05.02.15 Put police on probation
Baltimore has demonstrated that a white political and police establishment is not required for police to devalue black men’s lives. In a city with a black mayor, black police chief, and a significant number of black officers, Freddie Gray was still considered nothing more than trash – arrested without cause and killed for nothing more than sadistic pleasure. The problem in this country is not black culture, urban culture, or ghetto culture. The problem is police culture.
While we can rejoice at the indictment of the six Baltimore officers who killed Gray, we are only a couple of months past having a video of Eric Garner’s being choked to death by NY cops not being sufficient to result in an indictment. Piecemeal responses to individual cases of racism and abuse by American police departments are net enough. There won’t be enough videos of abuse to shame bad cops into good behavior. The time has come for concerted national action, including removing sullied DAs and police departments from the first line of investigating abuse and deciding whether to prosecute.
Who knew (I didn’t!) that right here in Maryland we have a “law enforcement officer bill of rights,” that provides enormous protection to bad cops? While the rest of us have to settle for the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, somehow jurisdictions across the country have decided that being a cop requires extraordinary protection for acts of injustice, no matter how violent and outrageous. Every single one of these misguided laws needs to be repealed or overturned.
I say it’s time to put every single police chief and police officer – coast to coast – on probation. Give all of them 90 days to take training that includes nonviolent techniques, anti-racism, and community building. At the end of 90 days, test them. A written test is a place to start, but more is required. There should be random testing of cops on the beat, by setting them up in contrived situations to gauge their reactions, including comparisons of how they treat white suspects vs. those of color. Let independent committees (comprised of community, judicial, and political leaders) judge the results. And, fire the failures.
Law-and-order types have advocated zero-tolerance policing for years. Now, let’s turn the tables and kick out the bad apples after a single instance of racism or unprovoked violence.
©2015 Keith Berner