“Along with many others, I have long argued that the reason so few police officers are ever charged in their killings of unarmed Black people (and few of those charged are ever convicted) is that our legal system has effectively rendered those killings legal. This is the case regardless of how horrendous the killings are or how much evidence, including video, makes clear what took place.
The defense in the trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd raised this very concept Wednesday when questioning Sgt. Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles Police Department use-of-force expert who was a witness for the prosecution.
Eric Nelson, an attorney for Chauvin, asked if Sergeant Stiger had ever had anything to do with a training called “awful but lawful, or lawful but awful.” He said that he had. Nelson continued his questioning: “The general concept is that sometimes the use of force, it looks really bad, right, and sometimes it may be so, it may be caught on video, right, and it looks bad, right?”
Sergeant Stiger responds, “yes.”
Nelson then says, “But, it is still lawful.”
The officer concludes, “Yes, based on that department’s policies or based on that state’s law.” “
David Lindsay Jr.Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Thank you Charles Blow. It seems that awful should not be lawful. You stop someone for the equivalent of jay walking, and then, if they try to run, you execute them with your gun. How do we make awful unlawful?
“Since the death of George Floyd sparked a wave of national protests, at least 42 of the 50 largest cities in the country have adopted new rules aimed at curbing abuses by the police, according to a tally by Samuel Walker, an expert on police accountability who is affiliated with the University of Nebraska Omaha. From May through August, 15 cities banned chokeholds. A dozen passed “duty-to-intervene” statutes, requiring police officers to act if they see a fellow officer endanger a civilian. Still others banned so-called “no knock” warrants or changed policies related to the use of force.
Those reforms are important in and of themselves, and they also serve as a reminder of the power of collective action to influence new policies. Yet this list’s potential to create real change will be seriously limited unless city leaders and state lawmakers take on an entrenched barrier to reform: labor arbitrators. These are the men and women who routinely reinstate abusive officers who have been fired for misconduct.
Labor arbitrators have ordered police chiefs to rehire officers fired for deeds as outrageous as sexually assaulting a teenager in a patrol car, driving the getaway car in a murder and fatally shooting an unarmed driver, according to a 2017 investigation by The Washington Post.
Cases like these have a corrosive effect on society, serving as proof to many Americans that the current system cannot be reformed. These cases also demoralize mayors and police chiefs who have worked hard to remove problem officers, only to face orders from unelected arbitrators to give those abusive officers their badges and guns back. It doesn’t matter how much a police department overhauls its use of force policy, or how strictly a police chief enforces those new rules if unelected arbitrators reverse the punishments of officers who violate the rules.”
“. . . . Much more needs to be done to rein in the power of labor arbitrators, but at least it is a start. Cities that are interested in taking this on could look at municipalities in California, like Burbank and Cathedral City, that have hybrid systems where arbitration decisions are nonbinding. Officers still have the right to argue their cases before a neutral body, but the ultimate decision to terminate an officer is left in the hands of the city manager, who is accountable to the community. That’s where it belongs.”
“LOS ANGELES — In late August, Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies shot a Black man, Dijon Kizzee, whom they had stopped for a suspected traffic violation as he rode his bicycle. He became the seventh man killed by deputies in Los Angeles since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day weekend.
On the same afternoon, state legislators in Sacramento raced to the end of their 2020 session. The most significant police reform measure, heralded in the days of the Black Lives Matter marches that filled the streets, did not even come up for a vote.
A centerpiece of the agenda would have set up a process for yanking the badge of any officer found to have committed serious misconduct. California is one of only five states that has no process for certifying police officers, which among other things enables bad cops to move from department to department with impunity.
Democrats hold supermajorities in both houses. Major newspapers in California editorialized in favor of a slew of police reform bills. Polls showed support. In one of the bluest states in the country, all indications pointed toward action on reform.
But in the end, even here, it was essentially business as usual in a State Capitol where police unions have long wielded enormous power. The measures that passed this year were either noncontroversial or so diluted as to have little if any immediate impact.”
“During this summer of tear gas and turmoil, Kamala Harris has not been quiet.
On “The View,” the California senator spoke about “reimagining how we do public safety in America.”
On the Senate floor, she sparred with Rand Paul after the Kentucky Republican blocked a bill to make lynching a federal crime, and she is among the Democrats sponsoring policing legislation that would ban choke holds, racial profiling and no-knock warrants.
On Twitter, she expressed frustration that police officers who killed a Black Kentucky woman, Breonna Taylor, during a drug raid gone wrong, “still have not been charged.”
As a leading contender to be Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s running mate in the final days before his decision, Ms. Harris has emerged as a strong voice on issues of police misconduct that seem certain to be central to the campaign. Yet in her own, unsuccessful presidential run, she struggled to reconcile her calls for reform with her record on these same issues during a long career in law enforcement.”
“American policing is going to emerge changed from this June of protest. The question is whether it will be altered for the better. So let’s consider three possible scenarios for change — one building on the current system, another more ambitious but also riskier, and a third to be avoided at all costs.
The grand bargain
At this point, almost everyone except their union reps agrees that American police officers are too well defended from accountability. Collective bargaining makes police misconduct more common; the terms of union contracts often obstruct disciplinary action. It’s too hard to fire bad cops, too easy to rehire them, too difficult to sue them, too challenging to win a guilty verdict when they’re charged with an offense. All of which means it’s too easy for cops to get away with abuse, violence, murder.
On the other hand, as Charles Fain Lehman of The Washington Free Beacon points out, police departments aren’t as awash in funding as the rhetoric of “defund the cops” — even in its milder or nonliteral interpretations — would suggest. As a share of budgets, state and local spending on the police increased in the 1990s but has been flat or falling for the last two decades. (Indeed, cities may be offering sweeping union protections to their cops as a way to avoid paying them more money.) Despite frequent suggestions that the United States overspends on policing, as a share of gross domestic product, the European Union spends 33 percent more on cops than the United States does — while spending far less than us on prisons.
There are good reasons to think that the Europeans know what they’re doing. A substantial body of research suggests that putting more cops on the beat meaningfully reduces crime. And even the American neighborhoods that suffer most from police misconduct and brutality are often still under-policed when it comes to actually solving murder cases.”
David Lindsay, comment in the NYT:
Thank you Ross Douthat. You wrote: “At this point, almost everyone except their union reps agrees that American police officers are too well defended from accountability. Collective bargaining makes police misconduct more common; the terms of union contracts often obstruct disciplinary action. It’s too hard to fire bad cops, too easy to rehire them, too difficult to sue them, too challenging to win a guilty verdict when they’re charged with an offense. All of which means it’s too easy for cops to get away with abuse, violence, murder.” With such a clear opening statement, you could only add value to a most complicated debate. I would love to hear more about how the Europeans do better than us. I also, as a trained martial artist, would like to see all police officers required to work towards a black belt in Aikido, the modern Japanese martial art about controlling an opponent, while also knowing how not to hurt them, as well as how to hurt them if necessary.
Qualified immunity shields government officials from personal liability in federal lawsuits unless they violate “clearly established” federal law. That means that even if a police officer violates someone’s constitutional rights, the victim can’t obtain damages from the officer unless he or she can show that the officer violated a right explicitly recognized by a prior court ruling.
In theory, this requirement protects government defendants from unexpected liability when law changes. In practice, courts apply the doctrine aggressively to shield officers from lawsuits unless plaintiffs can point to other cases declaring essentially identical conduct unconstitutional — a difficult hurdle, even when police conduct appears clearly wrong.
Indeed, even if the former police officer Derek Chauvin is convicted of murdering Mr. Floyd, it’s quite plausible that a court could refuse to hold him liable for violating Mr. Floyd’s constitutional rights if his lawyers were unable to point to an earlier case making clear that the specific action Mr. Chauvin took — kneeling on a restrained person’s neck for more than eight minutes — was unconstitutional.”
““Defund the police” is a catchy phrase, but some Americans hear it and imagine a home invasion, a frantic call to 911 — and then no one answering the phone.
That’s not going to happen. Rather, here’s a reassuring example of how defunding has worked in practice.
In the 1990s, both the United States and Portugal were struggling with how to respond to illicit narcotics. The United States doubled down on the policing toolbox, while Portugal followed the advice of experts and decriminalized the possession even of hard drugs.
So in 2001, Portugal, to use today’s terminology, defunded the police for routine drug cases. Small-time users get help from social workers and access to free methadone from roving trucks.
This worked — not perfectly, but pretty well. As I found when I reported from Portugal a few years ago, the number of heroin users there fell by three-quarters and the overdose fatality rate was the lowest in Western Europe. Meanwhile, after decades of policing, the United States was losing about 70,000 Americans a year from overdoses. In effect, Portugal appeared to be winning the war on drugs by ending it.
That’s the idea behind “Defund the Police” as most conceive it — not to eliminate every police officer but to reimagine ways to make us safe that don’t necessarily involve traditional law enforcement”
The large street demonstrations in scores of cities and towns across the country are bringing sudden and sweeping changes to police practices and accountability.
Minneapolis is preparing to disband and rebuild its police department.
California is poised to ban the use of police chokeholds.
Dozens of cities are considering redirecting millions in taxpayer funds from America’s heavily militarized police departments to education, health care, housing and other needs of black and Hispanic neighborhoods that have been underinvested in for generations.
New York took a step toward reform with the repeal Tuesday evening of a state law known as 50-a, a decades-old measure that has allowed the police to keep the disciplinary and personnel records of officers secret. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign the bill.”
Thank you Mara Gay. I recently said, we should make police forces choose between being disbanded, or giving up their police union. Here are two good comments which followed this op-ed, and one addresses the union issue. I didn’t know these corrupt and evil unions were created by something called the Taylor Law, which FDR opposed.
As a retired NYC Assistant District Attorney I couldn’t agree more with this article. To many times we were forced to put bad cops on the witness stand without a jury knowing about their violent, racist, biased past conduct. All to often, a cops prior history was hidden from prosecutors and that impounded the problem. I wish the press would start investigating the courts and the histories of Judges in the process also. I believe that would show the public just how racist some judges were/are. Compare sentencing between white and minority defendants and show the public the truth. In 24 years as a prosecutor I caught cops: lying about an arrest, lying during testimony and falsifying paperwork about an arrest. I found cops lying together and shielded by the “blue wall do silence”. Every time I caught a cop doing any of the above, nothing happened to them. No perjury charges. No admonishment from the court or supervisors. Nothing! After 24 years of trying to fix the system from within, I was terminated. My only hope is that retired prosecutors and judges will come forward and tell their stories truthfully. Tell the public how as prosecutors we weren’t allowed to talk to cops for days after they were involved in a shooting. Cops spoke to their union lawyers before speaking to prosecutors. Can you imagine! 50 a needed to be repealed years ago as it just allowed dirty cops to stay on the force. And trust me, there are plenty of dirty cops. How may NYC police scandals took place?
Thank you and agreed Mara. The next step should be the repeal of the Taylor law that granted police the right to unionize. I vaguely recall during 1967 the debate about this statute, it was far from universally praised. FDR felt it was inappropriate for the public sector to unionize and negotiate against the public interest. Another change should be the prohibition of any officer wearing a badge from concealing his badge number. As a taxpayer who funds the department I have the right to know who’s interacting with me. Patrick (the Jackal) Lynch, the head of the union,has for years been inciting his membership to view us as the enemy. His screeds have only increased recently. From this person’s perspective, the war was begun by the police decades ago and has only been enhanced with the militarization since 9-11. Its long past time we brought these renegades under control. If its only a few bad apples and not a diseased orchard then let the good apples stand up and be counted.
By Nick Corasaniti and Stephanie Saul
March 27, 2019, 1 comment
“NEWARK — After football practice one summer evening in 2008, a Pop Warner league coach and two of his players were driving through the Clinton Hill section of Newark when a car swerved and blocked their path. Suddenly six police officers emerged from unmarked vehicles and forced them out of their car at gunpoint.
“I felt like this: Don’t kill me, just send me to jail. Please don’t kill me,” one of the boys, Tony Ivey Jr., then 13, would later say in a videotaped interview.
The officers, members of a narcotics squad, searched the car and found nothing but football equipment. The coach had been taking the boys to get hamburgers.
The episode became known as the case of the Pop Warner Three, and it was one of more than 400 misconduct allegations cited two years later when the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey asked the Justice Department to investigate the Newark police.
Newark’s mayor, Cory Booker, had swept into office in 2006 pledging a safer city through zero tolerance on crime. And while killings actually rose in his first year, over the next three they fell to historic lows. Yet grievances against the police were piling up in the city’s black wards, with allegations of racial profiling, unlawful stops and excessive force. The A.C.L.U. and local activists pressed for reforms, complaining about pushback from Mr. Booker, whose administration was promoting the plunging homicide rate.
And when the A.C.L.U. finally went public with its plea to the Justice Department, the mayor went on WNYC radio, telling an interviewer that the petition was “one of the worst ways” to bring about meaningful change. “We don’t need people who are going to frustrate, undermine and mischaracterize our agency,” he added.”
This is a depressing, complicated story. Maybe Corey Booker wasn’t a total fraud, but he was a reckless coward, unleashing an out of control and over powerful police department on his city, and then claiming successes that weren’t base on accurate data. I can also find reasons to defend the young mayor. It is hard to go up against a police union that might make your life miserable, or even kill you. It is not his fault that there were and are too many guns on the street. I’m not sure I could have done a better job, and I certainly didn’t have the guts to even try.