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“Racism, Violence And The Politics Of Resentment”: It Shouldn’t Be Hard To Recognize Two Truths

We have a choice to make.

We can look at violence and racism as scourges that all of us must join together to fight. Or we can turn the issues of crime and policing into fodder for racial and political division.

In principle, it shouldn’t be hard to recognize two truths.

Too many young African Americans have been killed in confrontations with police when lethal force should not have been used. We should mourn their deaths and demand justice. Black Lives Matter turned into a social movement because there is legitimate anger over the reality that — to be very personal about it — I do not have to worry about my son being shot by the police in the way an African American parent does.

At the same time, too many of our police officers are killed while doing their jobs. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 1,466 men and women in law enforcement died in the line of duty over the past decade. We should mourn their deaths, appreciate the dangers they face and honor their courage.

Now I’ll admit: It’s easy for me to type these words on a computer screen. Circumstances are more complicated for those on either side of confrontations over the obligations of our police officers. Things get said (or, often, shouted) that call forth a reaction from the other side. A few demonstrators can scream vile slogans that can be used to taint a whole movement. Rage escalates.

Moreover, there are substantive disagreements over what needs to be done. Those trying to stop unjust police killings want to establish new rules and practices that many rank-and-file officers resist, arguing that the various measures could prevent them from doing their jobs. This resistance, in turn, only heightens mistrust of the police among their critics.

But politicians and, yes, even political commentators have an obligation: to try to make things better, not worse. There is always a choice between the politics of resentment and the politics of remedy. Resentment is easier.

And so it was this week that the murder of Texas Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth inspired Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to say on Monday: “Whether it’s in Ferguson or Baltimore, the response of senior officials of the president, of the attorney general, is to vilify law enforcement. That is fundamentally wrong, and it is endangering the safety and security of us all.” For good measure, the next day, Cruz condemned President Obama’s “silence” on Goforth’s murder.

The problem? For starters, Obama was not silent. He called the slain officer’s widow on Monday and issued a statement saying he had told Kathleen Goforth “that Michelle and I would keep her and her family in our prayers. I also promised that I would continue to highlight the uncommon bravery that the police show in our communities every single day. They put their lives on the line for our safety.” Obama has made statements of this sort over and over. Vilification this is not.

Over at Fox News, the campaign against Black Lives Matter has become fierce. Bill O’Reilly called the organization a “hate group” and declared: “I’m going to put them out of business.”

Let’s take five steps back. The movement for police reform was not the invention of some leftist claque. It was a response to real and genuinely tragic events. Silencing protesters won’t make anything better.

And some potential solutions don’t even make the political agenda. The easy availability of guns on U.S. streets is a threat to the police and to African Americans in our most violent neighborhoods. Why are those who seek reasonable gun regulations regularly blocked by interests far more powerful than those who demonstrate in our streets?

On April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Robert F. Kennedy — who himself would be fatally shot exactly two months later — said this to the Cleveland City Club:

“Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily — whether it is done in the name of the law or in defiance of the law, by one man or by a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence — whenever we tear at the fabric of our lives which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, whenever we do this, then the whole nation is degraded.”

How much more pain must we endure before we recognize that these words are still true?

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 2, 2015

September 5, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Law Enforcement, Racism | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“It’s Time To Focus On The Other Fergusons In America”: Lessons Emerging Should Guide A Nationwide Overhaul To Police Reform

A six-month Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation validated what we heard from many Ferguson residents after the August shooting death of Michael Brown drew the nation’s attention to their city: that their police department has, for several years, exhibited a disturbing pattern of discriminatory policingand, frankly, grift of its citizens.

Further action by the DOJ may reform (or even overhaul) the Ferguson police department entirely. The shooting of two police officers from neighboring departments early Thursday morning in front of the Ferguson police headquarters will likely add pressure for resolution sooner than later. But, while attention to the ongoing tension in Ferguson is merited, there is a danger in Ferguson remaining virtually alone in the national spotlight. The problem of police brutality is hardly endemic to that one city. What about the rest of the 18,000 other departments across the country that may have similarly sick cultures and procedures?

Other Fergusons loom on the horizon, and we shouldn’t wait until an officer shoots another person and a city erupts to fix them. The lessons emerging from Ferguson can and should guide a nationwide overhaul to police reform. Now, while the whole country is focused on this issue, we should seize this moment to develop solutions that are as comprehensive as the problems are vast. Police misconduct and brutality are ingrained in departments thanks to bad practices, limited transparency and a lack of accountability. How does a federal government charged with protecting citizens from policing like this provide a fix that sticks?

It isn’t as if they haven’t tried in the past. In the wake of the LAPD’s beating of Rodney King in March of 1991, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was passed in 1994. One of the things it mandated was that the DOJ keep records and report on use of force by law enforcement. The law also empowered the DOJ to sue any police agencies they found to exhibit a “pattern and practice” of excessive force and civil rights violations, and enter with them into “consent decrees,” arrangements that give the DOJ oversight over a police agency for a designated period of time. The goal of these arrangements is to reform a police department’s policies and practices by monitoring performance and making recommendations.

In the two decades since the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was passed, the DOJ has entered into more than 20 consent decrees with local police departments. They have a record of effectiveness, the most notable example being in Los Angeles where the King incident occurred. A study by the Harvard Kennedy School, found that the DOJ’s consent decree with the LAPD improved the department in most ways imaginable. Public satisfaction with the police improved, the frequency of the use of serious force fell, the quality of police stops improved with stops resulting in a higher rate of arrests and charges filedall while crime rates fell.

The successful use of consent decrees by the DOJ supports the idea that comprehensive federal oversight of the nation’s police can improve outcomes. But what we’ve ended up instead with is a piecemeal, reactionary system for police accountability that can barely keep up with, let alone disrupt, the warrior cop culture that has poisoned so many departments with its misconduct and brutality.

The mandate that the DOJ record and report on use of force, for example, is hollow without the cooperation of the country’s 18,000 police departments. It isn’t enforced today, and thus we have no comprehensive count of how many people are killed each year by the policethe most fundamental information needed for reform. In addition, the DOJ currently investigates police misconduct primarily by complaint. And its consent decrees, while shown effective when enforced, are temporary and only apply to individual police departments with track records of misconduct. They are not the permanent, preventative, and national measures that are needed.

A consent decree is likely on its way in Ferguson, and it promises to be an effective step towards reform. But what happens after the DOJ removes its watchful eye from that town, perhaps to address other Fergusons that face similar treatment by their police departments?

The prevalence of police brutality has long demanded federal intervention. The White House task force prescribed in its first report last week good, common-sense measures for better policing, including independent investigations in fatal police shootings and more comprehensive data collection. But that doesn’t get close to a permanent solution.

The Civil Rights Division of the DOJ has demonstrated its effectiveness in addressing police misconduct through the enforcement of the aforementioned 1994 Violent Crime Control Act, as well as the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Special Litigation Section currently does that work, but that unit is also responsible for protecting disability rights, the rights of the incarcerated, reproductive and religious rights.

The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division would be strengthened by the creation of a section charged solely with tracking, investigating andwhere a civil rights violation is foundprosecuting use of force. Such a unit would prioritize those duties and present a national solution to what is undoubtedly a nationwide problem. The department is already empowered by existing law to create such a unit that could take broader action. Perhaps the only thing standing in the way is the political will to impose a penalty if local police departments do not cooperate.

More than 20 years passed between the assault on King and Brown’s death. In that time, untold numbers of unarmed Americans have been killed by police. Their deaths did not become national news stories or spur federal investigations. We owe it to them to make fair and safe policing a matter of national interest and urgency. If we don’t, the list will grow and we’ll be here again.

 

By: Donovan X. Ramsey, The New Republic, March 13, 2015

March 15, 2015 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Justice Department, Law Enforcement, Police Brutality | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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