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5 questions every citizen should ask about police accountability

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

Wednesday night, police in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, shot and killed Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man, during a traffic stop. The day before, the police shot Alton Sterling, who was killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The relentless toll of graphic videos of people dying can make the issue seem hopeless — police shootings stem from two of the oldest, most intractable American problems, racism and gun violence.

But police are controlled at the local level. And local politics is also where individuals really can make a difference, as Ijeoma Oluo, an editor at large for the Establishment, pointed out on Twitter. So here’s what you can do:

Most people know more about national politics than local politics. It’s easier to name the president or your member of Congress than your city council representative. But local officials oversee things that can be matters of life and death — not just police and courts but public transportation, housing policy, and so on.

Voter turnout in local elections is pathetically low, around 20 percent of registered voters — or about 15 percent of adults who are eligible to vote. So here’s an even more basic place to start: Verify your voter registration status and make sure you’re actually registered in the state where you live. Find out when your elections are. Then figure out how to go about making sure your elected representatives are addressing your issues.

Watch: Why recording the police is so important

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