The Way Forward
Police officers have an extraordinarily difficult job. They have to deal with people at their very worst. They have to carry out vehicle stops at night, which can pose tremendous stresses and dangers to the cops. But we have increasingly seen over the past few years that far too many vehicle stops are not for safety or valid law enforcement purposes, but rather to generate income for municipalities and to harass minority communities.
The events in Cincinnati showing a college campus police officer, Ray Tensing, shooting and killing Sam DuBose who was pulled over for a minimal violation is just the latest of many such incidents. Unlike so many of the others, Tensing was charged by the prosecutor with murder (Tensing has entered a not guilty plea despite lying about what happened, and watch for him to claim justified use of force). The issue of prosecuting cops is its own problem that has to be addressed concurrently, and involves some of the same issues, but isn’t the focus of this piece.
We have had more than 500 people killed in police custody or during police stops since the beginning of the year. That’s more than two a day. Many of those deaths are entirely preventable with proper techniques, training, and restraint on the deadly use of force.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg as there have been cases like this for years, but only with the advent of body cameras, police cameras, and private citizens taking video of incidents have we seen just how badly police have behaved.
The incident involving Sam DuBose was entirely preventable. There was no reason for the officer to even have his gun drawn during a routine traffic stop. Yet within moments, the incident escalated and the officer shot and instantly killed DuBose. The officer then claimed that he was dragged and forced to shoot DuBose- it was video that exposed the lies, and malfeasance on the officer’s part.
And while the other two responding officers were not reprimanded in the DuBose killing, the two officers were involved in the killing of yet another unarmed man back in 2010 when, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, they used a taser on a mentally ill man already in a medical facility. They weren’t reprimanded or disciplined in that death either.
We have seen far too many officers get away with murder.
We have seen far too many officers who should not be members of any police force go from department to department, without so much as any indication of just how badly those officers have acted before. That includes Darren Wilson, who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson.
What we need is a national database that identifies the bad apples. All departments would have to track and maintain records showing excessive force complaints, dispositions of complaints, criminal records of officers, etc. All this information would be available to other departments, so that if someone were to be considered for hiring or transfer, the department would know the officer’s status and whether he or she should even be hired.
Further, all departments would be required to maintain uniform statistics regarding law enforcement firearm discharges, use of tasers or nonlethal devices, race of those involved, whether suspects were armed or not, casualties, and other statistics that are needed to be able to track trends and identify those departments that are using disproportionate/excessive force.
Yet police officers do so much more that never makes the headlines. It starts with the police culture.
A Florida cop treating a homeless man in custody as a circus animal doing tricks. The officer resigns, but he’s being watched by other officers in the background, who do nothing to stop or correct the situation. They condone the activity by their silence and inaction.
What about the other officers in the background who did nothing to stop this? No reprimands? No retraining? Nothing?
The problems with law enforcement treating suspects and those who are stopped without a shred of respect run deep and goes to the culture of law enforcement. We must change that culture, and it starts with zero tolerance for malfeasance like this.
Consider it the broken windows strategy to clean up law enforcement.
Minor violations indicate likely systemic violations and problems with the culture at a police department.
You don’t suddenly end up with a Ferguson or Cleveland or Cincinnati. It takes decades of ingrained racism and lack of professionalism within a law enforcement culture that doesn’t respect those it pulls over, and sees a minority community in the worst possible light by initiating a shoot first ask no questions later.
And it has to change.
Justice demands it.