A sorry track record shouldn’t fool the American people.
June 2020 marked the end of a truly groundbreaking week in American history. Thousands took to the streets to protest a broken policing system. Rioting ensued, police brutality was rampant, and cities across the country descended into disarray.
With the ongoing chaos, those looking to the White House for a uniting message were not going to find it. In the most pivotal week of the Trump presidency, the President was on twitter making statements about anything from looting turning to shooting, Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem kneeling, and defense for the police who pushed a 75 year old protester to the ground.
This leadership void has opened a momentous opportunity for Democrats to portray themselves as the antithesis of the current turmoil. Prominent members of the party flocked to social media, stressing the importance of voting, in order to restore a nuanced American normal under Democrat direction.
The issue with this idea is, it lets the Democratic party off the hook, way, way too easily. The Democrats, alongside Republicans, are in many ways a part of the problem. Complicit in upholding a system that continues to fail the American people. While the former President Obama urges people to vote, it should be noted that he had eight years to enact meaningful changes and he did not deliver.
There is no denying that Donald Trump’s rhetoric in the wake of nationwide protests has been divisive, flatly incompetent, and dangerous. Yet, until the Democrats can prove to be in favor of radical shifts, they should not be welcomed with a hero’s cape and parade.
Below are three issues of discussion that exhibit Democrat complicity in a broken policing system:
- Increased Militarization of the Police
- The Current Situation inside American Cities and Municipalities
- Qualified Immunity
1. Militarization of the Police
In 2015, riots broke out across the city of Ferguson after the shooting death of Michael Brown. Apart from a focus on racially disparate policing policies, Ferguson gave Americans an eerie glimpse at the firepower within our local police departments. For the first time many of us saw police officers wearing body armor, driving armored vehicles, and yielding assault weapons. We questioned…is the military in Missouri right now?
Today these scenes hardly surprise us. So how did this become the new normal? The process has been in the works since the 60s, but a 1997 program was an exponential accelerant.
1960s — Following the end of the Vietnam War, many former soldiers came back home and joined law enforcement units. In LA, former Vietnam vets introduced tactical training from oversees to quell the race riots of 1967.
1980s- During the height of the war on drugs, Reagan began the process of introducing new special operations forces. These groups were to work alongside existing police departments. In 1981 the Military Cooperation with Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies Act allowed law enforcement to take on more tactical assignments, broadening their scope of responsibility.
1990s- A 1997 shootout between the LAPD and heavily armed bank robbers prompted the 1033 program. Instituted by Bill Clinton, the program allowed excess military equipment to either be purchased or transferred to law enforcement agencies. 1033 is considered the primary catalyst for militarization.
2010s- Through the 1033 Program, the largest military equipment transfers in history occurred during the Obama years. $500 million worth of military equipment was transferred in 2013 alone. In 2015, President Obama passed an executive order banning select weapons from the program, yet this did little to stem the flow. In 2017, Donald Trump rolled back those Obama era regulations completely.
The process of police militarization has been bipartisan. The first real public pushback occurred in the aftermath of Ferguson, yet the situation since has not improved. Clinton’s legislation opened a floodgate, Obama’s regulations placed a band-aid over a broken pipe, and Trump removed that band-aid completely.
The continued blurring of the lines between police and military has set a dangerous precedent. Police militarization decimates public trust, challenges our right to protest, and is a growing concern for the safety of all Americans. Also disturbing, is the fact that all this happened without any real say from the American people.
2. The Current Situation in America and its Cities
It may be anecdotal, but what happened in Minneapolis is an important case study. Top-down, the city’s leadership is dominated by Democrats. From the mayor, to the city council, to the DA, Minneapolis is very much a blue city in a historically blue state. However, those in charge were still prepared to cover up what happened to George Floyd, attempting to curtail justice, and leave a murderer patrolling the streets.
A hard look at American municipalities shows no real change or differentiation based on party affiliation. It is not as if Democratically led parts of the country have a more effective policing system, or more progressive reforms. Instead, the statistics below show both parties are abhorrent on the issue, and have done little to make real changes.
As a refresher, the big picture is important. The United States leads the world in per capita incarceration. Red states in the south have the highest levels of incarceration, but numbers in the United States are still strikingly high nationwide.
State and Local Police Funding
In the wake of Covid-19, many local governments are anticipating catastrophic budget shortfalls, with institutions like education preparing for drastic cuts. Despite this, police budgets are expected to remain mostly in tact. In fact, Los Angeles originally agreed on a 2021 budget that would provide $125 million in additional spending for police. That deal has since been retracted.
With more exposure on local government spending, many Americans learned for the first time that their cities were spending upwards of 30–40% of the general fund on policing. This revelation has increased the calls for “defunding the police”.
For those in favor of reallocating police funds, Democratically led cities may be the first places to start. Cities like Minneapolis, LA, Chicago, Oakland and New York City all are historically blue cities, and as public pressure mounts, so has the pressure on city governments to revisit their budgets.
Police Union Lobbying
Police union lobbying is a commonly sighted reason for political inaction on police reform. Critics pertain that the lobbying helps control local spending, uphold funding, and skirt liability. Below are the top recipients of police union contributions since 1994:
Police Performance in California
Campaign Zero’s police report card was part of a blueprint to assess PDs across the country. The group weighed accountability, police violence, and effectiveness in policing approach in one hundred departments in California. After an analysis, each department was given an A-F grade. Nearly 70% of police departments in the study received a F, and just ten received between an A-C. If replicated, we would probably see similar results nationwide.
Use of Force Reform
Campaign Zero also put out a study detailing actual police protocols and their state-to-state legality. These protocols have statically proven to both reduce fatal encounters, as well as decrease instances of police brutality. The comprehensive list is found here: https://www.joincampaignzero.org/force
Police Bills of Rights — State by State
The Police Bills of Rights provide police with investigative protections in the event of a civilian complaint or accusation. The bill provides a number of additional privileges to officers during due process, priviledges that are not given to regular citizens. Below is a breakdown of states that have a separate Bills of Rights for police departments.
It’s clear that even the most basic police reform measures have not been adopted by either political party. The bare minimum has yet to become politically mainstream.
3. Qualified Immunity
Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that shields public officials from civil liability. The doctrine provides wide reaching immunity for government workers in the case of a lawsuit, except for those who violate “clearly established law”. Originally designed for broader government, qualified immunity has been exercised more and more often for police officers since the early 2000s.
The Appeal — a news publication — profiled a woman named Malaika Brooks, who was driving with her 11 year old son before getting pulled over for speeding. Malaika refused to sign the ticket, and was subsequently pulled out of the car. After notifying officers that she was pregnant, she was still tased three times and pinned face down on the road. Brooks’ attempt to sue the officers was thrown out under the qualified immunity clause.
“Qualified immunity sends a message to officers and society as a whole, that officer can shoot first, think later”- UCLA Law Professor Joanna Schwartz
Additionally, when a citizen wins a lawsuit against the police, that money does not come out of the hands of the officer, nor their department. Instead, the burden is put on the city and taxpayer. Last year those payouts totaled $20 million for the MPD.
Support for qualified immunity has so far been bipartisan, but that may change very soon. In response to the George Floyd killing, Justin Amaash — Republican, turned independent — became the first congressman to propose actual legislation to combat this problem. He introduced the “Ending Qualified Immunity Act”, a bill that has not yet been voted on.
Voting is Important, but Public Pressure in Necessary
This of course is not to say don’t vote, or vote Republican. To be fair the Democrat response has at the very least, FELT more receptive and less dangerous than their counterparts.
But what we have also learned, is that the people need to continue to demand real change, and realize that neither party is an ally in the fight for criminal justice reform. In just a few short weeks of public pressure, we have seen Minneapolis disband their police department, Los Angeles announce a reversal of their police budget, and a number of officers across the country actually be charged for their crimes.
That might be a small win for those in search of police accountability, but a small step in the right direction, nonetheless. Democrats performing theatrics like wearing a kente cloth and kneeling for a photo-op, just can no longer suffice.
The topics of criminal justice and police reform aren’t going anywhere. These will be platform issues going into November, and recent polling is showing over 75% of Americans in support of reforms to the current system.
If there really is a “blue wave” come November, that won’t be the end of the battle. Democrats have a lot to prove if they want to instill trust that they can do right by the American people, and it is up to the people not to let their foot off the gas.