theft, vagrancy, and vandalism.”

Additionally, black drivers are about 31% more likely to be pulled over than white drivers, per a Department of Justice report released in 2013. The evidence of racial bias within our policing system is not just convincing - it is overwhelming.

Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was fatally shot by police officer Kimberly Ann Potter after being pulled over in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center on April 11. A 26-year veteran and one-time union president, Potter claimed she meant to grab her Taser but mistakenly pulled out her handgun. Following three nights of protests over the killing, Potter was charged with second-degree manslaughter shortly after resigning.

As we know, guns are not the only fatal weapon used by our country's police officers. On May 25, 2020, about 12 miles from where Wright was killed 11 months later, George Floyd was murdered by former officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, putting him in a fatal cardiopulmonary arrest. On April 20, Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Many advocates hope Chauvin’s conviction represents a turning point for police reform in America. His guilty verdict reveals how police are not above the law. They should not be excused for the lives they take. Accountability is necessary for justice.

Around 100 demonstrators gathered around Athens-Clarke County City Hall to mourn Wright’s death. The crowd took a moment of silence to honor all of those who have died at the hands of police brutality. They expressed their animosity towards our country’s current policing system.

“Daunte Wright was 20 years old. I just turned 20 three months ago,” said John Radford, a University of Georgia student who spoke at the protest. “Daunte felt really personal to me because that could have been me.”

New procedures, policies and training opportunities have the potential to prevent unnecessary deaths at the hands of police. Programs such as T3, which uses scientifically validated methods to strengthen officers' capacity to be agile, adaptable and creative in situations where safety is essential, should be set into place.

In fact, the results from the evaluation show that officers who completed T3 training prioritized procedural justice over physical control. Approximately 71% of these officers believed the program was of value to them. This program has been implemented into large cities’ police forces, like the New York Police Department and Chicago Police Department, as well as DeKalb County Police Department here in Georgia.

Police have extremely tough jobs, especially when dealing with uncooperative and sometimes dangerous suspects. They deal with people on a daily basis who experience mental health issues and drug addiction. However, cops’ ability to use necessary force should never validate an impunity from using excessive force. The police’s authority does not grant the right to abuse their power. Police are meant to protect the public and resolve issues, not escalate them.