Despite having lived on this earth for almost half a century, I am still learning every day. I have tried to always be open minded as I have viewed life as a journey where I am on a constant quest for knowledge. But, for example, I didn’t know what ‘social distancing’ was, and now it appears as a widespread phenomenon that has saved countless lives. Another thing I didn’t know about was police department abolition.
George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight by members of the Minneapolis police force on May 25. There have now been protests in all fifty states as America lurches toward another inflection point on the issue of race. Weeks later these protests continue. There has been rioting and looting too, but the overriding impression left on me is that police are meeting protests about police brutality with more police brutality.
And, like the murder of George Floyd, each of those additional bad acts perpetrated by law enforcement are ALSO documented on cell phone video. This has created a feedback loop of escalating intensity and horror. Turn on the TV any time and you will see one brutal act after another, all carried out in the name of ‘law and order.’
As Derek Chauvin was engaged in the laborious process of ending George Floyd’s life, he was completely untroubled by the crowd around him, including the videographer. A similar indifference has also been shown in the countless videos that feature cops committing unnecessary acts of (sometimes extreme) violence against protesters since Floyd’s murder. These people clearly think they are immune from consequences.
And why not? As more and more of these atrocities are caught on video, we continue to see very few convictions and often not even an arrest. If the perpetrators continue to go free, there is good reason for cops to continue to think that they will face no consequences.
It’s not as if reforms haven’t been suggested and even, in some cases, implemented. At this point, however, it’s pretty clear that steps taken up until now have not worked. The reasons for that could fill an entire library, but in the interest of looking forward, I’m drawing attention to what might be the best new strategy.
What’s funny is that I live VERY close to Camden, New Jersey, and even worked on civil rights cases against the police back in my days of practicing law. I knew then, of course, that the city did have its own police department, as my cases were against the State Police who were minding the shop while Camden went through the process of abolishing its police force.
Today, this serves as a positive example for how to tear down a broken system in order to make way for REAL reform. I know people are frightened by what sounds like such an extreme measure. Certainly, Republicans are marketing the plan as a Democratic abdication to lawlessness, and moderate Dems like Biden are trying to avoid endorsing the plan. They assume that supporting a plan to defund the police is as toxic as calling yourself a Socialist.
As usual, this particular fear is based on ignorance. Again, I didn’t know that “getting rid of the police” was a thing, even though I worked for months on a Camden PD case that arose after that city “got rid of the police.” Now that I have taken a cursory look at what the “defunding” debate is really about, it makes a whole lot more sense. No surprise there.
It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but the beginning of remaking the police is to start fresh. Then there needs to be a significant narrowing of the scope of duty so that the new police can stick to law enforcement and stop being mental health advisors, school security guards and domestic dispute counselors. These are not the duties that the police were designed to tackle, yet police are increasingly left in the position of having to complete these tasks. It’s too much.
And that’s just the beginning. It’s radical and it’s scary, but maybe not as scary as you think. And it will force much needed change. With all due respect to Billy Idol, I think “it’s a nice day to start again.”