How should we respond to the horrifying murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin, a bad cop with “18 complaints on his official record?” “A Minneapolis-police-chief-promised-change-george-floyd’s-death-shows-hurdles” Finding a constructive answer is not easy. While it is difficult to watch the horrible death of George Floyd at the hands of a bad cop as three fellow policemen looked on without becoming enraged, those setting fires, smashing windows, and looting are not looking for constructive answers (or if we are to be extremely generous are not being thoughtful about what measures would actually be constructive) and should be locked up.
For starters, in looking for answers we should acknowledge that the problem (racism–unequal treatment of black Americans as well as other ethnic minorities in the law, then by law enforcement and by many people) has existed in America since its founding. But we should also acknowledge that enormous progress has been made over time, especially in recent years. Slavery has been abolished. Racial minorities are no longer discriminated against in the law (as opposed to law enforcement). Even policing has improved considerably, though being arrested for “driving while black or DWB” remains too prevalent. And then there remain too many Michael Brown, Jrs, an 18-year-old black man, who was killed by Darren Wilson, a 28-year-old white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 and too many George Floyds. Any would be too many.
A great deal has been done since Michael Brown’s murder to improve police training. The details are impressive. Medaria Arrandondo, Minneapolis’s police Chief, is black and is committed to furthering the work of his predecessor, Janeé Harteau, to expunge racism from the force and to rebuild trust between the police and the communities they exist to keep safe. While considerable progress has been made, why does it remain so difficult to provide black Americans with the equal treatment under the law to which every American is constitutionally entitled?
Evolution has genetically predisposed us to trust family and distrust if not fear others. Civilization, in part, has required that we overcome or at least tame this primitive impulse with moral teachings and laws (“do unto others and you would have them do unto you”) that facilitate our ability to live together and build trading economies to our enormous benefit. We learn what is “right” from our families, schools, churches, and the varied people we hang out with. We learn from the words and behavior of community leaders that we respect (some have made more positive contributions than others!). Institutional structures are also very important. They should provide incentives for behavior to conform to our moral and legal principles. Police Chief Arrandondo, for example, has increased the transparency of the police force (complaint records, webcams, etc.) in efforts to hold officers more accountable for their behavior.
In the area of policing there are two interrelated institutional impediments to good policing that we should address. Policing can be difficult and can be dangerous. “In a series of decisions beginning in 1967, the Supreme Court gutted [the Civil Rights Act of 1871] by permitting police and other government agents to claim they acted in “good faith” when violating citizens’ rights…. The Supreme Court decided government officials deserved ‘qualified immunity.’” “Cops-kill-because-we-gave-them-the-legal-framework-to-do-it” This must end.
“‘Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a top contender for Vice President candidacy for Joe Biden, was the chief prosecutor for Hennepin County (including Minneapolis) from 1998 to 2006. Klobuchar, who was nicknamed “KloboCop” by detractors, “declined to bring charges in more than two dozen cases in which people were killed in encounters with police” while she “aggressively prosecuted smaller offenses” by private citizens, the Washington Post noted. Her record was aptly summarized by a headline early this year from the Twin Cities Pioneer Press: “Klobuchar ramped up prosecutions, except in cases against police.” [see previous link] This must end.
“Since 2012 there have been more than 2,600 complaints filed against Minneapolis police officers by civilians, according to data provided by Dave Bicking, who was part of the city’s Office of Police Conduct Review. Of those, the data showed just 12 resulted in an officer being disciplined. Among those, eight received written warnings. The most severe penalty was a 40-hour suspension.” [see previous link and “My-fellow-brothers-sisters-blue-what-earth-are-you-doing/?”] This must end.
The other institutional impediment to good policing is the understandable but pernicious self interest of police unions in defending their members from charges of misconduct. “Lt. Robert Kroll, [has been] president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis since 2015. Like his union counterparts across the country, Lt. Kroll has been a fierce advocate for greater autonomy for officers… Lt. Kroll has criticized the Black Lives Matter movement as a terrorist organization.” “Minneapolis-police-chief-promised-change-george-floyds-death-shows-hurdles”
I am reminded of my mother’s complaint (she was a grammar school teacher) that the teachers’ union was the biggest impediment to improving the quality of education in California. Any monopoly (government, unions, monopoly firms) ultimately sacrifices the public interest for their own if allowed to. This must end.