I support the protests denouncing the murder of George Floyd and many other police abuses, but I do not support the rioting and property destruction that has followed. However, the simple truth is nothing will change without solutions to the real problems. If people are truly interested in change, here are ten things that need to be done:
- End the “War on Drugs” in its current form.
- Require changes to police union contracts that protect bad cops.
- Make police service misconduct records public, and make sure bad cops don’t jump between departments.
- Ensure internal affairs investigations are administered externally.
- End qualified immunity for police officers.
- End mandatory minimum sentencing.
- End the general practice of “stop and frisk” and the targeting of whole neighborhoods.
- End the use of military equipment with local police and the targeted grants paying for it.
- End no-knock raids.
- Require bodycams for all police.
When you cheer the war on drugs and tolerate the rights-eviscerating behavior and the militarization that comes with it, you have advocated for the indiscriminate application of brute force. Especially when actively defended by unions, the militarized police mentality inevitably produces horrific behavior with no consequences.
Because of unions, it’s very difficult to shine light on the bad cops by making their records public, and it’s even more difficult to convict bad cops or end their employment because so much of the investigation into bad behavior is completed inside of a police force, rather than through an independent process.
But even on the rare occasion when a police officer is found guilty of wrongdoing, qualified immunity shields police and other government officials from liability in civil rights lawsuits. As CJ Ciaramella writes, “Ending qualified immunity wouldn’t end police brutality, but it would put departments and individual officers on notice that they can no longer brazenly harm and kill people without consequences.”
Will Smith recently said in an interview that, “Racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed.” While I don’t believe that every cop is racist, it can’t be denied that there is tremendous racial disparity in how a significant amount of policing is carried out.
2017 CDC stats for use of “any illicit drug” among persons aged 12 years and over:
- White 11.6%
- Black: 13.1%
We can see there is only a 1.5% difference in drug use overall, but the imprisonment rate of black Americans for drug charges is 5 times that of whites Americans. Why?
There are a variety of factors, but the first is targeted drug enforcement in urban areas with high numbers of black Americans. When the Federal government offers to send extra money, grants and equipment for drug arrests, the math for local police administrators says go for the most densely populated areas with the fewest economic resources to maximize your chance of both drug arrests and convictions, because a good legal defense costs money that many black Americans in urban areas don’t have.
It’s not an overtly racist act to target densely populated black neighborhoods, but you certainly end up with an incredibly disproportionate result of black Americans being arrested and convicted vs white Americans who use drugs at almost the same rate. Rural whites would be just as easy of a target for arrest and conviction, but the population density does not exist, so the math doesn’t work for police administrators in rural and suburban counties.
Another factor is mandatory minimum sentencing. A judge is required to hand out specific sentences for certain offenses, even when non-violent. So people simply using drugs (not just the dealers) are often arrested and jail time is required. Now, couple the targeting of black neighborhoods in urban areas with the required jail time laws, and you get a disproportionate number of black Americans in jail. Don’t believe me?
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 35% of state prisoners are white and 38% are black. Let’s look at that breakdown compared to the US population’s racial breakdown overall:
Starting to see why bad policies lead to a horribly disproportionate pounding by the justice system on black Americans?
For just a minute, I want to put my middle class, suburban peers in a neighborhood that has been targeted as an enforcement zone for the good ole war on drugs.
First, imagine that you text a few friends to go for a walk in the neighborhood to get some fresh air. You stop to chat with neighbors along the way, and are generally having a relaxing evening. But since your neighborhood has been targeted, you are being watched by cameras every step of the way and there are random police just watching you on your walk. Suddenly, a police cruiser skids to a stop in front of you, two cops hop out of the car and scream for everyone to get on the ground. One by one, you are frisked. You ask the police what you have done. They don’t bother to respond other than to yell shut up and keep your hands where they can be seen. Nothing is found. No arrests are made. No explanation is offered. You continue on your walk, shaken and violated from the experience.
What is your view of the police who did this? What are you asking yourself? Are you thinking, they need probable cause to stop someone like that. Well, sure, in theory. But under “stop and frisk” doctrine and standards, probable cause can be practically anything as determined by the police at that exact moment. The US Constitution was just thrown out the door.
Now imagine this happens to your kids…repeatedly…for years. By the time they are out of high school, being stopped for no reason whatsoever has become part of life. Most of the time the stops don’t lead to anything, but occasionally someone is arrested or smacked upside the head for speaking up, resisting arrest or assaulting an officer. None of which can be disproven because the officer doesn’t have a bodycam, so it’s his word against the person being arrested.
After a few decades and generations of this same treatment, how would you feel about police? Not so good I’d imagine, but it doesn’t end there. Because you live in a targeted neighborhood, police don’t just walk a beat chatting with residents and building relationships. Nope, they occasionally smash through a door on your block right after a fully armed S.W.A.T. team pours out of an armored vehicle in full combat gear like they are hunting down Osama Bin Laden. Think that doesn’t happen too often?
According to Radley Balko’s reporting, by 1975 there were 500 S.W.A.T. teams in the US. By 2013, there was a 15,000% increase in S.W.A.T. with over 90% of U.S. cities over 50K in population utilizing S.W.A.T. and 80% of cities with 25K-50K in population using S.W.A.T. This results in over 20,000 no-knock raids every year, sometimes killing innocent children and adults, occasionally at completely the wrong house.
Now, imagine this was your norm. Imagine this is your life every single day. Being watched, tracked, stopped, frisked, occasionally stops escalate to assault or much worse, regularly people are hauled away and every so often a house is raided with military style tactics. While rare, sometimes perfectly healthy people come back from an arrest battered and bruised, and in some very specific situations, they don’t come back at all.
You feeling like the police are there to protect and serve you? Or, are you feeling more that it’s us against them, that you are a target waiting to be scooped up any given day. That intimidation from police is the norm, rather than safety.
And from the police perspective, they eventually settle into a brothers in arms sense of duty. And why wouldn’t they? Every day they go to work armed and ready to fight, and they are given directives not to protect and serve, but to prosecute and win the “war” on drugs. Funny thing about “wars,” one side views the other as an enemy, someone to be defeated and destroyed. And when you go to battle with your brothers, the last thing you are going to do is let one of them go down to the enemy. Especially when the enemy is fighting with nothing more than their version of a situation, their funny clothes and their jaded view of police after multiple incidents throughout their life.
Because we don’t have the 10 changes above, we continue to exist in an America where a certain segment of the population, who happen to be black by a wide margin, live this reality every day. I am not saying the average cop sets out to be a racist idiot intent on doing harm. I don’t think that at all. But look at the results of the status quo in our country. Something is terribly wrong, and if you can’t see it – you aren’t looking.
You can say this isn’t about race, but the laws are NOT being equally applied, and black communities ARE disproportionately targeted with these tactics. When these tactics are employed with absolutely no accountability as the norm, that tiny group of bad cops who keep doing stupid things (but are never punished) will eventually do something catastrophic.
Understandably, the frustration and anger can only be bottled up for so long, but if people will open their hearts and minds, there are non-violent solutions. It has been a bipartisan mess for years with Republicans and Democrats cheering police militarization while lapping up the money flowing into their districts, and never curbing the unions which actively opposed any reform that would have dumped the bad cops long ago.
More force will not solve the problem caused by too much force. Stop trying to protect your party or politician. There is plenty of blame to go around. It’s time to focus on tangible and well researched solutions that could be pushed through Congress and state legislatures right now. This is not an insurmountable task that requires extra spending and personnel. It actually requires cutting spending in key areas, ending whole programs and reforming processes in others. This is not hard to pull off IF egos can be put aside for just a minute.
Will the Republicans abandon the war on drugs or the Democrats abandon their union funded power? I’ll give you just one guess…