Disclaimer – Ordinarily I don’t use profanity. However, it is very appropriate in this circumstance. If you are more offended by my use of profanity than you are by the indiscriminate murder of innocent black citizens, please feel free to stop reading as this is not for you.
On August 9, 1988 a then unknown new rap group named NWA published a song called “Fuck tha Police”. The lyrics, tone, and tenor of the song were very straight forward: the police do not deserve respect because they repeatedly abuse, disrespect, and murder innocent black citizens. The song opens with the following lyrics:
Fuck the police comin’ straight from the underground
A young nigga got it bad ’cause I’m brown
And not the other color so police think
They have the authority to kill a minority
This song keeps playing in my head. In the last three weeks we have seen brazen murders of black citizens where the murderers have only suffered arrest, administrative leave, and termination.
I wrote about Ahmaud Arbery on May 8! That’s 18 days ago at the time of this writing. Ahmaud was jogging in Georgia. A white father (who was an ex-police officer) and his son came to the conclusion that Ahmaud was the person responsible for a rash of robberies that were later found to be non-existent. It took over two months and the release of the actual video before they were arrested and charged.
Breonna Taylor’s murder occurred on May 13th. Police officers in Louisville, KY obtained a no-knock warrant for someone else. They somehow got the address of Breonna as the location for the suspect who they were looking for that day. In spite of the fact that the person who they were looking for was arrested the same morning, they still executed their warrant and Breonna was killed.
George Floyd’s death happened and was captured on video on May 25. It was strangely reminiscent of Eric Gardner’s murder. Floyd was using a counterfeit bill, and the police were called. He resisted arrest (although a video released the next day disputes this fact), but was subdued and placed in handcuffs while being wrestled to the ground. One of the police officers had his knee on Floyd’s neck for seven minutes. Floyd can be heard in the video saying, “I can’t breathe”. Despite his pleas, they were ignored and he died. In an atypical response from the police department, the four officers involved were fired the next day. I’m sure they will have representation from their Union that will sue due to lack of due process (ironically something that was denied to Floyd).
The Floyd incident happened in Minnesota, the Arbery incident happened in Georgia, and the Taylor incident happened in Kentucky. If you’re paying attention, you noticed two contiguous themes in each of these stories: misconduct by police and each of the victims is black. None of these victims were gang bangers, car jackers, drug dealers, or violent in any way. These were citizens whose lives were stolen from them, and the outcome of justice that the perpetrators will suffer is dubious at best.
So the common denominator is the police force. Or perhaps it’s better to say that police officers appear to have little to no accountability to the citizens they “serve”. It also seems like the same group of people, regardless of socioeconomic status, continue to be the majority of citizens whose rights are violated. Black people.
Here are four very simple solutions that would improve this country’s situation immediately and appreciably. While black people are consuming themselves with insisting that Joe Biden’s VP pick is black, our community would be better served by implementing these four directives.
Liability insurance – All police officers must carry mandatory liability insurance (just like auto insurance). This will allow a third party to underwrite and issue a rating based on a police officer’s history. This system must be federal so that police officers cannot simply quit or be terminated in one department, and then relocate to another. This will allow more dangerous police officers to be assigned a worse rating, and therefore have to pay a higher premium. Eventually, their bad behavior will price them out of the profession, which leads to the second solution.
Liability and Pension fund sharing in settlements – In our present system police officers are immunized by the city where they work. That means that more often than not police officers cannot be criminally prosecuted; therefore, families have to resort to Civil prosecution. The problem with this is that any settlement is paid by the city. If officers have to personally carry liability insurance, part of the settlement would be subsidized by the officers insurance (which will now have a higher premium). Furthermore, police pensions often pay the attorney fees for police officers in the minority of cases where criminal prosecution occurs. Police pensions should be financially responsible when there is a finding of guilt. This will break the blue wall of silence as police officers will be engendered to police each other, rather than cover up each other’s malfeasance.
Federal investigations – Internal Affairs has failed. Most citizen’s exposure to IA is from the movies. There’s usually some overzealous member of IA who is hated by the “regular” police officers. In the movies IA is full of sellout cops who couldn’t make it on the streets. In the movies they spend the entire film trying to prove that one of the cops on the force is a criminal, but at the end of the movie the agent has an epiphany. These streets are hard and dangerous. The police officer is just doing their job to keep all of us safe. In reality police officers who live in the same town and work for the same organization can’t be trusted to investigate each other without prejudice. All investigations should be managed by the FBI. At least there will be a disinterested third party conducting the investigation.
Voir Dire – a French word that means “to speak the truth”. You may launch the link to hear how it is pronounced. There are a variety of legal procedures that are covered by this phrase, but I want to concentrate on one. Voir Dire is the part of a legal trial when attorneys question potential jurors who will decide guilt or innocence. White jurors historically side with the police, but that’s less important right now. The defense attorney for police officers in civil cases can and will summarily dismiss jurors who they believe will convict police officers. Since each side gets to dismiss a certain amount of jurors without explanation, many black citizens who might decide to prosecute police officers never get to become jurors.
Let’s review. An African American is killed by police officers. The police officer has his defense paid for by his union. The (free) attorney gets to dismiss almost anyone who he believes might convict the police officer. Conversely, the attorney gets to select jurors who he believes will believe the story by the police. Forward going in cases criminal or civil where police misconduct is suspected, the attorneys on the trial cannot select the jurors. Jury selection was originally supposed to set up a system whereby your conduct is judged by your peers. Defense attorneys aren’t trying to get fairness, they are trying to get a not guilty verdict for their client even when guilt is obvious for all to see.
Perhaps all juries for police misconduct cases should be grand juries. They are convened in secret and their decisions are often sealed. That way no one on the jury needs to fear reprisal from the police. Perhaps it should be customary for police misconduct cases to be tried at a central location and the case should be adjudicated by the F.BI. Perhaps due to the ubiquity of these cases a completely new court system needs to be created just for these kinds of cases. We have immigration courts and judges, so why not courts specifically for police misconduct? We cannot continue to allow lay people to serve as jurors only then to refuse to prosecute police officers in only the most obscure circumstances.
Street justice – This one is harder. This is the one where most people have a problem. Most black people even have a problem with this one, but the video of George Floyd confirms that it is needed. If you see a police officer murdering a citizen, should you reach for your phone, or should you reach for a gun to protect the citizen? What if there are two or three officers, but there are ten armed citizens? Should we have a law that allows citizens to protect each other from abusive police officers? This is the hard question we need to answer as a society.
Police officers have no reason to modify their behavior in our present system. Are citizens, are black people, going to continue to live in a country where they can be arbitrarily murdered for non-violent offenses, or worst yet in the case of Breonna Taylor, police error? NWA says it best. Fuck tha Police!