More than half a century later, justice is still being postponed. Racial inequality remains rampant in wealth, housing, employment, education — and enforcement of the law. This is not news, but it is the responsibility of all those in power to recognize and fix it. As President Lyndon Johnson’s Kerner Commission found after studying the inequality at the root of the 1960s riots: “White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it and white society condones it.”
Here are some steps to move the country toward a place where citizens don’t live in fear of those charged with serving and protecting them:
In departments with policies that sharply limit when, where and how police officers may use force, shootings and killings by the police are much lower. For instance, police officers should be required to try de-escalation before resorting to the use of force. They should not be allowed to choke people. Officers should be required to stop other officers from using excessive force.
When the police do use deadly force, the public should be able to know about it. That means getting rid of provisions like Section 50-a of New York’s civil rights law, which prevents the release of police personnel and disciplinary records and allows bad officers to continue abusing their power with impunity.
Police officers enjoy a web of protections against the consequences of their behavior on the job. From the legal doctrine of qualified immunity to state and local police indemnification laws, it is nearly impossible for a plaintiff to get any justice, even when an officer unquestionably violated his or her rights.
Across the country, powerful police unions negotiate favorable contracts that shield the police from investigation and discourage citizens from bringing complaints. The contracts make it easier to hire, and harder to fire, officers with documented histories of bad behavior. Cities are under no obligation to agree to these terms, and they shouldn’t.
LEVERAGE FEDERAL FUNDING
Following the beating of Rodney King and the Los Angeles riots in 1992, Congress empowered the Justice Department to oversee local police departments. That led to scores of investigations and long-overdue reforms in places like Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo. But the federal government also has other tools. It can deny grants to police departments that fail to impose strict use-of-force policies or refuse to discipline officers who engage in misconduct.
When you have a grenade launcher, even peaceful protesters look like enemy combatants. It’s no surprise that as police departments have stocked up on military-grade equipment, they have acted more aggressively. The Obama administration restricted the flow of certain types of equipment, but President Trump lifted those restrictions in 2017.