America has been rocked by yet another mass shooting. On Thursday, Micah Johnson murdered 5 police and injured 7 others in Dallas during a protest against police brutality. Peaceful protests were carried out all across the nation on that day and continue as of the writing of this blog entry. The source you ask? The extra-judicial murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling which I wrote about here. This blog entry can serve as an update if you will to that post.
For Black and non-Black activists or supporters of those activists, now is the time more than ever to reaffirm our position and stand strong and unapologetic in a moment when we are the most vulnerable we've ever been.
Dallas was a tragedy, there's no other way to put it. Violence is counter-productive and now innocent people are dead. People who had nothing to do with the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling now won't go home to their families. There should be a radical alternative to violence however. That non-violent radical alternative has to include suggestions and ideas that are not the quickest thrown out by most as a solution. The solution most often thrown out recently has been developing a better training program for America's police.
This is why the 'police training' solution won't be enough to stop police brutality.
The Problem With Stopping at Police Training as a Solution
Police training in America is below the international standard. We know this because of what takes place on America's street's on a daily basis when law enforcement officers interact with citizens. Most interactions are uneventful, however there are far too many that aren't.
We know in most police department budgets, most money is allocated to salaries and equipment, with very little going towards training. Too much time is being spent on the technical side of the use of force and not on the emotional, psychological and physiological aspects of the use of force.
We know that one of the first things new, soon-to-be police officers are taught at the Academy is the "1st Rule of Law Enforcement" which indirectly teaches that everyone is a potential threat and that the ultimate goal for officers everyday is to get home safe. This is problematic for the obvious reasons and can lead to problems being escalated rather than de-escalated.
The problem with stopping at police training as a solution is that it doesn't represent all aspects of different forms of police brutality. Would better police training prevent another Jon Burge? Burge was a police commander in Chicago who oversaw the torture of 118 Black men in police custody and ended up costing the city of Chicago over $120 million which included over $66 million in settlements to torture victims. Burge spent 3 1/2 years in prison before being released from prison due to good behavior. Better police training isn't stopping that folks.
Would better police training prevent more Homan Square-esque facilities spreading around America? That's only assuming there isn't one in every major U.S. city already and we just don't know about it. If only the Chicago police had been trained on human rights violations in the Academy! If only...then they wouldn't have violated those rights in acts that can only be described as deliberate and pre-meditated. I doubt there's anything in the official police training manual about disappearing people to black sites and torturing them for hours to force false confessions and God only knows what else.
While police training will certainly help to prevent killings, it's not nearly enough. The police training solution is akin to the body cam solution. Both are great band aids, but they don't get to the heart of the problem. The heart of the problem is the lack of transparency and accountability within the criminal injustice system. Better training won't prevent Prosecutors from using secret grand juries to protect these race soldiers from going to trial. Training also won't curtail the problem of prison leasing and mass incarceration, and "more communication" won't either.
NO! None of this will work effectively enough. So finally...
Here are 5 radical solutions to police brutality cases.
5 Radical Solutions to Police Brutality Cases
- Raise the payout amount for cases that settle in Court and/or Who Is Forced To Pay. Chicago alone has spent half a billion dollars on police brutality cases. Some of the biggest cities in America have collectively paid out over $1 billion over the past five years with the burden being placed onto the taxpayer. So how about this, going forward 25% of all police brutality settlements will come out of the police departments budget. Do that, or either raise the amount that is given to families. The only problem I have with that is that we already know the financial burden is placed on taxpayers and not the police.
- Democratize The Process w/Nationwide Investigative Civilian Review Boards with subpoena power that can be enforced. Today, there are over 200 civilian oversight entities in America. However civilian review boards are not made the same and they don't all have the same power. It truly varies city by city. There should be a nationwide standard for allowing the citizens to provide a check and balance to police power. Civilian Review Boards should be given more power and more authority. Possibly to issue subpoena's and/or appoint independent investigators or special prosecutors if need be. In too many cases it has been shown that when civilian review boards don't have enough power, their suggestions can be ignored and never actually applied. Civilian review boards cannot simply be a paper tiger, they should have real power and a real, tangible ability to enforce suggestions that are deemed to be needing dire and urgent attention. Like for instance ways to reform a police department if a ton of complaints are coming in during a certain leaders administration. The good thing is City Council's and Mayor's have the ability to set up civilian review boards. That's not something we NEED the federal government to do. So that should be one of many sources of inspiration to get involved in local and state politics. Our lives literally depend on it.
- Reform the Police Officer's Bill of Rights. The Law Enforcement Officer's Bill of Rights are extra due process privileges that have created a dangerous double standard in America where police at times feel as if they should not and cannot be held to the same standard as the citizens they are sworn to serve and protect. One of the many problematic aspects of these special privileges is the ability in some states to not have to say a word in a homicide investigation for anywhere between 10, and in some cities/states, 30 days! In both Ferguson and Baltimore it gave those police officers involved the ability to tell their side of the story days after eyewitnesses and their testimonies aired all over television. Another inherent problem is the questioning process itself which in most cases the LEOBoR makes it so that officers can only be questioned at a "reasonable" hour, for a "reasonable" length of time by only 1 or 2 investigators who, by the way, must be their fellow police officers. Perhaps the greatest reason why the LEOBoR should be reformed, if not outright gutted, is the fact that it came into existence in the late 1960's as a backlash against Civil Rights activists who were demanding more police accountability and pushing for civilian review boards. The Supreme Court then decided later that even in cases of internal investigations for misconduct that police officers had the right to not testify against themselves! Due to this disastrous decision, since the late 60's, American police have effectively been using, and in many cases abusing, special privileges not given to average Americans. The LEOBoR is a literal example of the two-tiered system of justice.
- Destroy the Veil of Secrecy Over American Prisons. One cannot talk about decreasing the number of police brutality cases and ignore America's prison system. There is rampant abuse in prisons, however due to the veil of secrecy around the prison system in America...details about the incidents themselves are not always known. We do know from a 2014 Justice Department study that half of all sexual abuse cases in American prisons involve prison guards! We also know from an Alternet story in 2015 that America is the only democracy in the world without independent oversight of its prison system!! The story also discusses claims made against a prison guard "Beat Up" squad accused of killing Samuel Harrell in Beacon, New York. Advocates for change need to make it known that criminal justice transformation can't come without radically changing America's prison system and having oversight and transparency within prisons both state-run and private.
- Defund, Disarm, Demilitarize. I was watching the BET special on the tragedies of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and was struck by a comment where the woman (who's name escapes me right now) stated that police should not only be de-militarized, which has come up as a suggestion in the past. However she stated they should also be disarmed and defunded. I think the most important one is the de-militarization of police, but long-term we should think seriously about disarming the police as well. It's not a radical idea globally as there are many countries around the world where police either don't carry guns at all or if they do...it's in a limited fashion. It's only a radical idea in America because we live in a very right-wing crafted bubble which rationalizes and legitimizes some of the worst aspects of our fear-based, reactionary culture. I will say though that the disarming of police could only happen if there were a radical re-interpretation of the 2nd amendment and the populace was disarmed as well. So the only entity, citizen or cop, in America who would be armed would be the National Guard. Some people may read this and think this an extreme idea...well, we're in an era right now in America where the idea needs to be out there. Too many people are getting killed using guns. People are killing each other and getting killed by police.
Regardless of how you feel about the suggestions above, I think we can all agree that simply making the training better is not enough. This problem has been eating away at the Black community for multiple generations now and there has likely been long-term, inter-generational trauma that has been afflicted. Simply improving the training just to say America did something to address it is not going to fix the problem at hand. The goal is the elimination of state violence, not the decreasing of it to "acceptable" levels.
- Expert: U.S. Police Training in Use of Deadly Force Woefully Inadequate - The American Prospect
- How Police Training Contributes To Avoidable Deaths - The Atlantic
- Jon Burge, Torturer of Over 100 Black Men, Is Out Of Prison In Less Than 4 Years - In These Times
- Homan Square - The Guardian
- Mass Incarceration and the Continued Practice of Trading Black Bodies For Profit - Black and Intellectual
- Chicago Has Spent Half a Billion Dollars on Police Brutality Cases - And It's Impoverishing the Victims' Communities - The Nation
- America's War on Blacks: Philando Castile and Alton Sterling - Black and Intellectual
- Police Are Learning to Accept Civilian Oversight, But Distrust Lingers - NPR
- The Police Officer's Bill of Rights Creates a Double Standard - New York Times
- Take a Look at the Law Enforcement Officer's Bill of Rights - The Huffington Post
- Half of Sexual Abuse Claims in American Prisons Involve Guards, Study Says - ABC News
- Prison Guard 'Beat Up' Squad Accused of Killing Inmate: Why Prison Abuse is So Common and Overlooked - Alternet