Ending Senseless Police Violence of Unarmed Citizens under Pretense of Law
By Marlon Aldridge, Sr.
When a police officer kills a law-breaking, physically confrontational, unarmed person when other nonlethal measures were available, we should not fault him solely. We should fault them that authorized his violent response. We should fault politicians because it is they that sanction and enforce institutional behavior such as the senseless killing of American citizens by law enforcement officers under the pretense of law.
Why do Black males bear the brunt?
Why do Black males seem to bear the brunt of violent often deadly police responses? Many would say, “because they break the law and put themselves into harm’s way more than others”. That answer is standard protocol in a society with a documented criminal history. Lest we forget that America was built on genocide, slavery, and Jim Crow—systems which reveal the psychology of a depraved society. Of course, Blacks are to blame, at least in the mind of a depraved (criminogenic) society.
There is much evidence, psychodynamically speaking, to support why the larger society blames Black males for criminal behavior (i.e., projections of criminal stereotypes by the larger society and subsequent introjections by small segments of the Black community). I will not make those arguments here because I would rather provide some recommendations to ending senseless police killings of unarmed American citizens, especially Black males. But first, I want to answer a few other questions.
Are laws neutral?
Prescriptive laws are not as neutral as one would think. The letter of the law is not in dispute here but the application of it is. When a police officer uses discretion when applying the law when dealing with one group but applies it to the letter with another group, then the law is not neutral (i.e., just). Yes, through action we were able to eliminate obvious discriminatory laws from federal and state statues, but those laws, now rewritten, in many instances preserve their original intent—the maintenance of “the status quo”.
Are Police Officers infallible?
We have already mentioned that some police officers do not apply discretion equally. Needless to say, many of them will lie to save their jobs or to keep from going to prison. It doesn’t take much effort to imagine that the greater the potential for either scenario, the greater the chance for lying. For example, if a police officer kills a person not because he feared grave bodily injury or death but because he was scared, he will probably lie about it. For instance, police officer Darren Wilson stated that 18-year old Michael Brown (fatally shoot by Wilson) “looked like a demon” and that as he struck Brown with bullets he appeared to be “bulking up” to “run through the shots.” Apparently, Michael Brown was really David Banner “the Incredible Hulk”. Believing that a police officer will kill to cover up a lie is not unrealistic. We should have mechanisms in place to deter or detect their lies.
Prosecutors and the Grand Jury Dilemma
Aren’t prosecutors and police officers on the same team? Of course, they are. They are part of the same system—the criminal justice system. Neither functions without the other. Many observers have opined that the grand jury system is too secretive, that the prosecutor gets what he wants, and that witnesses may not be cross examined. Others mostly prosecutors claim that grand jurors are sounding boards for their ideas and that they do not abuse the system. Even if we conclude that prosecutors are correct, the public may still perceive impropriety when prosecutors are left to determine whether a police officer goes to a full trial or not. Why would we allow negative public perceptions to continue when there is an easier way, by foregoing grand jury trials and by either assigning special prosecutors or changing the court venue?
Where are the Black police officers?
At an ale house in Williamsburg, Brooklyn last week, a group of black police officers from across the city gathered for the beer and chicken wing special. They discussed how the officers involved in the Garner incident could have tried harder to talk down an upset Garner, or sprayed mace in his face, or forced him to the ground without using a chokehold. They all agreed his death was avoidable [emphasis added]. (Reuter.com)
Are there enough Black police and sheriff’s patrol officers? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014), of 680,000 officers, 15.6 percent (106,000) were Black. Since Blacks make up about the same percentage of the population, one would think that there is no shortage of Black officers. However, this statistic obscures the distribution of Black officers for cities below 100,000 people. For instance, New York City alone has roughly 5440 Black officers (16 percent of the total employed) while Ferguson, MS has 3 Black officers (5.6 percent of the total employed). New York’s Black population stands at 17.5 percent while Ferguson’s stands at 67.4 percent. With a little more research, one could probably confirm that we have a problem in the proper distribution of Black officers in smaller cities where the percentage of Blacks is high compared to Whites. This problem needs to be addressed.
How then do we continue our quest for basic human rights, in this case, stopping the senseless killing of unarmed Black males under pretense of law? In my opinion the solutions are simple. The question is; do we have the political will?
We may not be able to compel police officers to apply the law with equal discretion (or more importantly their application of the use of force model), but we can create laws which curtail unnecessary levels of lethal force. For example, police officers should be personally responsible in some form or fashion for killing unarmed persons. To this end, reliable forms of behavioral control should be codified into law. Additionally, the laws should be written so that adjustments can be made to them until discrepant behavior (i.e., senseless killing under pretense of law) is extinguished. These and other recommendations will follow.
Behavioral Control Techniques
The use of behavioral control techniques has a solid history and the science is very robust. Although I am not a behavioral psychologist, I offer some suggestions.
1. All police officers should submit to a lie detector test after killing a person who was found to be unarmed, no exception. Any officer who does not pass it should loss his or her job as a matter of public safety or be barred from patrol duties for a period of six years. The results of the lie detector test and the subsequent firing of an officer should be viewed as an administrative proceeding and should not be used to infer criminal intent.
2. All police officers who knowingly kill unarmed assailants should forego grand jury trials and proceed to jury trials in federal court to preserve the record of the proceedings and allow for the imposition of an impartial prosecutor.
3. All police officers who knowingly kill unarmed assailants should be taken off patrol duty and reassigned to desk duty for a period of one year.
4. Any police officer who acts under pretense of law to stop a crime or apprehend a suspect should have to personally pay $20,000 or more to the heirs of ANY person that he or she murders under these conditions: (1) the person was apparently unarmed and (2) other behavioral controls (both positive and negative) were available but not used. This obligation is outside of any other remedies pursuant to current law and should not be used to confer criminal intent. Moreover, it should be considered a legal debt and subject to the same laws. Local courts should have jurisdiction. Additionally, law enforcement agencies and governing authorities should be prohibited from paying this personal debt.
Other Recommendations Outside of Behavioral Control Techniques
1. Police academies, degree-serving programs, and other peace officer certification agencies should include in their curricula at least a full year of evidence-based cultural competency police training.
2. Law enforcement agencies and/or certification agencies who receive federal funds should mandate cultural competency training for its officers on a set frequency.
3. Programs similar to DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) should be funded by the government to teach adolescent youth how to deal with the police when stopped by them, how to file complaints against police officers, about the use of force model, and about self-defense laws.
4. The federal government must create incentives to recruit more Black police officers for assignment in urbanized areas, especially in small cities where Blacks make up a large percentage of the population but are underrepresented in the police force.
Let’s start a petition to curtail the senseless killing of unarmed citizens by law enforcement officials. Let’s call it the Responsible Officers Homicide Prevention Act. The recommendations mentioned above could be a basis for it.