As a country we have a problem with police killings of Blacks. Some of the incidents represent apparent gross malfeasance - George Floyd; Daniel Prude; Marvin Scott. A few reflect appropriate behavior which has been deliberately distorted - Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri; Ma'Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio. Some reflect plain errors - Daunte Wright; Breonna Taylor; Rayshard Brooks; Botham Jean. Most reflect officers doing their jobs in dangerous circumstances. All are tragedies.
- From 2017 to 2020, an average of 1030 people per year were killed by police in the United States. Of those with identified ethnicity, 50 % were White; 27% were Black; 19% were Hispanic; and 4% were Asian or Native American in a population which is about 60% White, 12% Black, 19% Hispanic, and 7% Asian/Native American. On a per capita basis, Blacks are about three times as likely to be killed by police as are whites.
- The great majority of the shooting victims are armed. About 2% of police shooting victims are unarmed Black men; since 2015, police have killed 33 more unarmed White people than unarmed Black people.
- Police shootings correlate much more closely with crime rates than with race. FBI data show Blacks are arrested for 53% of murders and non-negligent homicide, 54 % of robberies, and 37% of all violent crime. Importantly to the debate, Blacks are overwhelmingly the victims of these crimes.
- Line-of-duty police officer deaths had averaged 170 per year from 2015 to 2020, before increasing to 295 in 2020.
Criminal justice reform has been a common objective. The Trump administration championed the bi-partisan 2018 First Step Act which shortened some drug sentences, gave judges more sentencing discretion, emphasized training of prisoners, and improved conditions in prisons - particularly for pregnant women. In mid-2020, the Republican Senate, led by Tim Scott got 55 votes for a bill which would have restricted use of chokeholds, prohibited no-knock warrants in drug cases, and lowered the barriers to pursue criminal and civil penalties for police misconduct. Democratic leadership rejected the bill as inadequate and threatened a filibuster. This month Nancy Pelosi's House passed a parallel bill which also creates a national registry of police misconduct, a full elimination of "qualified immunity" for police officers, a mandate for use of body cameras, and a prohibition of defined racial profiling. There is opportunity here if the Biden administration will disappoint the left wing of the party which really does want to "defund the police", and chooses bipartisan progress over partisan anger.
More broadly, there are several things to be done:
1. Rebuild confidence that the criminal justice system can operate racially blind. Attorney General Merrick Garland's investigations of practices in Minneapolis and Louisville bring a judicial temperment which is needed.
2. Reject the idiocy of District Attorneys like LA County's George Gascon who is eliminating the death penalty, cash bail, and sentencing enhancements such as gang membership or repeat offenses, keeping DA personnel away from parole hearings, and downsizing the hardcore gang unit. (Gascon is one of several District Attorneys supported by George Soros' largely successful effort to elect far left "social justice" DAs around the country.)
3. Address the full human resources cycle at the local police force level: development of position specification to define the role; recruitment; selection; training (including culture); reward and recognition (including promotion); and oversight. Where the community is inflamed to look at the police as the enemy (Portland, Oregon for example), elected leaders are not aligned with the role of the police (Los Angeles County for example), promotions are not merit-based, officers are not supported, and citizen oversight boards play too large a role, attraction and retention of quality police officers falls apart. Leaders should look like the population that is being protected - and in many major cities they do. This is tough work.
4. Keep the rabble rousers out of the public dialogue - Maxine Waters who threatened Minneapolis Jurors with riots if they didn't convict George Floyd's killer; Lebron James whose "You're Next - #Accountability" tweet threatened a Cincinnati police officer who had made a split second decision to shoot a black teenage girl who was attempting to kill another Black girl; and President Biden's UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield who found it useful to tell the UN Human Rights Council (including China, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia) that “the original sin of slavery weaved white supremacy into our founding documents.” We don't need Al Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons at a time when compromise is needed.
And criminal justice reform offers another unique opportunity for a former city and state District Attorney to demonstrate vision, political courage, and negotiating ability. Kamala Harris. Good luck with that.
This week's bonus is Senator Tim Scott's inspirational response to President Biden's April 28, call for more government programs and higher taxes.
bill bowen - 4/29, 2021