Black Lives Matter vs Blue Lives Matter
The recent use of excessive police force against blacks has resulted in the shooting deaths of one black man in Baton Rouge and another, 24 hours later, outside of St. Paul. As has been the case in previous excessive force shootings, public officials, ex-public officials, and media pundits, the usual harpies, have wrung their hands, called for more training, and admonished everyone not to condemn all the good cops because of a few bad ones. In addition, because after these two police shootings, 5 Dallas law enforcement officers were killed by a sniper in retribution, officials and pundits have warned Black Lives Matter to show restraint in demonstrating against police use of excessive force.
The mere fact that the sniper who killed the law enforcement officers and wounded 7 other officers was, at most, connected to Black Lives Matter only in opposing the use of deadly excessive force against blacks makes their focus on Black Lives Matter irresponsible and dangerous. Just as there is a regular reminder to not consider all cops as murderers because a minority have murdered, it is absurd to think that most of those who oppose excessive police force are murderers because a single guy who also opposed excessive force was a murderer.
Above all, however, the usual suspects have inappropriately defined both the problem and the solution. The call for more training, technical bulwarks against police misconduct such as body cameras for policemen, and the greater use of de-escalation techniques all obscure the question of why these things are needed when policemen, usually white, interact with blacks. After all, blacks are killed two and one-half times more than whites by the police. If the problem were that police needed more training and these technical restraints, they would need them to prevent excessive force against whites as well as blacks. Police training and equipment seem adequate for appropriately policing whites. These “solutions” can’t work when they ignore that police have exhibited excessive force against blacks disproportionately more than against whites.
The argument that blacks have been targeted more because they are more likely to be involved in criminal activity was soundly refuted in a report released this week by the Center for Policing Equity. In their report, they found over 19,000 force incidents from 12 agencies across the country have occurred between 2010 and 2015. They find that the police use of force is more related to the race of the “suspect” than it is related to whether actual crimes were being committed or the severity of crimes being committed. In other words – the use of force is delivered more excessively to blacks than whites because of race – not related to the crime rate in the community.
The simplest solution to reducing the disparity between white and black exposure to police excessive force is to prosecute police when they use excessive force against blacks. Although prosecutors are often reluctant to indict the officers with whom they work closely, another even more substantial obstacle is that the laws, court decisions, and rules for prosecuting policemen, established by state legislatures, give such broad discretion to officers that securing a conviction is nearly impossible. For example, the Supreme Court rule that the events surrounding the use of force must be viewed from the perspective of the officer at the time of the incident. State legislatures have gone out of their way to put other barriers in the way of convicting police officers, such rules that shield officers from being questioned or making a statement immediately following an incident.
Fortunately, an easy solution to the problem of laws shielding police officers from accountability for their actions is voting out of office legislators those who will not equalize the laws between civilians and police officers. Unfortunately, voters are either unaware of what the real problem is in securing convictions or don’t really want police officers to be held accountable for their bad actions.