17 Steps Civil Rights Groups Recommend to Prevent More Cop Killings and Stop Abusive Policing
What can be done to prevent more police killings like the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri? What can be done to dismantle institutional racism that encourages police to racially profile suspects and use overly aggressive tactics—including deadly force—and then protects abusive officers from facing criminal charges?
After Brown’s shooting in August, 21 of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations issued a statement with a 14-point agenda on how to dismantle institutional racism in policing and stop abusive officers. These steps, listed below, could break this vicious cycle so all life is valued equally under the law, and so abusive police cannot get away with unwarranted behaviors.
Since Monday’s announcement that there will be no local charges filed against Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, protests have broken out nationwide. Here are 17 steps that could be taken to promote reform and stop police abuse, from changing the legal and procedural frameworks around policing, to altering the mentality among street officers who target and profile people in communities of color. (The first 14 of these were issued on August 18 by the civil rights groups.)
1. Demand a Federal Investigation: An independent and comprehensive federal investigation by the Department of Justice of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri. (That investigation has been undertaken and the results are not yet known.)
2. Document Police Killings Nationally: A comprehensive federal review and reporting of all police killings, accompanied by immediate action to address the unjustified use of lethal and excessive force by police officers in jurisdictions throughout this country against unarmed people of color.
3. Document Police Deadly Force Standards: A comprehensive federal review and reporting of excessive use of force generally against youth and people of color and the development of national use of force standards.
4. Identify Other Overly Aggressive Police Tactics: A comprehensive federal review and reporting of racially disproportionate policing, examining rates of stops, frisks, searches, and arrests by race, including a federal review of police departments’ data collection practices and capabilities.
5. Document Racial Profiling Nationally: A comprehensive federal review and reporting of police departments’ racial profiling and racial bias practices, as well as any related policies and trainings.
6. Identify All Race-Based Police Policies: A final update and release of the Department of Justice’s June 2003 Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies (hereinafter “Guidance”), with substantive reforms including updates that would 1) make the Guidance enforceable 2) apply the Guidance to state and local law enforcement who work in partnership with the federal government or receive federal funding; 3) close the loopholes for the border and national security; 4) cover surveillance activities; 5) prohibit profiling based on religion, national origin, and sexual orientation.
7. Require Police Anti-Bias Training: Required racial bias training and guidance against the use of force for state and local law enforcement that receive grants.
8. Require Officers To Use Body Cameras: The required use of police officer Body-Worn Cameras (BWC) to record every police-civilian encounter in accordance with and policy requiring civilian notification and applicable laws, including during SWAT deployments, along with rigorous standards regarding the retention, use, access, and disclosure of data captured by such systems.
9. Put Cameras in Every Police Car: The universal use of dash cameras in police vehicles.
10. Remove Military Weapons From Police: Concrete steps to ensure that federal military weapons do not end up in the hands of local law enforcement, and if they do, to prevent the misuse of those weapons in communities of color.
11. Educate Public On Rights When Dealing With Police: On-the-ground community training to educate residents of their rights when dealing with law enforcement.
12. Stop Overly Aggressive Local Policing: The elimination of the “broken windows” policing policy initiated in the 1980s which encourages overly aggressive police encounters for minor offenses and the promotion of community-based policing.
13. Institute Community Accountability for Local Police: Greater and more effective community oversight over the local law enforcement and policing tactics.
14. Create Local Government Police Oversight Panels: The establishment of a law enforcement commission to review policing tactics that would include in its composition leaders/experts from civil rights advocacy groups who represent the most impacted communities.
These 14 steps were issued by these civil rights groups in August: Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, A. Phillip Randolph Institute, Advancement Project, African American Policy Forum, American Civil Liberties Union, Black Women’s Roundtable (BWR), Black Youth Vote, Hip Hop Caucus, Institute of the Black World 21st Century, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Muslim Advocates, National Action Network, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, National Bar Association, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), NAACP-Legal Defense Fund, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), National Organization for Women, National Urban League, PICO National Network, Rainbow Push Coalition.
But there are other steps that need to be taken to get to the root of what induces violence and rage in communities, as opposed to the handful of individuals in every slice of society and from every race who are mentally ill and dangerous.
15. Raise minimum wages to start tackling inequality: As Common Cause said, “We must attack the economic inequality that has consigned millions of Americans, particularly in communities of color, to second class citizenship. We need incentive programs that bring good jobs with solid career prospects to young people in every neighborhood, along with major investments in education and job training. We need Congress to raise the minimum wage to at least $10.10 and states and localities to adopt a living wage of $15.
16. Make voters and voting matter. There cannot political solutions if the targeted communities and racially profiled individuals do not participate in the political process. That process starts with voting and continues with oversight and forced accountability. As Common Cause said, “We must bring every citizen into our democracy, with aggressive moves to boost voter registration and turnout. Because they’re convinced government has given up on them, too many of our citizens have given up on it. In Ferguson, a community with a substantial African-American majority, just one of the city’s six council members is African-American; in municipal elections this year only 12.3 percent of eligible voters bothered to cast ballots. That’s unacceptable.”
17. Change laws that overprotect cops, including jury intructions: The outrage in Ferguson is not just over the unnecessary shooting death of Michael Brown, but also the legal framework that gives police immunity from prosecution when deadly force is used in situations where it is is unwarranted. The St. Louis County grand jury did not only have to decide whether there was probable cause to charge Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson with one of five murder-related charges. They also had to follow jury instructions that required them to defer to Officer Wilson’s judgment that force was called for if he felt threatened—as he clearly said he did.
These steps alone will not end racism in America. They will not end overly violent policing. They will not end racial prejudice and bias. But they would begin to dismantle the law enforcement structures that lead to the killing of unarmed people, and would serve as a chack and balance on excessive policing by increasing public accountability.
Most of these steps were ignored after they were outlined this past summer. But surely they deserve a second look as the furious reaction to Wilson’s exoneration continues to unfold across America.