A quick checklist for new ways to stop police killings, corruption, and overreach.
By David Icke Turner
Photo by Spenser Withans
Even the most outwardly intolerant people on my feed openly declare that what happened to George Floyd was categorically wrong. Despite having differences in both the precursors and ramifications of Floyd’s murder, there is consensus among most that Derek Chauvin committed a wanton act of murder. It’s clear to a growing majority in this nation that police power must be limited and reimagined. Sure, there are those who advocate for abstract, non-specific slogans such as ‘abolish the police’. If you are going to use abstractions, ‘fuck the police’ is far better. But most Americans can agree that the pragmatic solutions that are in reach must be grasped. Even a majority of police, 86% according to a recent Pew Research study, believe that the killings of African-Americans by fellow officers has made their jobs harder to complete. In a crisis like we have today, moving quickly on substantive change that we can all agree to is more critical than ever. There of course will be pushback on the below from police unions. But every single successful measure limiting police power from the last 4 decades was opposed by these unions. So, fuck em’.
End Qualified Immunity
‘ Qualified Immunity’ has shielded members of law enforcement from their worst abuses. The legal rule protects cops and other government officials from being sued by victims and their families despite violating victims’ civil rights. District attorneys apprehension in filing criminal complaints against cops is partially to blame for the environment we are in.
This past Sunday evening, Congressman Justin Amash (L-MI) introduced the End Qualified Immunity Act which would effectively remove the “permanent procedural roadblock for plaintiffs” that precludes them from “obtaining damages for having their rights violated” in civil suits.
When Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in 1871, it allowed people to sue state, country, and municipal officers for denying people their constitutional rights. However, in 1982 the U.S. The Supreme Court ruled that police officers were entitled to ‘qualified immunity’ from civil-rights lawsuits. With this law struck, you could personally sue an officer as an individual. Take away the civil protections from law enforcement and watch cops start slowing their roll.
Extend ‘Abuse of Power’ Indictments
Abuse of Power, or ‘malfeasance in office’ is the crime of abusing one’s official position to commit crimes or deny someone of their rights. This is the statute Richard Nixon, Governor Rod Blagojevich and Joe Arpaio were charged with violating. I know, it sounds great already. But is is rarely (never) used to indict cops. If federal guidelines on indicting police officers under this law were sent down the pipe, you could see officers charged with this felony. Officials who engage in abuse of power are often those who ‘exploit the ability to use corruption in their advantage.’ This would cover an array of typical officer crimes from pay-offs to killings suspected of ulterior motives.
Restrict Deadly Force
Guidelines regarding use of force are a mixed bag by state to state. With little federal input or oversight, officers have markedly different protocols state by state as to when to restrain someone, when to pull a gun, and when to shoot. Procedural details like exactly how to restrain an arrestee could be federalized and then limited. Though it must be mentioned that former officer Derek Chauvin specifically violated his procedural guidelines. We don’t know if any change in policy would have changed George Flyds murder. Though we do know that practices already in place in some departments in the U.S. can reduce killings by police. Importantly, there are no federal guidelines as to when an officer can initiate deadly force. According to Pew Research, just under 70% of all police killing were of unarmed suspects. That number underscores the desperate need ro limit cop’s use of deadly force.
Make Police Pay for brutality settlements out of Cop Pensions
It seems to be a daily occurrence. Cop wrongfully kills or maims someone. Victims or their family sue their city and/or police department and are awarded massive settlements. Taxpayers of said city are left with the bill for officer’s recklessness and a subsequent budget shortfall ensues. City infrastructure suffers. Bad cop still gets his pension. Fuck that. Testset associate editor Quicalus Texicanus wrote about this idea in depth here.
Ease Barriers to Termination
In a world where people regularly lose their job over a ten year-old distasteful tweet, cops literally get away with murder. According to the Chicago Tribune “ A review of internal documents by the showed that a small handful of the city’s officers were overwhelmingly responsible for the majority of complaints over the last five decades.”
And even when officers stacked up numerous filed complaints, firing was few and far between. “In the comparatively few instances that Chicago police found wrongdoing or rule-breaking, firing officers was exceedingly rare, happening in about one-half of 1 percent of cases,” the Tribune said. This also seems to be the case in just about every major city in the country. Police Unions make up large voting blocks and usually make live hell for city officials that are willing to terminate employment for officers. New York City is no exception. According to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which reviews complaints against NYC cops, “17 percent of the 36,000 officers currently on the force have received four or more complaints.” Many of these complaints are for infractions like drinking on the job. Needless to say, being a police officer is one of the rare jobs you can have where drinking on the job is ignored. The answer to removing these unofficial protections is complex but begins with local citizens engaging police unions, creating public litmus tests for city candidates, and even federal mandates.
End Civil Forfeiture
Civil Forfeiture has been the silent slush fund police officers have had access to since it was introduced to attempt to crack down on large scale criminal enterprise. But it has been abused and created a slippery slope of turning good cops into bad cops. The ACLU says “Civil forfeiture allows police to seize — and then keep or sell — any property they allege is involved in a crime. Owners need not ever be arrested or convicted of a crime for their cash, cars, or even real estate to be taken away permanently by the government.” In the last twenty years, the federal government nabbed $36.5 billion in cash and assets police seized from Americans; largely in poorer neighborhoods. Many of these people were never even charged with a crime or shown to have illicit drugs.
The lion’s share of cash seized returns to the law-enforcement agencies that seized it in the first place. Naturally, gaining access to money and assets has become the impetus for investigation. These funds are directed at myriad things cops need or want. These indulgences include exercise equipment, police cars, military equipment, and yes, margarita machines.
“These forfeiture operations frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests,” he wrote. “Perversely, these same groups are often the most burdened by forfeiture. They are more likely to use cash than alternate forms of payment, like credit cards.” – Indiana Supreme Court
Extend Domicile Protections to Automobiles
Some of us spend all day in our cars. They are often our sole source of income. More and more Americans are beginning to live in their cars. However, under the law, ‘driving is a privilege, not a right’ yet drivers are subject to near constant police surveillance. For decades, legal theorists have attempted to reconcile this problem by challenging police action. Traffic violations have become the entry point for police to intrude into every aspect of your existence. This creates a formula for unlimited police abuse. Should a petty traffic crime open the driver up to a comprehensive investigation of unrelated criminality? What should the limits on police officers pulling someone over be? Many have advocated for extending domicile rights to a population that spends an increasing amount of time in their vehicles. Comically enough, in Texas, domicile rights called ‘castle doctrine’ allow individuals to use deadly force if under threat in their vehicle. Yet these rights don’t go beyond allowing you to shoot someone. Typical domicile rights we enjoy in our home are need for warrants, limitation on random investigation, and the freedom from being unreasonably harassed by law enforcement.
Establish Independent Citizen Review Boards
Police officers should ultimately be accountable to the communities which they ‘serve.’ the formation of independent citizen review boards would allow communities to investigate police crimes, make official recommendations to civil and criminal courts, and establish guidelines based upon each community’s experience. Importantly, these should be funded partially by settlements and insurance monies activated by local governments policies. These review boards could also give advisor rulings on individual officers and give real world feedback on their performance. Nobody knows a cop better than the people in the neighborhoods they patrol.
Again, there is no telling if any of these limits on power would have stopped Derek Chauvin from brutally murdering George Floyd. But the implications of some of these policies could have motivated the other 3 officers would stood by stop the murder. Also, the above policies are in regard to everyday policing and don’t come near to addressing the enormous amount of brutality we have seen the last several days at protests. These actions will need to be covered by a totally different set of new federal guidelines.
Campaign Zero has done a great job of dialing in many potential policies and explaining their efficacy. At this point, we need to move quick while there is momentum and consensus.
Oh yeah, forgot one. Federal legalization of Cannabis. No brainer.