Monday Morning Thoughts II: Need Systemic Approach to Police Reform

Police Blue

While the very name of Al Sharpton will stir resistance in some of our readership, there is no doubt that his op-ed this weekend on the need to stop dealing with police brutality episodically is right on.  In fact, it was part of our point on Saturday when we noted that Dallas has been a leader on police reform, and yet systemic problems have caught up to Dallas.

Mr. Sharpton, writing in the Huffington Post, notes that this week marks the grim two-year anniversary of the death of Eric Garner.  He writes, “As we get ready for a memorial march in New York, I am shocked at the parallels between the Garner and Sterling deaths — which are horrific and eerie.”

“Both were selling products in front of a store trying to subsidize an income for their families, and both tragedies were caught on video that if it did not exist, no one would have believed those of us that stand on the side of justice in these cases,” he continues.

No sooner had he responded to the incident in Baton Rouge, but a new incident in Minnesota occurred, “this time involving the death of Philando Castile by police — whose aftermath was also caught on video.”

He writes, “Technology has allowed the marginalized, oppressed and voiceless to have a voice, but now we must harness that ability to deal with police reform systemically, instead of episodically.”

He argued that this is not an isolated or localized problem – “it’s a national problem that requires national reform of police culture and the criminal justice system itself. Nothing short of that will turn this calamity around.”

He argues, “We must have independent investigations and prosecutions so that police are held accountable by an objective neutral entity, and the community is assured that there isn’t even an appearance of a conflict of interest. Officers cannot be investigated by those that they interact with on a daily or regular basis — that is common sense. Secondly, there must be extensive training and residency requirements that police live in the cities that they serve. That is the only way that they will respect and treat that community fairly.”

Al Sharpton might be a controversial name in some circles, but, isolating his personality, it is hard to argue with the need for an independent and objective system of police oversight that can avoid the appearance of conflict and gain the support of people throughout the system.

While those like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who himself oversaw one of the worst periods of police misconduct in recent history, called out Black Lives Matter as “inherently racist” and “anti-American,” and said it was up to the “blacks to show respect to police officers, other conservative voices have turned a corner.

For example, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, himself a finalist for a Trump VP nominee and himself having no shortage of racially tinged messages, said on Friday that white Americans “instinctively underestimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk” black people face in the US.

“If you are a normal white American, the truth is you don’t understand being black in America,” he said.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who some believed was a frontrunner for the Republican nomination but who never got traction, issued a very similar statement.

“Those of us who are not African-American will never fully understand the experience of being black in America,” he said.

He added, “But we should all understand why our fellow Americans in the black community are angry at the images of an African American man, with no criminal record, who was pulled over for a busted tail light, slumped in his car seat and dying while his four year old daughter watches from the back seat.”

“All of us should be troubled by these images. And all of us need to acknowledge that this is about more than just one or two recent incidents,” he continued.

These are points that the Vanguard has been making for quite some time.

Those are important voices, because many on the conservative side of the aisle have been denying the extent of the problem.  Unfortunately, even within the same small community, blacks and whites live in very different worlds.

Still, Mr. Sharpton raises the important issue: “There has been stunning silence of national officials and candidates running for everything from the highest office in the land to Senate and House seats and more until there is a tragic killing. And when those who consistently raise these issues and even win some cases get involved, we’re branded as ‘troublemakers’ before and after a case.”

We have made progress this year.  Video is a key variable in publicizing these incidents and allowing the truth to come out.  Departments across the country have been installing body worn cameras.  They will not solve the problem, but they will help to create transparency in a system where that has been sorely lacking.

It is ironic that ten years ago this month the Vanguard was founded in part in response to heated community debate over police oversight.  Now, ten years later, the nation is having this debate and I believe that Al Sharpton is completely correct – what we need is an independent police review system.

While I think having a citizen review board can be helpful, I have come to appreciate the work of professional police investigators – those who can be independent of the police department and hierarchy but have the expertise on policing to be able to distinguish between a justifiable use of force, excessive force, and outright criminal conduct.

“While technology and social media have played a great role in disseminating information, raising awareness and galvanizing people, we need reform measures on the books without delay,” Al Sharpton writes.  “We cannot continue to deal with each loss on a case-by-case basis.  A systemic problem requires systemic reform.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Tia Will

    And when those who consistently raise these issues and even win some cases get involved, we’re branded as “troublemakers” before and after a case.””

    While reading coverage of the two most recent police shootings, and the Dallas shooting over the weekend one comment to an article on the Black Lives Matter movement struck me. The poster stated that the protestors/activists were just there to “stir up trouble”. The problem with this attitude is the underlying assumption that either “trouble” does not already exist, or that if it does exist should be left swept under the rug.  Now it might seem better for those of us who will likely never be affected by the excessive use of force for the “trouble” to remain unexamined. But I would opine that it is certainly not better for those who are affected, and not better for our country as a whole.

    A systemic problem requires systemic reform.”

    With this, I could not agree more.

  2. Adam Smith

    I am re-posting this very interesting study in police violence conducted at Harvard., and reported this morning in the NY Times.    Based on my understanding of national studies regarding race and policing, this may be the most objective data we have to make judgements about what is actually happening:

  3. hpierce

    Key words from the cite… “deranged”, and “mental health issues”… am betting ‘race’ was peripheral… not inherently causative…

  4. WesC

    Very interesting data in the NY times article.

    Looked at 1,332 shootings in 10 major cities in Texas, Florida, & California.

    “In officer involved shootings in the 10 cities, officers were more likely to fire their weapon without having first attacked attacked when  the suspects were white.” Black and white suspects were equally likely to be carrying a weapon.

    In Houston in tense situations the officer was 20% less likely to shoot suspects if the suspect was black.

    Even when compliant, blacks are more likely to experience more being pushed into a wall, use of cuffs, have a weapon drawn on them, be pushed to the ground, have a weapon pointed at them, be pepper sprayed or hit with a batton.

    I think if I were a criminal I would rather be black. Probably going to get some unjustified  heavy handed use of force  at the hands of the cops , but less likely to get shot.





    1. Don Shor

      Even when compliant, blacks are more likely to experience more being pushed into a wall, use of cuffs, have a weapon drawn on them, be pushed to the ground, have a weapon pointed at them, be pepper sprayed or hit with a batton.

      I think if I were a criminal I would rather be black. Probably going to get some unjustified heavy handed use of force at the hands of the cops , but less likely to get shot.

      Yes, but if you were not a criminal, you might get tired of being pushed into a wall, getting cuffed, having weapons drawn on you, being pushed to the ground, having weapons pointed at you, being pepper sprayed, or being hit with a baton. And if it happened regularly to people you know, you might get resentful after awhile. And you might get tired of being told there isn’t a problem and having statistics shoved at you by people who don’t experience those things. Just guessing here.

      1. tribeUSA

        But Don, the difference is only about 20% for these non-lethal uses of force. So if you are a low-level white offender in a poor neighborhood, say you get such force used in a stop once every 5 years. If you are a similar low-level black offender in this poor neighborhood, then an increase of 20% means you will get such force used in a stop every 4 years (20% more frequently). This is not an enormous difference (or is it just that the experience of the low-level white offender doesn’t matter because he is white?); and I think you need to be pretty inventive in your argument that this is an illustration of a huge disparity in ‘experience of life’ for poor blacks as compared to for poor whites. Yes, the statistics indicate that the ~20% gap is real for the study area (with >95% confidence); I would bet that such gaps will be gradually closed as improved policing methods are more widely implemented–no need for Armageddon just yet!

        Oops-re-reading your statement, you are referring to non-criminals–I don’t doubt that poor blacks are stopped more often than poor whites (when they are innocent of a crime), as crime is generally higher in poor black neighborhoods–would be good to see statistics on ‘stops’ that do not result in any arrests or tickets or warnings or charges.

  5. WesC

    I should clarify that the persons who had contact with the police were referred to as subjects and not criminals. No one gets the criminal label until convicted.

    So if I were a black subject the odds are a little higher that I would get roughed up even if compliant, and if I were a white subject the odds would be a little higher that the police would try to shoot me if the situation were tense and/or they assumed I had a weapon, even if I had not attacked them.

    As a subject I would still prefer the increased odds of getting roughed up increased odds of getting shot at.




  6. Frankly

    The lower proportion of black deaths due to police shootings can be attributed to the lamentable black-on-black homicide rate. There were 6,095 black homicide deaths in 2014—the most recent year for which such data are available—compared with 5,397 homicide deaths for whites and Hispanics combined. Almost all of those black homicide victims had black killers.

    Police officers—of all races—are also disproportionately endangered by black assailants. Over the past decade, according to FBI data, 40% of cop killers have been black. Officers are killed by blacks at a rate 2.5 times higher than the rate at which blacks are killed by police.

    Some may find evidence of police bias in the fact that blacks make up 26% of the police-shooting victims, compared with their 13% representation in the national population. But as residents of poor black neighborhoods know too well, violent crimes are disproportionately committed by blacks. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, blacks were charged with 62% of all robberies, 57% of murders and 45% of assaults in the 75 largest U.S. counties in 2009, though they made up roughly 15% of the population there.

    Maybe just maybe, we don’t need as much focus on reforming law enforcement as we do reforming the black communities.

    I think though we have lost generations of black males.  We need to start now with the young children to reverse the trends.  And we need many more cops and other resources in these neighborhoods to keep those young kids safe and focused.

    1. David Greenwald

      But there is a big problem in this argument: “Police officers—of all races—are also disproportionately endangered by black assailants.” You seem to bejustifying otherwise unjustified shootings by police by arguing that police are justified in killing blacks because they are disproportionately endangered by black assailants. Therefore by implication, police are justified in a stronger response to a perceived threat when the subject is black as opposed to white. That’s a dangerous argument.

  7. Tia Will

    Maybe just maybe, we don’t need as much focus on reforming law enforcement as we do reforming the black communities.”

    And maybe we should not be focusing on “either or” but rather on both as targets for reform. And maybe we should not be focusing on labeling communities by color of their inhabitants skin ( as you like to say in other circumstances) but rather by their economic status and the educational options for their children as the primary parameters. Maybe we ( including both police and citizens) could focus on the humanity of rather than the skin color of the individual.


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