I don’t know which acts of police abuse and brutality are motivated by racism and which are not. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that we could end all racial bias immediately through some magic spell or button we could press. Would this end police abuse, or even most of it?
Experience tells us no. The data is clear that police abuse is not limited to any particular group. Indeed, a majority of those shot by police are white.
For example, when police officer Phillip Brailsford gunned down Daniel Shaver, it’s unlikely that he was motivated by some sort of ethnic or racial bias. The same was probably true when police shot Duncan Lemp in his sleep during a no-knock raid, or when police pinned Tony Timpa to the ground until he died. After Timpa died police joked about it, and apparently found the situation quite hilarious. This is not limited just to local police personnel. When federal agents massacred more than eighty (mostly white) men, women, and children at Waco, law enforcement officers probably weren’t motivated by the race of their victims, either.
Police also appear to have no aversion to being callously indifferent toward victims of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. When police elected to cower outside Stoneman Douglas High School rather than face the gunman slaughtering children inside, it’s unlikely that they paid much attention to the racial makeup of the student body (a majority of which was white.)
Unfortunately, anecdotes like these could be recalled for hours and hours.
“But nonwhites are more often targeted proportionally!,” some might say. This may be so, and indeed some may decide that turning police into equal-opportunity abusers is a type of progress in itself, but it hardly addresses the systemic foundations of police abuse.
And the underlying problems are substantial. They are systemic and built into the law enforcement community in the United States for several reasons.
First, police are protected from accountability both by laws granting them legal immunity and by police labor unions that shield abusers. Secondly, the proliferation of laws designed to target nonviolent people for petty offenses (most commonly drug offenses) provides police with nearly endless opportunities to stop and harass people who have committed no real crime.
Murray Rothbard has illustrated how the ideal in this situation would be a type of police privatization. But for those who are not yet ready for such a radical reform, much can be done in the meantime through more mild, yet very necessary, reforms.
One: End Legal Immunity for Police
At the core of the issue is a lack of accountability and legal liability on the part of government employees who enforce the laws. Thanks to activist progovernment judges and legislation designed to shield police, it is extremely difficult to hold abusive law enforcement agents accountable.
Chris Calton explains:
The doctrine of qualified immunity essentially says that for a police officer to be held accountable, there must be a statute specifying all the particularities of his or her unique situation. Anything even remotely ambiguous falls under the broad category of “discretion.” In theory, legal immunity is “qualified,” but in practice, it is effectively absolute.
This way of thinking, however, is only a few decades old. It was solidified in American law by activist Supreme Court judges in 1967. Their ruling essentially created new law which erected new barriers against holding police accountable for abusive behav
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