On May 25, 2020, a police officer in Minneapolis choked an unarmed African American man, George Floyd, to death by kneeling on his neck while arresting him for spending a fake $20 bill. Over the next week, anti-police brutality/ anti-racism riots erupted across America.
Everyone wants something to change, but very few protesters have offered any concrete demands. Overwhelmingly, the message seems to be, “Stop being bad.” This isn’t an actionable request, and it can’t lead to change.
Colorado took the logical first step of drafting new police accountability laws, but that only cuts the top off the iceberg. Systemic police brutality is the result of multiple systemic flaws in the justice system that require a diverse range of reforms.
Below is my list of changes I believe will help. As America continues to protest, I hope to see the national dialogue pivot from blind rage to focusing on brainstorming and debating solutions like these.
Criminalize deadly restraint techniques.
If George Floyd hadn’t died, there would never have been any public outcry against police officers putting their knees on civilians’ necks. While some police officers have been quick to point out that choking suspects isn’t part of any official police training, it isn’t against the law. That places it firmly in the category of “unusual but acceptable,” and therefore, a disaster waiting to happen.
If nothing else comes from the George Floyd case, the one easiest call to action is to criminalize life-threatening fighting techniques by police. I want to emphasize that I didn’t say, “train police not to choke people.” Training isn’t enough. It must be illegal to use life-threatening techniques in any situation except when the cop’s life isn’t in imminent danger. There should especially be specific rules limiting how much force police are allowed to use on people who are already in hand cuffs.
Have a third party investigate any instance of police harming suspects.
The public’s trust of police is eroded when they kill unarmed civilians, but it throws fuel on the fire when they’re let off with a slap on the wrist. It also increases the likelihood they’ll misbehave if they know their brothers will help them escape accountability.
I wasn’t able to find a good explanation of the official procedures for how police departments respond to instances of suspects being hurt and killed by officers. So I’m assuming is varies wildly between states, counties, cities, and precincts. The people who pay cops to protect them deserve a reliable nationwide standard.
Not only should the procedures for investigating cops be standardized, they should also be automatic and objective. Anytime a suspect is injured or killed by an officer, they should be investigated by a third party who can’t be inclined or coerced to “look out for their brothers.”
Set harsher punishments for police brutality.
Since the 1970’s, American politicians have instituted an avalanche of “get tough” policies that set higher punishments for crimes based on the assumption that tougher sentences will dissuade people from committing crimes. Whether this approach has succeeded is debatable, but it has definitely put a lot more Americans behind bars.
In my next point, I’m going to argue we should reverse these policies, but I might be wrong. Harsher punishments may reduce crime. If that’s the case, then shouldn’t we apply the same standard to police officers? If they’re afraid of losing their job, their retirement, their families, and the best years of their lives for hurting people, then it stands to reason they’ll be less likely to abuse their authority.
When you hear about police killing civilians, such as in the case of George Floyd, you often learn the offending officer has had a history of violence and reprimands. If police had a “three strike rule” similar to civilians, the officer who killed George Floyd would have been kicked off the force long ago.
It seems obvious that harsher punishments will dissuade criminals. However, this theory is predicated on the assumption that the main reason civilians don’t commit crimes is because they’re afraid of being punished. In reality, the main reason people commit crimes is because they’re desperate, and desperate circumstances lead to desperate actions.
The same applies when getting arrested. If you know you’re going to get a $100 ticket if a cop catches you with a half ounce of weed, you probably won’t fight for your life. However, if you know you’re going to go to jail for three years and set your entire life back to zero, you might be motivated to do whatever it takes to protect yourself.
“Tough on crime” laws might have prevented a few offences, but I suspect they’ve also had the effect of increasing violence against police. Thirty years of push-back against “tough” cops has taught police officers to fear civilians as much as civilians fear them. This is a vicious cycle that will always lead to bloodshed. It won’t stop until the police force softens its war on civilians.
End the war on drugs and other victimless crimes.
We’ve reached a point in America where cops approach every interaction with civilians as a potential life and death situation. Yet, they’re spending millions of hours each year terrorizing victimless criminals like pot smokers, jay walkers, and shirtless women. Cops are striking fear in the general population, building distrust, and putting themselves in harms way to prevent and punish innocuous behavior.
47% of federal inmates are in jail for drug charges even though every expert in the world agrees the war on drugs has been a complete failure that has done more harm than good. Even many police officers agree with that conclusion. If police simply stopped policing inoffensive behavior, they would create fewer dangerous situation and would free up more time and resources to focus on real problems. That’s a win-win situation for everyone.
End for-profit prisons.
America hasn’t ended the war on drugs even though all the facts are in, and the debate is over. All the theoretical arguments against decriminalizing drugs were emphatically disproved when Portugal decriminalized all drugs, which led to a reduction in “drug use, HIV and hepatitis infection rates, overdose deaths, drug-related crime and incarceration rates.“
One of the main reasons America hasn’t acted on the advice of all the experts and evidence is because for-profit prisons have been lobbying politicians to keep laws in place that fill prison cells so they can make more money.
Money is the strongest force in the world, and as long as someone can profit from putting people in jail, you can be sure they’ll do everything they can to maintain and increase their profit margins.
The biggest losers in the prison-industrial complex are the victims wasting away in prisons that cut costs at every corner, but the police are also victims in their own way. They’re on the front lines risking their lives to protect the profits of investors and CEOs whose business model is based on human suffering. It would be in the best interest of cops and civilians alike if America ended private prisons.
End revenue collection by police departments.
Cops are sacrificial paws in rich men’s games, but they’re also directly guilty of profiting from exploiting the people they’re paid to protect. Everyone in America knows police departments aggressively raise funding through tickets, fees, and fines. For some, its their main source of revenue.
In response to ticket quotas, I don’t call police “pigs.” I call them “sharks.” They’re circling the city looking for small fish to devour, and anyone will do. They’ll shake down elderly pensioners like highway robbers as quickly as gangster street racers. Police will defend themselves by claiming, “I was just upholding the law,” but everyone knows that’s just an excuse to cover up the fact that they’re actively trying to leech as much money as they can out of their community.
Cops have no right to act surprised when the public turns against them since they turned against the public decades ago. I once heard a black comedian, whose name I can’t remember, say, “I’ve always resented the fact that whenever I see a cop, I don’t feel safer. I feel afraid.” I’m white, and I feel the exact same way. I might not fear for my life as much, but I know cops don’t drive unmarked cars because they don’t want you to see them coming to protect you. They’re out to get you, me, and our grandmothers because they need our money. How can the police ever expect the public to trust them when their job description includes enforcing extortion quotas?
If peace between civilians and police is ever to be achieved, we have to stop allowing police departments to profit from tickets, fees, and fines. Give them a set budget, and redirect all the money they bring in to the education system.
End the “go beyond the ticket” policy.
Police departments are always looking for ways to make more arrests to increase their revenue and to look good on productivity reports. This motivates them to use any interaction with suspects as an opportunity to search for more criminal offenses, like possession of contraband. On the surface, this sounds justified; they’re innocently looking for more crimes to stop. That may be true, but they’re also systematically bullying people and escalating every interaction into as dangerous of a situation as they can.
American cops are notorious for pushing the limits of their authority to coerce and trick civilians into surrendering their civil rights, or at least, to not attempt to defend themselves while the cop violates their civil rights. If you don’t believe me, try filming the next cop who pulls you over or tell him you don’t consent to any searches, and see what happens. You’ll probably end up face down on the ground being told a long list of charges you’re going to jail for.
This is a conundrum with no good answer. It would be a shame for cops to allow crimes to pass under their nose, but what is the total cost of systematically roasting every civilian who cops come in contact with? Nobody trusts the police. Everyone is afraid of them. People hiding minor offences will be motivated to defend themselves, and any situation can escalate into a fight that could end with either party being killed unnecessarily. Is that really the lesser of two evils?
Increase rehabilitation and job placement programs for convicted criminals.
Imprisoning and bankrupting criminals isn’t going to make them better citizens because destroying their lives makes makes them more desperate in the long run. This is a huge part of the reason why harsh prisons sentences have failed to lower the recidivism rate of convicts.
American prisons are notorious around the world for their inhumanity. Life inside them is basically a perpetual race war and gang recruitment center. So when you see a cop, you know that’s what they represent. They might serve and protect you sometimes, but they’re also agents of death coming to steal your soul and send you to Hell. And they wonder why nobody trusts them.
People would trust cops more, and be less likely to stay committed to a life of crime, if prisons operated more like trade schools than sweat shop torture chambers. It would probably cost tax payers less money too.
Case in point, George Floyd was arrested in 2007 for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon and spent 5 years in prison. If the justice system had done him any service, he would have been working at a high paying, skilled job in 2020 instead of spending forged $20 bills because his two shitty jobs barely made ends meet.
Furthermore, the officer who killed George Floyd undoubtedly knew his criminal record when he had his knee on his neck. When he ran Floyd’s background check on his computer, his first reaction wasn’t, “This man has been to prison. He’s had every advantage society can provide to better himself. Why is he spending fake $20 bills?” His first reaction was more likely, “This guy has already been to prison, a ruthless place where you go in hard and come out harder. I better approach this situation with extra violence since this guy spent five years in Fight Club.”
For multiple reasons, we should only expect police to treat convicts with inhumanity as long as our prison system remains devoted to subjecting criminals to inhumanity. The solution is to redesign the prison system to help people.
Increase qualification requirements and mental health screening for police recruits.
Anytime a cop abuses their authority, their brothers’ first defense is, “That guy was just a bad apple. The rest of us are really good, honest.” But every year, we keep finding bad apples. Instead of excusing the problem at the end of unqualified cops’ careers, why don’t we weed them out during the recruitment phase?
There will always be rotten candidates who slip through the cracks or become corrupted after years of well-intentioned service. You can address that problem as soon as they establish a pattern of pathological behavior, but that comes second. Everyone knows the requirements for joining the police is basically to have a G.E.D. and be able to run three miles. We know it takes a stronger mind to endure the stresses of police work than it takes to enter the police force, and we know the power of the badge attracts power-hungry sadists.
Recruitment reform is long overdue. If we raised the bar for entry, then people wouldn’t have to keep demanding justice, and police wouldn’t have to keep making excuses about bad apples.
Design better non-lethal weapons.
I’m not an engineer. So I don’t have any specific examples of nonlethal weapons I want invented, but I do know that if cops had better nonlethal tools, they wouldn’t have to use lethal ones so often.
Give M.I.T. a $20 million grant to design new tranquilizer darts, glue guns, sleep gas, or something that will give cops less dangerous options before resorting to deadly force.
Increase body/car cameras for cops, and make it totally legal to film police.
There’s enough social media videos of police breaking the public’s trust to conclusively establish… the police have broken the public’s trust. They can make excuses all day about bad apples, job stress, and whatever else. That doesn’t change the fact that enough of them have abused the public’s trust that the line has been crossed. We can’t trust them.
A lot of cops already wear body cameras, and many police cruisers are equipped with dash cams, but the bad cops have proven this isn’t enough. Apparently, everything they do needs to be recorded. Not only do they need to bring their own recording devices, everyone should have unrestricted rights to record police behavior.
Edward Snowden already proved the government has unlimited power to spy on the public, and we’ve been told we don’t have anything to fear if we don’t have anything to hide. The same principles should be applied to the police force, who are employed by the public. As long as it’s not, then they don’t serve at our pleasure, we survive at theirs. That’s not the social contract we paid for.
Stop designing cop cars to look scary and deceptive.
My final point is as much symbolic as it is practical. For the past few decades, police cruisers have been designed increasingly menacing and deceptive.
If your local police cars don’t look like black hell hounds, they’re disguised as taxis, or have all their public service markings painted in subdued colors that are hard to spot. Cops have obviously justified this trend as a way to intimidate and catch criminals. That may be true, but it also intimidates grandmothers and deceives the entire public.
Cops can’t honestly expect citizens to respect them, when they’re parading in dystopian nightmare cars and sneaking around in fake taxis. The current design of police cars is a metaphor for their relationship with the public. They’ve become hunters more than protectors. As long as this is the tone police set for their relationship with the public, we’ll always be locked in an escalating cycle of distrust, fear, and violence from both sides.
Hopefully, these 13 points have helped show how we can’t just fix one problem to end police brutality. It’s a symptom of multiple systemic trends in the justice system that turn civilians and police into enemies in a perpetually escalating conflict. Protests and riots were always another inevitable symptom of our flawed justice system, and we’ll continue to see them until there’s comprehensive reform. But that won’t happen until protesters demand specific, actionable policy changes.
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