Maybe you believe police are racist. Maybe you believe black people are violent. Maybe you believe the whole conflict is an intentional distraction parlayed by the bankers who rule us all. Regardless of what you think, it is undeniable that we are faced with a problem. Police are killing black people in disproportionate numbers to white people.
Being fed up with the echo chamber of Facebook, I asked my feed-readers to offer some solutions to the police killings that had them so riled up. The philosophy was that perhaps all this energy could be used for brainstorming rather than complaining.
Brainstorming is of course a hell of a lot harder than complaining, but surprisingly I received a good number of replies. So thank you, people who contributed. I appreciate your time and effort. Here are the solutions that you offered.
1. End the War on Drugs
End the war on drugs, starting with taking marijuana off the control substance list. Nixon’s top advisor admitted himself that the war on drugs was largely emphasized to target and criminalize both the Vietnam protest community, and the African American community…
…A big issue there is who they want to hire as police officers, as well as drug tests barring marijuana users… – A.W.
IS: It looks like about 70% of the population agrees with this suggestion. One counterargument, however, is that some drugs (such as crack and PCP) make people violent and others (such as heroin) make people negligent, thereby turning victimless crimes into victim crimes. Another counter is the Opium Wars argument, wherein the British defeated the Chinese because the Chinese were all addicted to opium. If we allow our citizens to be high all the time, we lose when it comes time to fight.
More problematic is that this solution is a few steps removed from the core problem. While it would lead to less violent interactions, it requires a big assumption to believe that it would have any impact on racism.
– Basic criminal justice course as a part of high school curriculum to educate older kids on their rights and duties as US citizens. The course should include ride-alongs for the purpose of first-hand familiarization with the dynamics of policing in a given neighborhood.
– Monthly events that bring law enforcement and local community members together. Something along the lines of barbecues at the local park, basketball games etc. People (including cops) need to see that once the uniforms come off, there is no more “us” and “them.” There is only bunch of guys and gals, moms and dads, lakers fans and beer lovers who care about their community.
–More community involvement in the police force. That’s up to us, as the community, to join the police force and integrate the needs of the local level communities into the force. – J.P.
IS: The fundamental problem, as I see it, is one of other-ing. As much as I hate that SJW-y word, it applies quite well here. Alton Sterling was an impoverished guy who eked out a living selling CDs in front of a convenience store. He had a history of run-ins with police which mostly involved them telling him to stop and him refusing. He also had a gun, but reports indicate that this was to protect himself after being robbed.
Regardless what the media tells us, we will never really know the nuances of the Sterling situation. A Washington Post article title The Double Standard of the Side Hustle addresses this potential and illustrates it by analogizing Sterling and Eric Garner, who made a similar sort of living selling loose cigarettes. In both these cases, the piece argues, “broken windows” policing caused officers to consistently hassle harmless men selling innocuous stuff on the street in order to get by.
The other-ing occurs when police fail to see the nuance and personhood of desperate men. If police felt that these men were part of their own communities—the harmless beggar on the corner—then they would have treated them with the kid gloves they probably deserved. Instead, police in both instances viewed the victims like enemy combatants, and not like the bumbling guttersnipes that they were.
The reason I like J.P.’s proposed solution is that it attacks this sort of other-ing head on. It forces cops to understand the nuances of the communities they police as well as they understand the nuances of their own communities. Even in Afghanistan, our soldiers are trained to become as ingratiated into the community as possible, to work to win hearts and minds as well maintain order. The neighborhoods of America are places where P.O.’s should think of the people that they’re protecting as their own. Winning hearts and minds through community understanding should be put at a premium, not ignored.
3. Improve Non-lethal Weapons
– improving the effectiveness of police tasers or developing a tool capable of effectively and non-fatally paralyzing nervous system-muscle communication system. Tasers had shown to be extremely unreliable and, in case of suspect’s intoxication, simply useless. – J.P.
IS: This is the most practical solution offered, but it is probably the most abhorrent to supporters of BLM. “Can’t police just do their jobs?” is a BLM refrain, and it’s not a bad point. The idea of black men being tased or shot with rubber bullets is almost as bad as them being killed.
There’s also a reason why non-lethals haven’t been fully implemented on the police-side; they don’t work very well. Here’s a thread detailing all the shortcomings of non-lethal weapons.
That said, it comes down to how serious people are about solving the actual problem. If better non-lethals would drastically reduce the amount of deaths, while simultaneously keeping P.O.s safe, it seems like a pragmatic solution to the problem, despite failing to treat its more nefarious cause.
4. Pay Criminals Not To Commit Crimes
We need to create a baseline standard of living for all citizens. Giving those who are statistically most susceptible to going into a life of crime ( people with substandard or no access to educational, medical, recreational, nutritional resources) should be compensated for being disenfranchised from and alienated from these public resources everyone else takes for granted.
IS: The D.C. city council unanimously approved a proposal that would pay top 50 worse criminals $9,000 a year to not commit crime. This is a radical and highly socialist idea, but it makes me uncomfortable. There’s an inherent revulsion to paying people not to commit crime, and the program seems susceptible to abuse. While I see its practical virtues, there’s just something about the principle of paying people to be particularly bad criminals that I don’t think I, or most people, could ever accept.
Furthermore, what does this really have to do with police racism? It seems race agnostic to me. If anything doesn’t it assume that blacks will inevitably compose the majority of the 50 worst criminals?
5. Reduced enforcement.
Take the police off the streets and have them only respond when there is actually a report of an emergency. Since this is not my idea I will post a link to the huff post article: – Z.C.
IS: The crux of this argument is that in many cases such as Gray, Walter Scott, and Sandra Bland, police were not called to the scene, but were patrolling the neighborhood when they encountered their victims. Instead, officers should act like firemen and only arrive at the scene when 911 is called.
I love this idea, because it frees up our actions on the streets. With surveillance at an all time high, sometimes it feels like we’re living in a cage, our every behavior monitored, even the smallest of rules are enforced all the time. We should be allowed much more freedom to move around our communities, as they are our communities, without being surveilled, stalked, and of course murdered.
The problem here–what proponents of “broken windows” policing would say–is that it’s been proven time and again that a consistent police presence enforcing small laws prevents communities from descending into high-crime nightmares, like New York City in the 1970s and 1980s.
6. Indict the police
A big part of this issue is that we don’t see police being held accountable for the lives they take. This includes standing trial. Cops don’t stand trial because the case never even gets past the indictment stage. If we believe, at all, that punishment serves as a deterrent to crime, then we need to see cops being punished for bad decisions. – A.B.
IS: Indeed, a tiny percentage of police shooters are indicted for manslaughter. Indicting (and convicting) more of them would likely cause a major reduction in police killings.
When judging whether a cop has committed a crime (murder or manslaughter) by killing someone, P.O.s are evaluated by the “reasonable officer” standard, e.g. whether a reasonable officer would have felt that lethal force was necessary in a given situation. In order to indict an officer, a court or jury must find that the P.O.’s actions were a “gross departure” from what a reasonable police officer would do.
It is problematic from the offset that we have judges and common citizens dictating what a “reasonable police officer” would do, given that the job is not something most of us can relate to. Depending on the community, a police officer can be a friendly neighborhood mascot or a soldier in a war zone. Indicting P.O.s more frequently would require creating more sensitive laws that would make indictments easier. This would give judges and common people even more license to determine the fate of police doing a job that they can’t really understand. This would make us even more blind to the nuance of violent situations.
There are two other problems with this. 1) It doesn’t address the issue that most are concerned about, which is racism. Cops kill twice as many white people as black people each year, and we can assume they are scared in both circumstances. While indictments would reduce police killings, there’s no reason to believe they would reduce the higher percentage of black killings.
2) Cops have a license to kill for a very good reason. They have had such a license since ancient times. If cops face the same standards for manslaughter as the average person, their power to control the populace will be seriously undermined.
7. Make it harder to become police, and pay them better.
You make it harder to join the police force; heightened aptitude requirements, more intense field simulations and periodic psych evals. You need smarter, tougher, saner officers who don’t act on knee jerk impulses and operate according to baseline profile biases. – B.W.
…and pay them more. it will attract better candidates. – E.W.
IS: Having more educated, better paid officers less susceptible to anger and exhaustion would be a good thing for everybody. The one thing I do know about police for certain is that they’re overworked, and that can’t possibly help in tense situations.
8. Pocket-sized constitutions?
Pocket sized Constitution and Bill of Rights handed out with state IDs and licenses. Information is power. We must know our rights as Americans. – A.D.
IS: As a symbolic reminder, this might actually work!
9. Desegregate schools
Desegregate public schools. If kids grow up around different races they’re probably less likely to fear them later in life or view them as a threat….future cops included. – M.B.
I.S.: Public schools are desegregated. More bussing is a bad idea. Forced integration is just as absurd as forced segregation.
10. Stop media sensationalization
I think we should stop sensationalizing black men being killed by police officers. IF the media wants to report on it, it should be reported as a police officer killing a person. Leave the race out of it, because in seems in most cases the person is not shot because of their race.
As a society, if we keep defining things as “black problems” or “white problems” we will never get passed the racism. – Z.S.
I think we stop framing the issue as black lives versus others. all lives matter. i know that race is playing a factor in what is happening, but these incidents aren’t horrifying because the people dying are black – they are sad because the people dying are people who did not deserve to. and i believe that the racism behind some of these incidents stems from thinking about black people as different. while all, varying cultures should be celebrated, first and foremost we are all people. – C.O.
I.S.: I agree fully with this general premise. The media sows much more division than it assuages. We are being forever pitted against each other, because fear and anger are the most reliable hooks. I also believe the establishment, represented currently by Hillary Clinton, thrives on division. Notice how quickly we forgot the email scandal in the wake of these televised police murders? Notice how Bernie Sanders, who would have been economically better for poor communities, was ignored by the black ones. Being hyper-conscious of race doesn’t create solutions, it creates problems. I believe that 95% of victimhood claims in our contemporary society are bullshit and are driven by the establishment’s practice of forever dwelling on past injustices.
That said, one of the 5% of legitimate complaints, in my view, is police violence against black men. If one race can prove that it’s being disproportionately tyrannized by another, it creates an impossible situation. So while I think this suggestion would go a long way towards solving these problems in general, I don’t think it’s the solution to the problem at hand.
11. BLM/Poor Black People Join the Police Force
What if large volumes of BLM or like-minded individuals got jobs with or applied to join their local police force? What if large volumes of BLM or like-minded individuals got jobs with or applied to join their local police force? – C.D.
IS: This is my favorite suggestion. Short of removing police from neighborhoods entirely (see e.g. #5), the way to get police to treat people like Sterling and Garner better is to get them to understand people like Sterling and Garner better.
I used to work at the District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. My co-workers included current cops (black and white) and a bunch of ex-cops: grizzled, Italian or Irish classic New York types. I loved these guys, and they were very kind to me. They were not racist in the sense of being white supremacists, and they couldn’t give a shit if you were black or white with regard to how they would treat you if they met you in an everyday setting.
However, when it came to certain communities of black people, namely the ones where 90% of the murders we were investigating occurred, they were biased. I think they had good reason to be, having risked their lives for so many years in those neighborhoods. However, I do believe that the skin color and the cultural differences present in these black neighborhoods exacerbated those biases. If these neighborhoods were white, I do think the police would have treated them with more empathy, more camaraderie, less like war zones. No matter what race you are, it is always easier to other someone when they don’t look like you.
The neighborhoods where these shootings occur are usually poor and black. The economies of these neighborhoods are usually quite different than other sorts of neighborhoods. As mentioned above, side hustles like selling CDs and loose cigarettes are the norm in some neighborhoods, where people who start life with no resources struggle to survive. Cops from different backgrounds policing these neighborhoods are similarly foreign to our military servicemen policing communities in Iraq and Afghanistan. If we’ve learned anything from those catastrophes it’s that, no matter how hard you try, sometimes subtle cultural differences are just too complex to understand. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Different dialects, different economies, and deeply different cultures existing under the American banner are an essential part of the American identity. However, we should be realistic about our divisions, instead of pretending that they don’t exist. To cops in these foreign environments, sometimes the good guys look like bad guys and the bad guys look like good guys.
The fix? Get more of the people who understand these neighborhoods to police them.
12. No more white tyranny of black neighborhoods
My own suggestion is an extension of #11, and it’s going to sound controversial. What if white cops stopped patrolling black neighborhoods?
This may sound like saying “if they don’t like the way they police them, let them police themselves!” but that’s not the intention. Police should be able to do their jobs in a non-racist fashion no matter where they operate.
However, think about why many of the neighborhoods most susceptible to police shootings don’t police themselves. It’s because they’re poor and black. These neighborhoods haven’t been included in the power structure. They never got the keys to the kingdom. Institutional power has tolerated them, but it hasn’t laid the groundwork for their self-determination.
What if some of these poor black communities, in particular the ones surrounded by white communities such as Ferguson, were empowered to build their own police departments?
Many will reject this notion as more other-ing. Why is a poor black community any different from a poor white community? Why can’t police just do their friggin’ jobs in neighborhoods where people are a different skin color than they are?
In principle, these are valid arguments. However, in practice they are too theoretical. They don’t admit the real cultural differences that exist in real life. Most would agree that cops are more likely to shoot black people because black people seem foreign to them. Maybe, instead of trying to eliminate that foreignness, we should accept it?
As someone who has spent a great deal of time immersed in both black and white communities, I have often felt other-ness in black communities. It’s not necessarily discomfort, but it is a feeling of difference. I’ve also felt different in extremely wealthy communities, or extremely Asian ones. These differences can be exciting, and bridging the gaps can make you feel really good. But it can also be scary.
When something as sensitive as lives are at hand, the people most familiar with the way those lives work should be in charge. When police are coming from extremely different communities than the communities they police, the result is tyranny. No one race should be policing another, yet that’s what’s happening, as plain as day, in places like Ferguson.
The solution of having some poor black communities field police departments would work twofold. On the one hand, it would provide institutional power to communities frustrated by the lack of it. Also, it would ensure that the neighborhoods being policed are being policed by those most sensitive to the nuances of those neighborhoods, to ensure that harmless side-hustlers like Sterling and Garner aren’t killed by people who are scared by them.
Thanks everybody for your contributions! Stay tuned…