It’s clear that the police are out of control. There are institutional violence and a disdain for actual laws. The culture of impunity is deep. One reason, they know they can get away with it. It is so bad that a couple of Búfalo police officers pushed a white 75-year-old man to the ground. He’s in serious but stable condition. Did I mention this happened in front of a high definition tv camera?
Then we had the usual dance. The police told the media that the victim tripped. Oh never mind the video had been on Twitter for over an hour. It was a textbook example. The police can lie legally and misdirect you as well.
This is where impunity starts. They lie, and that public information officer statement was not out of the norm.
When my city council started to look into bias in traffic stops, spoiler alert, they found it, the Chief blatantly lied to the city committee. She told them that the Department had no way to track racial makeup in pedestrian stops. The spaces to note the race of the person the officer contacted is on the form police fill after or during contact. So either they were not tracking, unlikely, or somebody was creative with the facts.
We have seen situations like what happened in Búfalo all over the country. Some officers have been fired, for example in Atlanta. Others are under investigation. Police unions have vowed to defend the officers, which to be fair, is their job. However, unions are also in a rage that there is a national move towards accountability.
Some are telling the press that they are ok with the measures announced. Locally they cannot do any neck restraints any longer, (fun fact, this policy goes back and forth, so keep your eyes open for its reauthorization) They are also nominally getting behind the police accountability board on the ballot. I guess they realize it’s likely going to pass. Or hope it does not if they get behind it…
Lying is a regular practice. We saw it locally. It was on video as well. Things went sideways when a police SWAT vehicle attempted to go into the crowd, to allegedly get into the station. This was on aerial news footage. It wasn’t that people initiated the violence. This has been a pattern. So what did they tell the press? But of course, “we were getting pelted with bottles.” Possible, but what started it, from video, was the Bearcat trying to drive through the crowd. And then we had a woman shot in the head with a beanbag while streaming. She’s older, but I guess streaming while black was her crime…or collecting evidence, unwittingly, of police misconduct. Your mileage will vary.
The city has launched an independent investigation, and the officer is on paid leave.
This culture of impunity starts with this ability to lie. Yes, we need to look at overall reform. Departments need top-down reforms. But some leaders are ready to, lead and listen. As we saw in Flint, Michigan, the Sheriffs led in the right way. Perhaps it helps that it is an elected office. So there is more direct accountability than a police chief, assistant chief, or captains.
Legislators, at state and federal levels, must take this tool away from police officers. Not only does it lead to false confessions, but it helps with this culture of impunity. There is more. Since local District Attorneys work closely with officers, and unions endorse them, they almost always take the side of the police. This is why the States must create independent investigative bodies. All cases involving law enforcement must be in the hands of an independent body, maybe under the State Attorney General.
Which brings me to internal affairs. It’s in theory a way for police departments to police themselves. In fact, I was told by Xavier Becerra’s Office that the AG does not do any local investigations. It should be the police. I asked why officers treat to open the economy protests with kid gloves? The answer is simple, those people would support officers no matter what. It’s part of the culture wars. But it needs to officially be probed. It is obvious that Internal Affairs will not be enough.
Here is the problem in a nutshell:
There’s the fact that in many jurisdictions, police officers — sometimes from other agencies — are responsible for investigating the actions of other police officers. That arrangement can lead to a situation where officers try to protect one another, according to Laurie Robinson, who co-chaired the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing that was established in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
“There is a sense of, ‘We’re out here doing a tough job and we protect our own,’” Robinson said.
The decision to charge officers with crimes then falls on local prosecutors. Clark Neily, who runs the criminal justice program at the libertarian Cato Institute, said that arrangement creates an immediate conflict of interest since prosecutors rely on police officers every day to build their cases. That “near-zero accountability policy,” Neily said, leads to few criminal prosecutions.
There is something else. Police are in a rage. Why? If change does come, the way they have done business is over. So they are taking it out om civilians who are protesting the precise brutality. This comes from thinking, pervasive among American police, of us versus them. Anybody not in the police of us versus them. Perhaps there are exceptions for family and retired officers The profession is highly insular and sees itself as under siege.
Then there is qualified immunity, which was set by the Supreme Court. It makes it almost impossible for civilians to sue individual officers, even if convicted in a court of law.
That’s how the Supreme Court’s 1982 rule works. Known as qualified immunity, it says police cannot be held legally responsible for violating someone’s civil rights unless courts have clearly established that the conduct is illegal. It was intended to protect police from frivolous lawsuits and prevent judges from second-guessing every split-second decision law enforcement officers must make.
Applying that rule, a federal appeals court ruled against a Georgia mother whose 10-year-old son was wounded in the knee by a deputy sheriff. He was looking for a suspect who had wandered into her yard. After ordering her and her children to lie on the ground and while the unarmed suspect was arrested, the deputy fired at the non-threatening family dog. He missed, but the round struck the child.
“Qualified immunity means that government officials can get away with violating your rights as long as they violated them in a way nobody thought of before,” said Anya Bidwell, a lawyer for the Institute of Justice, which is urging the Supreme Court to take up the issue. “That means that the most egregious abuses are frequently the ones for which no one can be held to account.”
This literally translates to shoot first and ask questions later. Now we have movement in the Supreme Court to roll back this protection.
It’s a fantasy to get rid of law enforcement. But we need to realize that we need to change how they do business. It is also incumbent on working media to stop believing the story from police almost always. With video, we can go back and see. We have always had that advantage, but for many reasons, including getting access, media rarely questions law enforcement. This time around law enforcement has targetted working media. So perhaps this will change that attitude.
We need to learn how police are trained in countries with far less police violence. For starters, officers in those countries have much longer academies and require the equivalent of a college degree in relevant fields. This is done in the academy. They also are extensively trained in de-escalation techniques. We also need to ask why police pressure some officers off the force early in their careers. In some cases, it’s because those officers will not tow the thin blue line. It is very real, and it goes from top executives all the way to raw recruits.
Of course, law enforcement will argue that field training means we are close to some European standards and in my local police this means eighteen months. But it is hardly equivalent. Moreover, broken windows policing is not a thing in Europe, but it is still in the US. It is also a fact that some departments see their duty not to serve, but to control, especially certain groups within the population. This has a long cultural tail, and it has to be severed. But we need to start with the lying.
- Lying most not be legal.
- We need to deal with broken windows policing, It is a failed policy
- Anywhere where it is still done, stop and frisk needs to go.
- Qualified immunity needs to go
- We need to change what we tolerate from Law Enforcement as a society.
- We need to realize the history of law enforcement is based on white supremacy, this needs to be explored, and this needs to change.
- Officers need to change their attitude. They are not military troops. They are public servants. They are there to serve, not to occupy.
- Police Unions need to stop protecting bad officers.
- We need to admit to ourselves that we have a problem.
- The 1033 program needs to go. It’s not that all transfer of equipment is problematic. Police need cameras for evidence gathering. Refrigerators and coffee machines are fine too. So are socks. But when we looked into it, why does a school district police need a MRAP?
Cedric Alexander, a former police executive, has pointed out the warrior ethos has to go. It needs to be replaced by one service. He’s right, but we need to get rid of lying as well if we are to go back to a modicum of accountability.