On May 19, a jury in Columbus, Ohio refused to indict Officer Bryan Mason for the Sept. 14, 2016 killing of 13-year-old Tyre King. During the incident, police were called in response to a robbery in the area involving three Black males. Mason chased King into an alley before opening fire after mistaking the child’s BB gun for a real one. According to a May 19 ABC News article, Mason was only recently appointed to patrol the neighborhood at the time of the incident. This event is also eerily similar to the 2014 shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. Rice was in a park playing with a BB gun when a 911 call was placed, reporting that someone was brandishing a weapon. The individual making the call also mentioned that the person was “probably a juvenile” and that the gun was “probably fake,” according to a March 15 CNN article. The negligence of the dispatcher to relay the additional comments likely contributed to yet another innocent life lost.

These incidents bring attention to the problematic gun culture in America, for one. Obtaining a gun in this country requires one’s name, address, place of birth and the answer to several simple questions along with a brief background check, according to a June 19, 2015 CNN article. It should also be noted that these qualifications vary both federally and statewide; for example, New York requires “character references,” according to the New York state website. This, compounded with the fascination that Americans seem to have with firearms, has created a society in which individuals are so desensitized that it is somehow conceivable for an adolescent to possess weaponry of their own accord. According to a Jan. 5, 2016 BBC article, over 13,000 Americans were killed by firearms in 2015, and an additional 27,000 were injured. These figures do not account for acts of suicide. Granted, some of these deaths are accidental and were not the result of malicious intent, but the fact that individuals without any real training or knowledge of gun safety can purchase firearms and do as they please with them is an issue. If some form of change is implemented in the way that individuals in this country view weapons, maybe then children with toys will stop being mistaken for hardened criminals.

In addition to this, there lies issue with the police force itself and the placement of officers in neighborhoods where the people do not look like them. Take, for example, the 2014 shooting of Akai Gurley. Rookie New York Police Department officer Peter Liang was in a public housing complex when he shot Gurley in the dimly lit staircase. According to an April 16, 2016 New York Times article, Brooklyn judge Danny Chun feels that Liang had entered the situation with good intentions and that the shooting was completely accidental. Though it is likely that Liang did not wish to shoot Gurley, the issue was his placement in that environment in the first place. A scared individual with a gun is not who we need to serve and protect us; that is just asking for another casualty. I grew up in the same part of Brooklyn, and I can attest to the fact that I have almost never seen a Black police officer patrolling the neighborhood. This does not mean that non-Black officers are not fit to be in areas like mine; it just means that there should be more familiar faces to calm those in the area and prevent uncomfortable encounters. If there was more representation, people might feel less uncomfortable around officers. In turn, better community-police relations might develop and the officers themselves might be less anxious when in these neighborhoods. Especially within the past few years, a familiar face or two would not be the worst thing for police-community relations.

The inherent racial biases that underlie each of these incidents is evidence of a problem with America as a whole and that is not something that can be easily rectified. Aside from being wise with assignments to certain neighborhoods and training officers to use alternative detainment methods, there is still much that can be done. According to a July 7, 2016 ABC News article, police officers are trained to shoot to kill and not injure. When an officer pulls out a gun, it is considered deadly force and the only reason that an officer is taught to do so is to avoid the loss of life of themselves, their partner or a third party. But when does an officer feel that their life is threatened? This may be different for different individuals, and as a result, we get the typical posthumous narrative of the victim; the officer’s claims that “he was resisting” or “it was self defense” can be easily dismissed by those that get to view the situation from an outside perspective. It is not fair that someone has to lose their life simply because an officer felt threatened or because they had a lapse in judgement. Someone who is tasked with protecting the masses should have better instincts and training that prevent such behavior. According to discoverpolicing.org,a website from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, training to become a law enforcement officer in the United States ranges between four to six months and during this time, the most time — 71 hours — is spent on firearms skills while only 21 and 16 hours, respectively, are spent on use of force and non lethal weapons. While firearms are dangerous and rightly receive the most training, officers need to be trained more in alternate methods to de-escalate a situation — a firearm should be a last resort.

The only way to see that innocent lives are no longer lost is to change the way that the social justice system operates; instead of aiming to kill and end a short-term issue, we need to aim to rehabilitate and create a better society.