Policing in America: Revolt Today but Reform Tomorrow

Patrick Tompkins
May 30, 2020 · 9 min read
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Image Courtesy : The Daily Beast

There is something truly evil about killing a man slow.

When Ahmaud Arbery was murdered at the hands of two white men in January, it was a heinous, despicable display of white privilege and racial bias. They shot him dead in the middle of the road because he looked like a suspect in a string of burglaries…

Once someone pulls a trigger, they have no time to doubt or to question if their decision was right or wrong. There is no taking it back or rewinding time. The shooter has to immediately live with the consequences. But the murder of George Floyd was something much more sinister.

What happened in Minneapolis should send a shiver down every spine in America. Derek Chauvin knowingly pressed his knee against the back of George Floyd’s head for nine minutes and almost 3 minutes of that was after Floyd became unresponsive. As Floyd begged for air, for life, Chauvin continued. As Floyd lost consciousness, Chauvin continued.

Officer Derek Chauvin slowly, intentionally, murdered George Floyd. He had 540 seconds; 540 moments to reconsider what he was doing. Every single one he made a calculated decision to continue to murder a black man; for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes.

My Friend…

My best friend from college, my fraternity father, my brother, is a black man.

This is not going to be a “I have a black friend, therefore I am outraged” piece. Everyone, regardless of their connection to communities of color, should be outraged at the senseless loss of life. If we are going to be an ally to those who are marginalized by the powerful, we cannot only be one when it is personal or hits too close to home.

Every death, every injustice, must be personal. It may not impact my life directly, but it is impacting someone else’s, and one life is one too many.

My brother Zach is a different story though… We grew up 30 minutes away from each other in West Michigan. We had two distinctly different upbringings; it may have only been 30 minutes down U.S. 131, but it was worlds apart. When we got to college and met each other, those two worlds collided, for the better.

For 12 years we have been brothers. We talk all the time and we say “I love you” toward the end of almost every conversation. He is my family, not genetically, but in this world he is one of my closest relationships. And without him and our relationship, I would be a lesser person. Not because he is a black man, but because he is a good man.

I forced myself to watch the footage of George Floyd’s murder. The visceral anguish of seeing a black man murdered by police officers brought tears to my eyes. But I did not just see George… I saw Zach. My brother was dying a slow death in that video and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

Burn It Down

Millions of others saw that video as well. While my personal call to action includes this piece, others’ calls manifested in much more instinctual ways. The powers that be have painted them into a corner and they will not take it anymore. And I do not blame them.

Over the past few days, riots and protests have raged in Minneapolis and in cities around the country; from Los Angeles to New York City. In the twin cities, three police precincts have been overrun and burned to the ground.

I will not condemn the rage we are seeing in the streets of Minneapolis and other cities around the country. There are no “acceptable” responses to this that will get the nation’s attention. If people ever questioned why Kaepernick took a knee, now they know; it was to try and stop Chauvin’s.

You want to make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs.” This line has been uttered in dozens of movies. My favorite version is from the movie Fight Club, spoken by Brad Pitt’s character Tyler Durden. The point: if you want real change, sacrifices need to be made and messages need to be sent.

That is what is happening right now. If you are more outraged by the riots than you are by the murder of George Floyd, then you might be on the wrong side of history. You do not need to be in support of the these actions to understand why they are happening.

Understand they are a reaction to generations of injustice; a tinderbox just waiting for a light. You need to listen, do better, and act on it; as long as you do something. Because doing nothing just makes you part of the problem.

Tomorrow

I did not bring up Zach because I believe it legitimizes my feelings or buys me credibility with communities of color. No, I bring him up because I want to see him grow into an old man. I want to see his future children grow up in a more just society.

For this to happen, there has to be a tomorrow. Burn it down today, sure. But tomorrow, we need to rebuild together. Otherwise nothing changes. We will find ourselves in this same place again. Cycling over and over again; disbelief, outrage, expression, recoil, action, complacency, distraction, repeat…

So what can we do differently? What problems within the system can we fix in order to improve the situation? And how do we move forward into a future where the trust and synergy between law enforcement and the citizens they are sworn to protect can be restored?

1. Community Oversight Boards

The most important step would be to weaken the shield that protects bad cops from public scrutiny. That shield being the unions that wall off individual wrongdoing and handle all disciplinary actions within those walls.

Almost every single police killing that has gotten national attention and resulted in civil unrest has been perpetrated by a law enforcement officer who had multiple disciplinary infractions on their record.

Derek Chauvin, the officer who murdered George Floyd, had at least 19 conduct complaints. Eric Pantaleo, the officer who murdered Eric Garner in New York, had at least 20 conduct complaints and allegations levied against him. The trend is consistent; the writing was on the wall that these officers would eventually murder someone. But no one did anything.

Every police department should have an independent oversight board made up of knowledgeable community members that has autonomous control over fielding conduct complaints and administering disciplinary action against offending law enforcement officers.

As we have seen with the military, in-house justice is no justice at all. There is no real justice within law enforcement when they are left to self-govern and have qualified immunity. There needs to be an objective oversight board that will hold all actions of misconduct accountable.

This board should be a standard, legally-binding feature of every city or county that has a police force charged with protecting its citizens. The board would also make recommendations to a judge if any of the officer’s actions rose to a level of criminal action.

2. Mandated National Database

Did you know when a police officer gets fired by a city, they can go to the next city down the road and get hired to be a police officer again? Usually with little to no care for how or why they got fired from their previous post.

It is dumbfounding how this is still an allowable and acceptable practice in today’s digital age. Nothing stops a disgraced police officer who was fired for multiple infractions in one town to drive five miles down the freeway to the next town and get the same job they were just fired from.

The four officers terminated by the Minneapolis Police for directly or indirectly murdering George Floyd? Barring any criminal charges, they could drive over to St. Paul and get hired as police officers next week. And there is nothing you or I could do about it.

The United States should have a national, mandated database for all law enforcement professionals. Every role change, commendation, and disciplinary action logged and reviewable by any inquiring department in the country.

Additionally, when a city hires a police officer, they should be required by law to publish the officers record from their previous positions for all citizens to review. The community has a right to know who and what kind of person is protecting them in their homes and neighborhoods.

This type of national database and transparency would greatly diminish the asinine ability of disgraced law enforcement officers from moving from town to town or ever working in a position of power again.

Police jurisdictional lines should not be the border for police accountability. If it truly is a privilege to serve, then that privilege should be reserved for those who have earned it. And the public should be the judge of that.

3. Individual Liability Insurance

Every law enforcement officer in the U.S. should be required to carry personal liability insurance in order to be employed. We already require that of all doctors and lawyers as well as some other specialized professions.

If a police officer is a ‘bad apple,’ their disciplinary infractions will be flagged and the insurance companies who handle their policies will raise their premiums. This will weed them out as a high risk policy holder; cause and effect.

That will reduce cities themselves from getting sued as offending officers’ insurance policies will cover most punitive damages, settlements, and ancillary costs. Additionally, bad cops will not be able to afford the high premiums and therefore will better regulate their behavior on a day-to-day basis.

It is true, police should be able to use any and all force up to the level in which the situation deems it necessary; that is what they are trained for. This change in the system will add personal accountability for law enforcement officers and their behavior nationwide.

The ‘bad apples’ would be forced to face the idea that if they do not act with an appropriate level of force during all interactions with the public, their insurance premiums will go up, the incident will go on their national database record, and the community oversight board will decide their fate.

4. Community Recruitment Programs

The other major change we can make right now is an intentional effort nationwide to recruit new officers, and place officers in leadership positions, that actually look like and represent the communities they are protecting.

A primarily black community should have a primarily black police force; and more importantly, a leadership within that force that represents the community. Representation needs to be present from top to bottom.

A black officer would not have murdered George Floyd in that circumstance. A police department that was more representative of George and his neighborhood likely would not have murdered him in any circumstance.

This cannot be some mouthpiece legislation either. Every city, county, and state in the country needs to make this a priority tomorrow. If they do, they will see a tectonic shift in how the police interact with their citizens and how their citizens come to trust their police.

There has to be a tomorrow; there just has to. Or all of this is for nothing. George Floyd’s death will be for nothing. Eric Garner’s death will be for nothing. We have lost so many people who had limitless potential for doing good in this world. We cannot keep losing more to senseless acts like this.

There are real, tangible things we can do tomorrow to stop the current status quo. But it takes a village; it takes a whole country. It will take each of us stepping up.

And those who are rioting also need to understand that the police are essential for civilization; we need them as much as they need us. There needs to be a cooperation and joint effort, but it begins with real accountability and a concerted effort to change from those in power.

A national law enforcement database will close the loopholes that bad cops use to remain employed. Create objective oversight boards that will hold bad cops accountable and either shape them up or ship them out. Require individual cops to hold liability insurance just like doctors and lawyers. And make police departments more representative of their communities.

I want my brother to reach a ripe old age; and I want to be there to see it. We as a country need to stop standing still. We bounce from outrage to outrage, without ever moving forward.

These solutions will not fix all the issues, but they are a step in the right direction. A step George Floyd will never be able to witness; but one we now need to take for him together, as one.

The Purple Giraffe

Dynamic insight about politics, policy, leadership, culture, social issues, and the economy.

Patrick Tompkins

Written by

Opinions about politics, leadership, government, kaizen, among other things. Editor of The Purple Giraffe & Leadership You. https://twitter.com/the_second_pat

The Purple Giraffe

The Purple Giraffe reports on what is happening today; with a dynamic insight into politics, policy, leadership, culture, social issues, and the economy.

Patrick Tompkins

Written by

Opinions about politics, leadership, government, kaizen, among other things. Editor of The Purple Giraffe & Leadership You. https://twitter.com/the_second_pat

The Purple Giraffe

The Purple Giraffe reports on what is happening today; with a dynamic insight into politics, policy, leadership, culture, social issues, and the economy.

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