These are 15 things your city can do to help end police brutality.
One of the many iconic statements Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1966 was:
“[The] law cannot make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also.”
While racial prejudice in America will likely be around for many years to come, even while a variety of people refuse to admit that it exists, a big step that can be made by citizens is to implore local law enforcement agencies to reevaluate their protocols and city officials to consider changing things up.
Though it’s ironic for people against the Black Lives Matter movement to ask people of color to use peaceful methods of protest to counter routine violence, there are some methods that could work if you want police brutality to stop.
The Center for Popular Democracy and Policy Link created a 15-point report titled Building From the Ground Up: A Toolkit for Promoting Justice in Policing after speaking with protestors and organizers to develop solutions.
Below are 15 things that you and your city can do to end police brutality in a nonviolent way.
1. Stop criminalizing everything
When people jokingly say that everything is a crime now, they’re not too far off.
For example, the state of California created 1,000 new crimes in the past 25 years, while Michigan currently has 3,102 crimes on the books. New York City alone has 10,000 crimes, rules and codes the police can enforce. In many cities these crimes include innocuous activities like being in a park after hours, drinking alcohol in public, panhandling, spitting and sleeping on the subway. Some cities have even criminalized the wearing of saggy pants.
None of these actions alone should warrant criminal punishment. The report estimates that police officers spend 90% of their time dealing with minor infractions like these and only 10% on violent crimes, resulting in a system where people of color are disproportionately engaging more with police and summoned to court for low-level offenses—to be more specific, 80% of these summonses are for blacks and Latinos.
The solution is to push police departments and district attorneys to de-prioritize enforcing and prosecuting low-level offenses. Change city charters to limit the health, park, tax and administrative offenses that police are responsible for enforcing. Reclassify misdemeanors as civil infractions whenever possible.
Last but not least, put measures in place to reduce the collateral consequences of these offenses. Employment, immigration, parenting and public housing status should not be affected.
2. Stop using poor people to fatten city budgets
Most courts can issue an arrest warrant if you don’t show up for your court date for a summons or ticketed violation. The result is people spending time in jail for not paying parking tickets.
To make matters worse, the practice is incentivized. Court fees and added fines for not appearing in court or paying the original ticket often supplement city budgets, not to mention these warrants make it really hard to get a job in order to pay the fines you weren’t able to pay in the first place because you had no job, and hence no money. Are you noticing the pattern?
According to the report, here’s what can be done: Pressure lawmakers to eliminate “failure to appear” charges in municipal court. Implement reminder phone calls and free transportation for indigent people with fines to pay where and when it is needed. Offer alternatives to monetary payment—community service or classes is an option. Implement a system where fines are dictated by people’s specific income level and cap the amount of money a city budget can pull from these fines and fees.
3. Kick ICE out of your city
ICE, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies, rely heavily on the work and cooperation of local police. In cities where ICE is either present or has the support of police, they can ask your police department to hold someone suspected of immigration violations for up to 48 hours before ICE comes to pick them up. There doesn’t need to be proof of the violations, which incentivizes racial profiling and causes those with immigration issues to avoid police at all costs, even if it’s to ask for help to offer it for other cases.
You can help shut it down. The report suggests that cities sever ties between ICE and local police departments. ICE should not be able to request these holds, especially if they don’t have evidence of any violations. They also should not have access to the address and names of family members of people detained by local police, which they do when cities cooperate with them. If ICE wants an exception to any of these rules, they should only have it when they have obtained a warrant from an Article III judge. ICE should also have to pay for anyone detained longer on their behalf, because as it stands, the holds are paid for by local law enforcement agencies, which comes from taxpayer dollars.
4. Treat addicts and mentally ill people like they need help, not jail
Jail is not a “one size fits all” prescription. Some issues—like acting erratically due to mental illness or possessing and using drugs due to addiction—are actually better treated with medical attention, not incarceration.
The report suggests training law enforcement officials to address these issues at their discretion and divert them to treatment programs instead of jail. This would lessen the fees associated with incarcerating people and prosecuting them and help lessen the cycles of recidivism, in which those arrested become more likely to be repeatedly arrested and worsen matters for themselves and their community.
Legislators should only be involved in providing funding. Support the training of police in identifying and confronting these problems using de-escalation tactics and keep track of results through frequent data collection and analysis.
5. Make policymakers face their own racism
This one is pretty simple. Law enforcement disproportionately impacts people of color. It funnels them into jails and prisons at staggering rates. Between 1980 and 2008, America’s incarcerated population grew from 500,000 to 2.3 million. Sixty percent of incarcerated Americans are now black or Latino.
One of the primary causes is policy that—whether intentionally or unintentionally—targets blacks and Latinos through drug and search laws, for example. The report recommends that policy makers should have to evaluate the potential racial impact of any new laws they create, and involve community organizers and people who work with disadvantaged populations in every step of the process. Implement a common language for how to evaluate these topics—from patrol officers all the way up to the mayor’s office. And of course, collect data on the results.
6. Actually ban racist policing
Bias in policing can be intentional or unintentional, but citizens currently have relatively no recourse if they submit allegations of such conduct. Data collection (which we’ll go into more below) is an important tool for establishing evidence of bias.
However, at the very least, cities, counties, and states should provide avenues through which private citizens can take the police to court if they believe that they’ve been profiled for any number of reasons. This could mean that they were targeted because of race, gender, immigration status, housing status, disabilities, HIV status, and many more. Allegations of bias should be taken seriously and incorporated into an officer’s evaluation process, both before and after they are hired.
7. Obey the Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures,” which often leads to unnecessary (and unlawful) arrests that are typically drug-related.
These searches are marked heavily with racial disparities. In 2013, blacks and Latinos in Chicago were four times more likely to be searched during a stop than whites. To rectify this problem, the report says that police should have to alert people to their right to refuse a search—much as they are required to read arrestees their Miranda Rights.
Officers should have to present documentary proof of consent — whether in written, audio or video form. They should also guarantee that there will be no negative consequences if a person refuses a search. The report recommends training the police better on when a search is legal or not. Make officers articulate clearly why they want to conduct a search. Make them present documentary proof of search consent—and if they don’t, the presumption should be that the search was unconstitutional.
Last but not least, there should be consequences for officers and departments who do not obtain objective proof of consent.
8. Involve the community in big decisions
Citizens should have significant say in how they are policed. Current civilian oversight commissions often feel like they lack meaningful control in this respect.
Per the report: Every city should have an adequately funded community oversight board with significant investigatory and disciplinary powers. They should reflect their communities, especially the elements of their communities most affected by police abuse. The majority of these committees should be democratically elected and they should avoid having former or current police officers to avoid a conflict of interest.
9. Collect data obsessively
Data is the lifeblood of effective police reform. It’s important in every aspect of documenting the effectiveness of injustice and reform. You can’t solve a problem without knowing its scope, and the disparate impact of policing practices are imminently knowable if we decide we want to know them.
The report says that cities and departments should maintain a transparent and searchable database on every stop, frisk, summons, use of force, arrest and killing they conduct. The database should be regularly updated. It should be public, but implement measures to protect the privacy of those it involves as well. It also should include all relevant info for each interaction—race, gender, time, place, reason and any other consideration that could help detect bias.
And it should be available online.
10. Body cameras
The use of body cameras have become a highly controversial topic amongst police forces everywhere and citizens. Though body cameras are not a solution to the problem, they are important and helpful in keeping officers accountable, and providing evidence for court. The cameras need to be regulated and need clear rules for when they must be activated; if they were not used in an interaction where they should have been, the assumption should be that police misconduct was involved. Body cameras should be earmarked by states or localities, not as part of local police budgets.
Clear measures should be established to allow citizens to access this footage, in addition to protecting and validating their own right to film police.
11. Don’t let friends of the police prosecute the police
Cases against police officers should be tried by independent prosecutors, not the district attorneys who work with them all the time.
Each state should establish a fully-authorized and independent Office of Police Investigations, with the authority to prosecute police officers in criminal court. The report says that states should also be equipped with sufficient and independent resources. In the absence of such an office, independent prosecutors should be assigned to all cases where police conduct leads to the death of a civilian. In cases involving state police departments, attorneys general should assign an independent prosecutor.
12. Oversight, oversight, oversight
Even if the police are caught doing something wrong and, even rarer, are actually prosecuted and found guilty, there isn’t much infrastructure to promote any follow-through for long-term change.
That’s why external oversight committees—ones that oversee the implementation of reforms and proactively identify issues in police operations and practices—are important. These should be independent and instituted at the city or county level, the report suggests. They should regularly analyze data and identify disparities. They should have full investigatory powers into the police; this means access to relevant documents, subpoena power, and the ability to compel testimony. The budget should be consistent and sufficient. And the police should be required to acknowledge and respond to their recommendations.
13. No more military equipment
One thing we learned from Ferguson, Missouri last year is that our police are disturbingly well-armed. Through a federal program called 1033, local police departments in all 50 states have been requesting (and receiving) military-grade weapons and equipment from none other than the Pentagon since the early 1990s.
More than 100 colleges and universities, and over 20 school districts have access to this equipment as well. Its cumulative worth today stands at $727 million.
Municipal solutions to this problem aren’t easily forthcoming, the report says. It’s really up to the federal government to decide whether to make it available or not. President Barack Obama did recently issue an executive order prohibiting police departments from obtaining specific equipment—namely tracked armored vehicles, grenade launchers, large caliber weapons and ammunition and bayonets (yes, bayonets). But few states have restrictions regulating how the equipment already obtained should be used.
14. Establish a “use of force” standard
Consider this: Maybe it’s so hard to legally determine whether a police officer used excessive force in a given situation because there’s no national standard for what constitutes excessive force.
How can we solve the problem if we can’t agree on what the problem looks like? This standard needs to be better defined and enforced. The report says that all departments should issue a statement affirming that their officers should use minimum force to subdue people. They should develop clear and transparent standards for reporting, investigating and disciplining officers who do not comply. They should develop policies that let other officers intervene when fellow officers are using excessive force. And their training should be adjusted to emphasize de-escalation.
15. Train police officers to be members of the community, not just armed patrolmen
Police are trained to handle some rough situations: people with guns, people with knives, car chases, foot pursuits. The Washington Post writes that new recruits usually spend about 60 hours learning how to handle a gun. It’s all very tactical. But guess how much time they spend learning how to de-escalate tense situations, or properly handle the mentally ill? Eight hours apiece, according to the Police Executive Research Forum.
This is a serious problem. Police should be trained on how to develop better relationships with their communities. This training should incorporate culture, diversity, mental illness training, youth development, bias and racism.
The report recommends that recruits should be thoroughly and professionally trained on procedural bias and fairness, implicit bias, institutional bias, relationship-based and community interaction, crisis intervention, mediation, conflict resolution, appropriate engagement with youth based on science of adolescent brain development, de-escalation and minimizing use of force, coping with mental ill individuals, increasing language proficiency and cultural competency, appropriate engagement with LGBTQ, trans and gender-nonconforming people and documenting, preventing and addressing sexual harassment, abuse and assault.
Sounds hard? Welcome to being a police officer.
A final reminder: Unless cited otherwise, the facts, findings, statistics and conclusions presented in this article were adapted from Building From the Ground Up: A Toolkit for Promoting Justice in Policing, available here, while the data was consolidated by Mic here.
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