St. Louis, MO—
I hope you sustain your attention on the BLACK LIVES MATTER protests so our collective consciousness makes it politically expedient for state governments around the country to legislate long overdue solutions to the systemic racism and police brutality our society just cannot shake off.
An election is coming up and your vote matters, and with it you can help make black lives matter. At the very least you can be receptive enough to new ideas on police reform to not take time crafting pedantic and skim suggestions on how you’d protest brutality and persisting racism if it had been all this time, in an alternate reality not this one, affecting you personally and your family, community, and everyone sharing your skin tone for decades and centuries.
To help, let’s spread some ideas to constructively assist in a time of national racial unrest. People are in the streets because it has become abundantly clear that we need new laws, new police training methods, and a higher minimum expectation of police conduct, behavior, and psychological temperament.
What if we started requiring new police officers to get actual college degrees in law enforcement? What if states stopped having fast-track programs that give out badges and guns with fewer requisite training hours than hair salons demand of hairstylists? Lots of countries make law enforcement training much more rigorous and thorough, and also have single-digit instances of police officers killing citizens in a year. America has over a thousand annually.
What if we mandated new and more regular training on psychology, special needs, and, above all, deescalation? Police unions have spent decades strategically focusing their lobbying efforts not on wages and pensions like normal unions, but on creating a system in which police regularly face no consequences for brutality and murder under qualified immunity, and too many police enthusiastically commit violence even when they know they are being filmed by a dozen people.
Such a display of aggression is an awful personality trait, and the people who act like that maybe should not be given guns and unassailable authority to wildly escalate tense situations and later claim fear for their lives. Our laws can change to verifiably require clearly articulated efforts by police to deescalate, as well as clear warnings before any cop shoots their weapon. Our military has to follow laws like these in literal war zones to avoid committing war crimes and abide by international human rights treaties, so it’s not crazy to expect police to show the same responsibility when dealing with American citizens.
And what if we changed the law so that crimes cannot be prosecuted unless there is film evidence, so cops must mandatorily work with cameras and recorders on the job, or lose in court and face disciplinary action? The cameras would be good for cops too, because people being filmed at their traffic stops and 911 calls will behave better, too. It means accountability for everyone, and also ease for judges and juries to see how professionally good cops often do their jobs.
What if we instituted a 3-strikes rule with police like criminals get in various states, so if cops are repeat offenders they get fired? And let’s create a public registry of police crimes so cops can’t just bounce around from county to county with a clean slate any time they get fired for misconduct. There is not a public registry now, and it helps police hide criminal histories. And maybe every time a police officer kills someone, the FBI investigates it so we can up the stakes on our commitment to legitimate oversight and real justice for unnecessary victims? And maybe prosecute more hate crimes against murderous cops to help fight the white supremacy lurking in the minds of bad apple cops?
Maybe police ought to be paid more? Maybe we are getting the cops we pay for. And let’s definitely stop anchoring police funding in part to the number of tickets cops can write. It incentivizes quotas, proliferates unfair citations, alienates police from their communities, and directly contributes to racial profiling and the routine police harassment of minorities. And let’s definitely stop civil forfeiture. Police should not be allowed to legally rob us. And maybe let’s put our taxes where our mouths are about supporting good cops if we have to, and better subsidize the good cops who prove to us that they are the good cops?
To criticize police is not to say that they don’t have a hard, dangerous job in which they are expected to perform with standards of personal conduct higher than anywhere else in society. But the point is that cops, because of their power, absolutely must have higher standards of personal conduct. Cops should all be wild outliers in calmness, nonviolence, integrity, honesty and willingness to have their actions scrutinized and reviewed. That’s the job.
Cops should not be cops if they feel extra-judicial at all because we have a list of constitutional amendments specifically enshrining our human rights, idealistically, to not face any legal consequences for crimes until justly found guilty in a court of law by a jury of our peers. That is the goal of our justice system, and that hope makes up the cornerstone of our law described in the Constitution. Police somehow regularly killing people before they’ve even been charged for a crime means our justice system has failed.
Cops choking us on the side of the street, or bashing our heads into the pavement, or shooting us in our eyes with rubber bullets and pepper spray, or shooting us eight times in our bed in the middle of the night, or shooting us 55 times in a car in a fast food restaurant drive-through, or shooting us holding a toy gun in the toy aisle it’s sold in, or… I could go on for hours listing all the viral videos of police murder we have seen for years. None of that is justice, protection or service.
And we’ve seen enough videos. The police watching protesters out in the streets should proverbially read the room. Black lives matter, and we’re not tolerating abuse anymore. All lives matter, yes, but right now only some lives are weekly suffocating on the side of the street under the knee of cops who should not be cops, and these viral videos display a conspicuous racial pattern and police aesthetic.
BuT wHiTe PeOpLe ArE KiLlEd ToO! That’s the point. Police should not be killing a thousand Americans every year of any color. But the proportion of black people being killed is much higher than the proportion of black people making up our population. That is the systemic racism being protested. It is a cliché in American crime that white mass murderers get arrested alive and taken to Burger King before going to jail without a scratch on their heads, while black people are pulled over for a broken taillight and found hours later dead in police custody while the cameras inexplicably have been turned off.
But pay attention. These protests are getting bigger and lasting longer. We are in the midst of a turning point in our societal consciousness, and now intersectional protesters are joining in Black Lives Matter and facing the same casual brutality from cops that black people have faced for decades and centuries. Police brutality has bridged the racial divide, and, thanks to ubiquitous cell phone cameras, everyone can see too many police do not follow the laws they enforce.
We all saw the video of a peaceful, elderly protester in Buffalo being pushed to the ground by police. None of us can walk up to someone and push them to the ground so they hit their head and bleed on the ground concussed. We’d get arrested and charged! The police department was brazen enough to claim the man tripped despite numerous public, viral recordings, and, when the officer was finally in trouble, his fellow thin blue line friends resigned from their riot-response team in solidarity to protest that he’d face a consequence for committing an impulsive, unmotivated violent assault against a nonthreatening citizen. Good. Maybe they should quit being police entirely. Cops watching police brutality without condemning, intervening, and then reporting the violence are, quite plainly, bad cops.
In every video we see there are other cops watching mute, passive, and unwilling to tell the truth afterwards about rationales, profile-matches, safety fears, drugs, weapons, and researched criminal histories planted on the victim after a deadly incident. The thin blue line of silence has become a cult, and we need to sustain these Black Lives Matter protests to collectively insist that the police are not policing themselves, and we will no longer tolerate brutality or the omnipresent fear of police that black people justifiably share because cops maintain a wall of silence for all the crimes they see and hear about their colleagues committing against the mentally unwell, homeless, poor, and marginalized who happen to disproportionately be black.
Imagine all the black people for decades and centuries who have suffered the worst of police brutality, and have been assaulted or killed in altercations with police alone at night with no one around, and no camera phones to livestream the end of their lives. Think about all the public spectacle lynchings by people who are still alive today and passing on racism to their kids and grandkids, and all the towns where black people know not to drive through after dark, and all the straight up bombings and razings of prosperous black neighborhoods. If racist crimes today offend and disgust you, just imagine what things were like 30 years ago, and 50 years ago, and further back to the beginnings of modern American policing rounding up runaway slaves. Do you how many cities and towns have discovered their cops in the KKK? How many even in this young century?
There’s lots of good cops, of course, but there have also been at least 30,000 cops who have lost their law enforcement certifications for various incidents of misconduct and lapses in ethics, as counted in a recent USA Today investigation. This is likely a very low-ball figure, as there is no public database of police misconduct, though there should be one, shouldn’t there be?
Does 30,000 police sound like a lot? Now imagine 30,000 firefighters who got caught starting fires instead of putting them out. Or 30,000 teachers who assaulted their students. That would be wild, and immediately inspire radical reform efforts throughout the entire firefighting and teaching career fields.
Here’s another idea: what about the idea of starting over, like the Minneapolis city council has proposed? Might cops have become old dogs unwilling more than unable to learn new safety and transparency tricks?
Well-meaning, incremental reform in the Obama years did very little to alter the trends of filmed police misconduct, and maybe we need new, radically different training for police with major emphasis on deescalation. Firing a bunch of cops and requiring them to retrain, recertify, and rehire is not an unprecedented idea. Sometimes whole police departments have been fired for being complicit in robbing people, and getting rich selling drugs, and intimidating whistle blowers. Cops need more oversight, and doing a reset and recalibration could be a great way for the good cops to prove to their communities they really are serious, good cops, while establishing a new standard minimum of police professionalism in the departments they represent.
And what about limiting funding for police and forcing departments to stop stockpiling war equipment? American citizens are not an enemy army, so why do our police dress like we are?
What about scaling back police responsibilities? Maybe cops do too much around the community, and we are training too many certified killers. The vast majority of police duties day to day are filing reports about crimes after they occur, or or blocking lanes of traffic with their lights, or consoling people whose loved ones just got hurt in a car crash, or calming down a couple yelling at home, or asking a party to turn down the music, or jotting down notes of a rape, or talking someone out of committing suicide. Those are noble actions, but why does the person we send in to respond to these incidents have to have a gun on them, and be the exact same person who maybe hasn’t calmed down from a call just a few hours before to stop a life-threatening armed robbery in progress and then take detailed notes on the gruesome murders?
What if we integrated fire departments, police departments, EMS, and various social services into one umbrella civic institution to drastically save municipal money pooling resources and expanding cross-training and on-hand human resources? Would it be beneficial to shift some police funding to hire more social workers who can deescalate, counsel and prevent crime rather than just reacting to it with overwhelming force and aggression?
What if we mandated more bias training to help dismantle some of the systemic racism that afflicts our police? What if we required cops to pay for malpractice insurance so they’re responsible financially if they break into the wrong house and kill innocent people? Might they behave more professionally and make decisions differently if their wallets and financial futures are affected personally by the gravity of their use of power? What if we trained some first-responders in some situations to not carry guns at all so mediation is not made impossible by guns out and pointing at distressed people’s faces?
These are just a bunch of ideas to consider. Maybe they’re not all good, maybe some of them wouldn’t work, or would likely lead to unintended consequences requiring even further reform, but the point is that we need to do more than nothing to end the police brutality and cop lawlessness that muffles the always sorrowful and sometimes—like right now—rageful demand that black lives matter.
Thanks for reading.