Police transparency is an absolute necessity

by Daniel Blomquist / Assistant Opinion Editor • September 2, 2015

On May 27, a 20-year-old man named Feras Morad chose to ingest hallucinogenic mushrooms while in a second story apartment in Long Beach, Calif. He had a severe reaction to the drugs and jumped out of a window on the apartment’s second story, shattering his leg on the pavement below. His friends rushed outside and called him an ambulance, but the police arrived first. 

What happened after the police arrived is a matter of dispute, but it resulted in police officer Matthew Hernandez fatally shooting Feras three times with his service weapon. We know that Hernandez first attempted to use a taser to subdue Feras, and that Feras continued to remain conscious despite that. We also know that, given that Feras had just sustained severe injuries from his fall, it seems unlikely that he’d be able to pose a threat to a police officer so great that lethal force would be necessary. 

Feras, like so many others, was likely another victim of our overly militarized police force. But unlike other victims such as Michael Brown (whose death at the hands of a Missouri police officer ignited protests across the nation) or Eric Garner (who died after being choked by police officers in Long Island), many people across the nation have no idea who Feras Morad is—and part of that is because of our national news cycle. Suspicious police killings are usually only subject to federal investigation if the national spotlight is shone on them; this is one of the most damaging facets of our nation’s police brutality epidemic. 

In the immediate aftermath of Feras’ death, reactions to the story were predictably intense. People who knew him directly and indirectly began posting about his tragedy on social media. Facebook pages and Twitter accounts titled “Justice for Feras Morad” were created and quickly gained thousands of followers. Protests were organized, calls to action were made, and poems were written to draw attention to the California college student’s death. Interviews with his parents and the police began lighting up the local news circuit. Feras’ story was picking up steam, and I thought that this police shooting death would capture the attention of the nation as so many police shooting deaths have before. But Feras Morad never became a household name. His story fizzled out. Despite being killed by police just as Michael Brown and Eric Garner did, and despite that it draws attention to the exact same problem in our country, the nation as a whole never learned about Feras Morad.

I’m not saying that the media has to talk about every incident of police violence, but they do have a responsibility to keep us informed and ought to keep the national discussion of political issues alive. Yet every time a catalyzing tragedy happens, the conversation it sparks seems to always be on borrowed time. Once an issue has received a certain amount of attention, the media and the citizens of our nation somehow always manage to be distracted by something else, leaving the issue unaddressed. Just because one story is no longer technically “news” doesn’t mean that the issues surrounding the story aren’t still relevant. 

This, in turn, causes politicians to abandon discussion of the issue and move on to the new hot topic. Problems don’t receive the comprehensive and detailed solutions they require. Instead they receive Band-Aids, such as the assault rifle ban proposed in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting or the recent bill requiring officers to wear body cameras. These bills often only address small parts of the problem and despite doing very little, seem to usually be voted down. The assault weapons ban was voted down 40-60 and there has yet to be any federal legislation introduced. Fortunately, some states and cities such as Texas and Los Angeles have been making progress on this issue and have had moderate success introducing the body cameras to their respective areas.

The flames of the Justice for Feras movement had nowhere to spread, and were quickly extinguished. After about two weeks of inspiring a huge volume of online and real-world activism, the Justice for Feras Morad pages stopped posting entirely. Obviously not every police shooting will become national news, but stories like Feras’ add new layers to the police brutality conversation. Since no national agency keeps track of anything related to people killed by police, we don’t know anything about the people the police kill—this information is crucial to having a thorough and effective dialogue about this issue.

British news source The Guardian is currently attempting to document as much information about police killings as possible through an online database called “The Counted.” The Counted reports, based on verified crowdsourced information, that as of Aug. 27, 776 people have been killed by the police this year so far. When I wrote the first draft of this article a few weeks ago, the number was 651. The police killed these people for a variety of reasons; some excusable, some not at all. Regardless of how a person feels about the police or the people they kill, transparency is undeniably something that we need more of in our police department.