Police Brutality is Not a Racial Issue

Every time a police officer harasses or kills a black person, commentators publicize it as another evidence of the chronic racial problem in the United States. But the race narrative is not large enough to account for all police butality. The main problem with law enforcement is not racism. If we were paying attention, we would already know this.

Take for instance the recent police shooting of Zachary Hammond. His case has not been widely publicized because it doesn’t fit nicely into the race narrative. Hammond is, after all, a white male:

Yet the case has not received as much attention as the officer-involved shooting deaths of Walter L. Scott in North Charleston, S.C., or Samuel DuBose, a motorist who was killed in Cincinnati. Like both of those men, Mr. Hammond was apparently unarmed.

Unlike them, he was white. And his family’s attorney, Eric Bland, contends that is why most people have never heard of Mr. Hammond.

“If Zachary were black, the outpouring of protest and disappointment from the public and the press would be amazing,” Mr. Bland said. “You wouldn’t be able to get a hotel room in upstate South Carolina.”

There are major differences aside from race — most notably, investigators have refused to release a police dashboard camera video that may show Mr. Hammond’s death, while graphic videos of the killing of Mr. Scott, Mr. DuBose and other African-Americans quickly went viral, galvanizing outrage. And in some cases, prosecutors have swiftly brought charges against officers; the local prosecutor in South Carolina, Chrissy T. Adams, said in an email that she would not decide whether to file charges until state investigators had completed their report on the shooting.

This is, unfortunately, not an isolated case. In fact, there may be a disproportionate number of police shootings against black people simply because the police disproportionately patrol black communities. Because of racism? No. Because black communities have a disproportionate amount of crime. That is all.

So the problem is not racism, as such, though many police officers may very well be racist. The main problem contributing to police brutality is tyranny, plain and simple. Our police force is completely out of control, and the measures in place to hold police accountable are either unenforced or nonexistent. Most of the police officers involved in shootings never even get indicted. Most of the ones indicted are not found guilty. Most of those found guilty are given lax sentences, even when they have basically murdered people.

To remedy this problem, I think the policy concerning police brutality should run thusly:

  • The police should never be allowed to execute any action or reaction that is more severe than the maximum potential punishment that could be levied against a criminal for the infraction that prompted the police interaction in the first place.
  • The police should be required to efficiently (and exclusively) address their original cause for interaction unless it becomes clear in the course of a “non-dangerous” stop (e.g., a traffic violation), that an arrest is necessary in order to prevent a life-threatening crime from happening in the near future.

An example. A police officer pulls someone over for a broken tail light. His job would be to issue a warning or ticket for the broken tail light and then let the driver go. It doesn’t matter if the driver is acting suspiciously. It doesn’t matter if the driver’s eyes are bloodshot. You didn’t pull him over for reckless or drunk driving. You pulled him over for a broken tail light. Deal with that issue (if you must), and then end the interaction. It doesn’t even matter if the driver gets out of the car and runs. Let him run. A broken tail light is not a capital offense. Obstructing the justice of a traffic violation is not a capital offense. Resisting arrest is not a capital offense. No shots need to be fired. Get the address from the car’s plates and mail a ticket. Interaction done.

The only case where it would be necessary to escalate the original interaction would be if an active violent crime were in the process of happening. Say, if the driver started shooting at the police officer. Or if someone started screaming for help from the trunk. That sort of thing. Other than that, interactions should be limited to the original reason for detainment, and police reactions should be limited by the maximum penalty fitting the crime (or suspicion of a crime) that originally prompted the police interaction.

What’s the maximum penalty for a traffic violation? A fine. Never under any circumstances would someone be executed for a traffic violation. Therefore, the only case where an officer can kill a criminal is when that criminal is being pursued or arrested under suspicion of a capital crime or when the police officer realizes that the criminal is actually in the process of committing a capital crime.

Other than that, there is no reason for police brutality. In fact, police officers who shoot traffic violators and unarmed citizens should be tried for murder and punished accordingly. Execution or life imprisonment, as the case may be.

I guarantee this would fix the police brutality issue. All you would have to do is quickly, severely, and publicly punish a few of the so-called bad apples, and this problem would dry up like a raisin in the sun.