It seems like every time criticism is leveled at the police over an officer-involved shooting, the police, on the defensive, resort to dismissing their detractors as haters.
Don’t get me wrong – there is clearly an element of that in this debate. As I have pointed out in previous columns, there are clearly those who believe that police are an extension of the government’s attempt to enforce white supremacy.
But I don’t think that the majority of critics fall into that more radical camp. Instead, I believe that we remain a nation of laws, and there is a legitimate place for police to enforce the laws and protect the weak and defenseless in our society from those who would do us harm.
At the same time, there are times when the police abuse their authority in a variety of ways and we need a system of oversight that holds them accountable, just as the police are there to hold us accountable.
That accountability or perceived lack thereof is at the root of the loss of trust between some communities, particularly communities of color and the police.
This discourse has often focused on the fatal encounters with police – Michael Brown in Ferguson, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Eric Garner in Staten Island, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Philando Castile in Minneapolis, Mario Woods in San Francisco, and Joseph Mann in Sacramento.
I was reading an essay from Cornell Law Professor Joseph Margulies in Verdict, and he made the point that “the use of lethal force by police is vanishingly rare.” However, “that is not the whole story.”
The communities of color, he argues, “view police conduct as a whole.”
He writes, “The lethal violence, though infrequent, comes atop a long-term pattern of over-policing and under-protecting.” He adds, “To the community, lethal violence is simply the most extreme expression of a far more routine practice of unnecessary and humiliating stops, needless citations, gratuitous disrespect, and episodic (albeit non-lethal) brutality. Justifiably, and understandably, the community experiences this litany in toto, and not as isolated, unconnected practices.”
In this light, we have to view what is going on in Davis as a microcosm for what is going on across the nation. Critics and people of color view what happened on Picnic Day as a continuation of what has happened across the nation.
That is the backdrop of the local reform efforts.
A good starting place to evaluate local progress is to look at the most comprehensive set of reform tools we have – the 21st Century policing recommendations.
In the city of Davis Police proposed Strategic Plan, they recommend: “Appoint a committee consisting of Department and community members tasked with reporting to the Police Chief on implementing recommendations from President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.”
Some of the recommendations include procedural justice training, unconscious bias training, training for crisis intervention teams to assist them in dealing with mentally ill individuals, de-escalation training, the implementation of body worn cameras, use-of-force training, and other innovations.
As Chief Darren Pytel pointed out this week, the city of Davis has already implemented a lot of these things.
Later this week we will get a full list of these to evaluate them.
Meanwhile, I came up with a summary of what we expect from our police: We expect police to operate in a constitutional manner that is open and transparent and we expect police to implement best practices and revise policies and practices as needed.
Chief Pytel points out that when the police worked on their strategic plan, they came up with a new vision statement: The Davis Police Department will model and pursue excellence by partnering with our community; investing in our employees to maintain the highest level of professionalism; being a leader in procedural justice, enacting restorative practices, and embracing our role as guardians of the community.
I think it is remarkable how similar the two are, and, in fact, their statement is more specific as it explains how the police intend to accomplish these goals.
This is not to suggest that there isn’t work to do. At some point, principles must become practice. And the fact that I continue to hear, even in Davis, that criticism of the conduct of some police officers is tantamount to hatred of the police, means there is a lot of work to do.
For certain, there are people in the room who do in fact hate – and probably the better word is mistrust – the police. But there are more people, in my view, of the mindset like me, who believe that police are necessary but who are simply not willing to look the other way and excuse the conduct that we have seen far too often.
There is no logical contradiction with viewing policing through a prism in which we can be concerned about policing, particularly when it results in unjustified use of force through which there is a lack of accountability, and be supportive of the police overall.
—David M. Greenwald reporting