The problem is that the job of policing is naturally attractive to bullies. You get to wear a
uniform, be part of a powerful brotherhood, carry a gun and assorted other weapons, give orders to people, and beat on anyone who doesn’t jump on command. You don’t need a lot of brains, many places don’t require any college at all.
Cell phone videos are a wonderful thing. We didn’t have them when I was young. George Floyd would have died in anonymity and Derek Chauvin would be on to his next bust.
I’ve met a couple of those bullies. One pulled me (and the 14-year-old boy I was giving a ride home on my motorcycle) over and held us up against a wall at gunpoint while she called backup. Would not tell me a thing about why. Every time I asked why, there was a barrage of obscenities, essentially saying, “Shut the F*** up!”
Burbank PD is institutionally brutal. I’ve read other accounts.
Eventually, other police showed up and said a liquor store had been robbed and we were suspects. After what felt like a long period of time they let us go. No search, no questions, no apology. (“Sorry for the inconvenience” would have been nice.) She did write me a bogus ticket for speeding and running a red light, probably as a justification for the stop.
I got the impression she was trying to prove she could be as dominating as the male cops. Or maybe she really was frightened by the two very polite guys she’d stopped. Either way, she did not belong on the force.
Damn! Just run my plates, look at my license, and let us go!
A loaded gun is a very frightening thing to have pointed at you. Especially by a cop who didn’t seem to have herself under very good control. One shaky trigger finger away from being dead. I wonder how the young boy felt about the police after that?
Another time I was in a car with some friends at a McDonalds. One of the 3 guys in the back seat got out and took a leak against the car next to us. I was sitting there wondering why in hell the guy in the back did that instead of just going inside for the restroom. Next thing I know, 4 people come charging out of the restaurant. Turns out it was an unmarked cop car and they were plainclothes police.
The first cop there grabbed me thru my open car window, pulled me out thru it (My seat belt wasn’t on.) and then bounced me on the hood a couple times demanding to know who pissed on his car. I was too shocked to say anything and so he kept bouncing me. Finally, I got out that it was someone in the back seat but I didn’t know who and the bouncing stopped.
The poor guy in the back was arrested and charged with indecent exposure, public urination, and destruction of city property. We pooled our money so he could make bail. That was the last I ever heard of it.
That was Indianapolis.
I may be white but I understand completely why blacks or Hispanics (who probably have more bad experiences than I did) or a bunch of kids in a junk car or anyone riding a motorcycle might develop an intense distrust of the police. They overreact, some are ordinary bullies and some are genuine racists.
The paramilitarization of police is a horrifying trend. Even the ordinary cop carries a semiauto pistol with a high capacity magazine with a hair-trigger. And that is why poor Amadou Diallo was shot 19 times with 41 shots fired because he reached for his wallet too quickly when asked for ID.
I’ve fired a lot of guns. Any kind of surprise, the adrenaline in your veins, and the light touch it takes to set most semiautos off makes it easy to send rounds downrange even if you don’t intend to. And then cops are trained to shoot until the target no longer moves, not to keep their finger off the trigger.
A century of movies and novels and TV series convinced the general public that these things don’t happen – and if they did the victim probably had it coming. The better quality of treatment in middle-class and affluent areas prevents those people from ever experiencing such abuse.
Watch some Adam-12 reruns if you get a chance. That was what the popular image of policing was back then. Cops never assault an innocent person, right? You had to be a scumbag to attract their attention, right?
The truth is that cops are taught to physically dominate a situation – even when it isn’t needed – and get a pass on most instances of excessive force. Black cops as well as white. Even female cops. This gives bullies a license to do what they love doing and trains good people to behave abusively instead of defusing a situation.
They have a higher proportion of bullies than almost any other job description. They are a part of a brotherhood that sets them apart from the people they protect and this encourages an “us vs. them” attitude. A union that has their backs when it comes to protecting them from the consequences of their actions. A culture that encourages them to look the other way when a fellow cop misbehaves.
But before we start defunding things, better have plan B up and running before you do. We need policing of some sort. Sometimes they will need guns.
All those local businesses – mom and pop shops, pharmacies, shoe & clothing stores, grocery stores – weren’t looted and burned because of black rage. A lot of it was highly organized.
It happened because the police weren’t there and wouldn’t be there quickly. They were busy chasing around peaceful protestors because that’s where they were told to go. City and police department leadership have some explaining to do on this.
And some of those cops went overboard either because of bad training or a naturally aggressive personality and made things worse.
Looters behaving badly
What I would do:
- Give the police revolvers again. Or at least a heavier trigger pull on semi-automatic handguns with small-cap magazines.
- Better firearms training. Much, much better. Emphasis on not shooting people who don’t need to be shot.
- Body cams on all officers on at all times.
- Lose the military-style armored vehicles.
- A prohibition on “no-knock” warrants.
- A prohibition on physical restraints that easily turn deadly.
- A prohibition on asset forfeiture without a guilty verdict.
- Better filtration to keep bullies, racists, etc. from entering the force to begin with. Then apply the same filter to those already on the force or consulting for it.
- College degree to be a cop. An AA in a related field as a minimum.
- Recruit harder in minority communities. If a good prospect lacks a degree, prepare to send them to school.
- Train the police to de-escalate and defuse, to attempt conflict resolution before going all dominant.
- Train the police to understand what might be going thru the arrested person’s mind. People get hysterical and irrational without it being a threat requiring violence to subdue.
- Training on implicit and explicit bias.
- Send the police where they are needed, not where it is politically expedient.
- Make police misconduct records public. Do not hire police from other organizations with bad records.
- Strengthen our interpretation of the Posse Comitatus Act. The regular military has no business on American streets.
I don’t expect that all of these will be enacted. The more of them we can bring online, the better. Probably one reform at a time at a rate they can be absorbed. You can transfer money from the police to social services but defunding them or disbanding them without a replacement is a nonstarter. The people who live in impoverished areas want more police. After all, that is where most crime happens. But they want police who are their friends and not a subjugating force.