Plans for reducing police violence
December 26, 2014
OPINION By JIM GRIFFIN
There is a deep seated crisis in the country, and a mounting uproar, about police violence in general and police shootings of unarmed civilians in particular. Some people excuse the behavior of police pretty much no matter what.
Many more people are putting forth ideas aimed at stopping extreme police violence by reforming the system of policing. Some of these Ideas are the following:
Mandating that police wear body cameras that cannot be turned off by the officer, better training for police including intense sensitivity training about communities of color and poverty, more careful selection of candidates wanting to become police weeding out through careful and intensive testing and screening interviews those prone to violence, bullying, prejudice against minorities, super macho ego trips, sociopathic acting out, and so on.
Require massive efforts to recruit minority citizens in large numbers to become police officers, to also be vetted. Careful re-writes of laws and rules about the use of force by police and the various levels of force and technologies of force to be used and under what conditions, with an emphasis on non-lethal force and non-lethal weapons technology:
Require attempts to talk situations down first. Less violent martial methods second and no choke holds, etc. No fists, pepper spray and/or stun guns, night sticks within reason.
And finally, guns should be used only as a last resort when the life of an officer is truly threatened or the officer is truly threatened with severe bodily injury.
Then strictly enforce these hierarchy-of-force rules. Establish severe penalties, including prison sentences, for cops found guilty of violating these rules/laws, especially when a killing of an unarmed person happens.
Stop supplying police departments with heavy military hardware and military training — and a military mentality.
Mandate that police officers live within the city they work in, carrying that even to the point of mandating that they live within the same area/district/precinct where they work/patrol.
Totally reform, open up, and end the secrecy of the whole grand jury system. Severely curb the wide latitude that prosecutors/district attorneys have in setting up, selecting, managing (manipulating) and using grand juries. Use blind lotteries to select grand jurors, but mandate that they be made up of proportions of people who at least roughly match the racial-ethnic-economic makeup of the community.
Establish the regular, mandated selection of independent special prosecutors for investigations and actions concerning police violence ending in death or severe injury to civilians.
No pay for cops put on suspension for unarmed civilian killings.
Legalize marijuana and decriminalize possession of other street drugs under careful regulation. Stop mass arrests and imprisonment for petty drug charges. Take the cops out of this.
End arrest quotas for federal or state subsidies of police departments. Continue the building of mass protest mobilizations and coalitions to expose and fight against all forms of police violence and brutality and all forms of oppression generally.
These are good ideas and should be implemented ASAP. There is no time to lose. But in the final analysis, a massive amount of fundamental social and cultural transformation in general is really the only way to solve police violence problems and all the social ills that lead to the atmosphere and background noise that make out-of-control police violence inevitable.
The reforms listed above are definitely part of it, without doubt. But, in my opinion, much more is needed.
In following paragraphs after that I put forward overall suggestions for comprehensive socio-economic changes. Both these lists will seem very radical to some, no doubt, but I believe that, at some point in the future of our nation, these ideas will be accepted pretty much without question. See what you think:
(1) The separation between police and the population must be dissolved. Policing duties should be spread among formal officers of the law and militias made up of qualified, carefully trained, carefully selected and even elected local citizens who patrol neighborhoods. Assisting them would be beefed up and trained neighborhood watch groups. Full and constant communication among all these allied forces must be assured. Adjunct forces should also often follow and monitor the behavior of the regular police, especially those with histories of troubled and violent relations with the community, to observe possible criminal/improper behaviors and report them/take action.
(2) All types of police and adjunct forces as above should be heavily populated with specialists in sociology, conflict resolution, social work, psychology and social psychology, social dynamics, etc. We must get away from the reality of some officers being brutal tough guys with chips on their shoulders and hiding behind badges to vent their sociopathic tendencies. We must not tolerate mindless thugs and killers in uniform who have official authority, hostile attitudes, and deadly weapons.
(3) Police and adjunct forces should be trained in less aggressive but effective forms of martial arts such as Aikido and Judo, etc., including non-lethal holds and immobilization methods.
(4) Elected civilian police review boards should be established, fully empowered to investigate, interrogate, arrest, charge, indict, detain — and fire — police officers who commit or allegedly commit crimes/offenses. These boards should also have final say about hiring police in the first place, and be completely accessible for complaints about cops from regular citizens. These boards would supersede prosecutors in these cases. No police or ex-police or any persons related to or having any historically close connection to police should be allowed on these boards.
(5) Elected community councils should be established to work with elected civilian police review boards and with all governmental bodies to oversee these matters of public safety along with issues of poverty, unemployment, family dissolution, street and other crime activities, alienated and marginalized persons, and so on.
(6) In the end, overzealous policing and violence are only surface symptoms of a society in deep socio-economic crisis, with hostility toward minority communities and the poor becoming almost inevitable on the part of the repressive forces of the ruling, mostly white, wealthy elite.
Massive efforts and legislation must be carried out and passed to, create and protect good paying jobs, public and private sector, provide free higher education and craft/trade training for those willing to work hard, supply quality affordable housing on a massive scale, establish a fully living level minimum wage, protected fully against inflation, free up and expand democratic, rank-and-file controlled unions and other forms of independent, rank-and-file controlled workers’ organizations, clean up and brighten up blighted, polluted neighborhoods, protect democratic rights and civil liberties, expand and adequately fund the legal aid and public defender system.
Think about it and you’ll see why all the above ideas have a lot to do with ending conditions that lead to police violence and a corrupt legal system. Increasing poverty and misery among masses of people leads to mass desperate behaviors and to the hardening of aggressive attitudes of police, grand juries, courts, etc. This dangerous soup lays the basis and groundwork for increasing clashes between law enforcement and communities of color and economic desperation.
On the present path, sooner or later, some persons and forces within these communities, organized and ad hoc, are going to figure that they might as well arm themselves and be ready to fight back against police in order to defend themselves and defend others. At the least, some groups in some communities will form community defense squads to follow police, and intervene — perhaps with arms in hand — if brutality and threats to life develop.
In general, these community defense forces will likely conclude that they have nothing to lose. They’ll conclude that the oppressive system is becoming increasingly violently and murderously oppressive — an actual police state. The cops are going to shoot anyway, so why not be ready to shoot back and at least go down fighting — or win and get away ?
In this context, cops perceived to be predators, and who get off Scott free, will possibly begin to be systematically hunted down and killed by citizens taking matters into their own hands. I’m not advocating this, and I know nothing of any plans of persons or groups in this regard.
I condemn such ideas and caution strongly against them. I’m simply saying that these and the other less aggressive defensive actions by communities are pretty much inevitable if things don’t change drastically — and soon. People will fight for their lives when their backs are against the wall and they see no alternative, and conclude that the system has abandoned them and is killing — executing — them routinely. It’s as simple as that. Police officers themselves have a vital interest in ending the scourge of out-of-control cops whose ruthless and dangerous actions can lead to the above virtual civil war on our streets.
We have a lot of work, soul searching, and thinking to do as a society about these issues. We have a huge amount of things that desperately need changing. Will we do it ? I don’t know. I hope so, but time will tell. It depends on you and me — and on the cops who really are dedicated to protecting and serving and not acting like a hostile, occupying army in minority, working class, and poor communities.
Jim Griffin has lived in San Luis Obispo for six years. The son of a career Air Force officer, Jim lived in many varied places growing up. Born in California but moving to Alaska at 2 1/2, back to California, to Illinois, back to Alaska, to Canada, and ending up in the Detroit area, Michigan, when he was twelve.