⚖PART IV: THE PROBLEM HERE IS YOU. Mayors and Chiefs, What Comes Next Will Not Be Easy, but It Is Long Past Due.
It is time to choose. We are done allowing police departments to pass their liability on to us.
AMERICAN POLICING HAS LEFT THE BUILDING AND THE RESPONSIBILITY IS YOURS ALONE.
City police are not up to the task of policing non-White communities. An officer’s entire demeanor can change when he or she enters a community of color. Engagements can take on an “animal kingdom” posture: “I am Alpha, you are Beta. Come to heel, now. Once I see that you understand my power and your place, we can proceed.” That “policing by fiat” mentality is toxic.
City police are tearing apart the nation. In 2020, city police killed an average of two to three people a day in the United States, and the 2021 figure is rising. The very entities tasked with keeping the peace are the same entities responsible for the greatest period of sustained unrest in modern history — Chauvin’s killing of George Floyd. They are also responsible for the second greatest: the 1991 Los Angeles Police Department’s savage beating of Rodney King. Protests erupted after a jury acquitted the four officers in that case. The protests lasted six days and resulted in 63 deaths, 2,383 injuries, 12,000 arrests, more than $1 billion in estimated damages, and loss of or harm to at least 1,000 buildings.
And by city police, I do mean city police. I do not mean federal policing — FBI, U.S. Marshalls, and the like. I do not mean state policing — California State Police, Massachusetts State Police, etc. I do not mean county policing — sheriff’s departments. I mean the city police.
So, tread lightly with “abolish the police.” Even if it literally meant “get rid of the police” — it does not — understand that it could mean that, and that would mean you. Communities are policed by at least three different agencies: the city police, the county police and — with considerably less frequency — the state police. Communities could throw city police resources to other local issues, and still have complete police coverage. Other agencies police without egregious volumes of excessive force. Whether “abolish the police” becomes “abolish the city police” is entirely up to you.
To change the police culture, you must change the culture makers. CULTURE=CULTURE MAKERS.
≅PART I. OUR RELATIONSHIP IS WITH THE DEPARTMENT.
≅PART II. THE DEPARTMENT MUST (AND CAN) CORRAL THE POLICE.
≅PART III. A DEPARTMENT DOING ITS JOB NEUTRALIZES THE UNION.
≅PART IV. YOUR SERGEANT, LIEUTENANT, CAPTAIN, MAJOR, & DEPUTY NON-ACCOUNTABILITY IS KILLING A PEOPLE.
≅PART V. FIX THEM OR WE FIRE THEM AND YOU.
He who suffers the consequences is motivated to drive the change. CONSEQUENCES=CHANGE.
“For without justice, there is no peace. No peace of mind nor of spirit, nor of community.” ~2020 President, U.S. Conference of Mayors.
A CAUTIONARY TALE: SOUTH AFRICA
Let me tell you a quick story about South African apartheid. In the 90s, South Africa’s unspeakable abuse of Black Africans by its government — through its police — galvanized the world. It began as a grassroots movement and swelled into unprecedented global condemnation. America went on to spear-head the opprobrium that forced S. Africa to abandon apartheid.
Africa’s ghost is returning. Last year alone, state agents executed Blacks extra-judicially on all but 18 days. Worse, those executions increased by 28% while the Continent was also fighting COVID — one of the world’s most virulent outbreaks of disease in history. African police killed 136 people in 2021’s first 53 days. Despite all of this, the South African government’s response is largely angst and impotence. It insists that it is doing the best it can to keep all South African people safe.
The world is re-awakening. America strongly condemned S. Africa’s police killings. Even with our own troubles, American live and virtual protests against African police brutality are escalating. Last June, 54 nations proposed discussing African racism and police brutality. The UN Human Rights Council has agreed to serve as the discussion host.
China has now publicly condemned South Africa as well. During a March meeting, when S. Africa raised China’s “genocide and crimes against humanity,” China shut South Africa’s hypocrisy down. If South Africa cared about human rights, China said, it would address its own “deep-seated” “racial discrimination, social injustice and police brutality.” Ironically, that was during a meeting marking the international day for ending race discrimination.
This is a lot to take in, so I will burden you with just one last thing: of all the issues discussed above, the only thing about South Africa is the FIRST PARAGRAPH. The rest — the police killings, the international reaction, China’s rebuke, and South African protests — is about us, the United States of America. That South Africa is protesting police brutality in the U.S. is a cautionary tale for the ages.
THE WORLD IS WATCHING CITY POLICE HUMILIATE THE NATION.
Time and again, leadership has shown that the most powerful country in the world cannot control its city police. The world is listening.
Following Derek Chauvin casually executing George Floyd, more than 60 countries mobilized in international condemnation.
Then, our civic unrest of January 6th drew the international attention of almost two dozen countries and NATO. Allies and non-allies both noted the stark contrast in how police accommodated White American unrest.
Even a country under current indictment for genocide has repeatedly called the United States out for its hypocrisy.
During its first face-to-face meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, China told Blinken that the U.S. “shouldn’t concern itself with [China’s] internal affairs.” The U.S., China said pointedly, is also slaughtering Black Americans. While we may give little credence to the source, its value as a bellwether cannot be overlooked. If we continue on our current trajectory, China is just the beginning.
In fact, Amnesty International (“AI”) counts the United States among the countries plagued by police brutality. AI groups the U.S. with the likes of Iran, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Rio de Janeiro: we “need to make sure that police stop using force against the law, and that those who kill unlawfully are brought to account — no more excuses.”
Need we push the world to take you at face value, and stand you down as it did with South Africa?
THE RESPONSIBILITY RESTS WITH YOU.
The public is long-versed in why policing cannot be fixed: collective bargaining agreements (“CBA”) are too hard to overcome; most police get it right; policing is hard work; we train our officers as best as we can; racism is the X factor that cannot be overcome; communities of color hold us in low regard. Those are not reasons, but manifestations of failed supervision. And worse: not one of them is true.
DO NOT BLAME COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENTS (“CBA”).
First, you are the engineer of your CBA defeat. CBAs do not say “do not fire bad cops.” CBAs say, “if cops are that bad, show me the paper trail.” If you had done your job to begin with, and papered these mysteriously elusive, 10-year veteran “bad apples” with 17 complaints, firing them would be hardly more than a signature. What is it about this that is unreasonable?
Next, you are the engineer of your CBA defeat. Again. CBAs do not allow you to act on proof you do not have. You do not have that proof because you failed to make sure your supervisors managed your force effectively.
Your supervisors should have continually monitored your officers’ field application of training. They also should have documented problems, and followed through with more teaching and more monitoring. Had you done your job, supervisors would have papered your “bad apples.” Your CBA would then present no obstacle at all.
Thus, every time you say “union” or “collective bargaining agreement,” gather yourself, and say “I failed.” You are like the child who kills his parents, and then begs the court for mercy as an orphan. No; this is all you, and the sentence comes with the deed.
DO NOT BLAME AN UNFAIR INDICTMENT THAT OVERLOOKS THE GOOD.
Again, you had exclusive control over the narrative, the players, and the outcomes. Had you eliminated your own departmental misconduct, you would not find yourselves in national crosshairs now.
Again, your “most get it right” evaluation scale is not mitigation. We gauge non-life and death professions by “most get it right.” Life and death professions get “all but never.” Most scientists in level four biohazard labs “get it right,” but walk Ebola out on a shoe and “get it right” means going to jail.
You exist in an “all but never” profession. Do not lament it now, for that is a thing you know quite well. We see that very standard play out in your White citizen-to-police encounters. You are capable, it is required, and that is all we need to know.
DO NOT BLAME “HARD” AND COURAGEOUS POLICE WORK.
“Hard” is the job, and you allow your force to make the work harder, then build resentment over our lack of gratitude.
You may not conveniently factor out that what makes this work especially hard is you. Your agents provoke the public into receiving you with the condemnation you now use as a shield.
Just yesterday, for example, the Minnesota State Patrol rounded up journalists covering a local protest of police misconduct. They forced them to the ground and took pictures of their faces and credentials. They did this “hours after a judge issued a temporary order barring the Minnesota State Patrol from using physical force or chemical agents against journalists.” You are the agents of your public animosity.
“Hard” carries no greater significance for those who wear a badge. Millions put their lives on the line daily and as a matter of course, given their chosen professions. It garners no more consideration for police than it does for any other high-risk occupation.
And despite “hard” having no relevance in a discussion of duty, it is used as a justification or excuse for lukewarm policing. It is wielded as if to say, “policing is hard; many are ungrateful; what duty do I owe to such people?” My response would be “the duty to resign.”
Some citizens are grateful for you, others are not, but either way, your paycheck is the same. Your performance must be no less changed. The public should not have to throw parades to ensure you give full performance for full pay.
Yours are chosen professions, and the burdens come with the benefits. That is as good as it gets for us all. The public will not accept a penalty for refusing the weight of a burden that you alone choose.
DO NOT BLAME TRAINING.
The responsibility for what your force does with the training is where this fail begins.
Every department sends it police through training. If training was the magic elixir you hold it out to be, we would not find ourselves here. Repeatedly. In fact, in and of itself, that should have been your own observation. That you continue to fall back on training, is only more evidence of a “business as usual” mentality that fails communities of color.
DO NOT BLAME RACISM.
Demand your officers police equally and racism becomes a non-issue.
We agree with the almost 70% of mayors who say your officers treat Black community members worse than White ones. But it is not racism that prevents you from policing the police. It is you. No one hired you to solve racism. We hired you to enforce the law and your own rules.
Non-White America does not want perfect policing, we want equal policing. We want the same hit and miss policing White America “enjoys.” If you did your job to secure that, your departments’ problem with racism would never enter our equation.
DO NOT BLAME OUR COMMUNITIES.
We are trying to live; you are trying to negotiate the terms of our gradually increasing survival.
“It’s so often [I’m] reminded of my color. We gotta do better. But we gotta demand better. We protest, and they send riot guards, right? We’re trying to get them to protect us just like they protect everybody else.” ~Doc Rivers, August 30, 2020.
We had an agreement. As citizens, we promised to release a bit of personal autonomy so that police can do their jobs; in exchange, you promised to police the police.
We satisfied our side. We surrendered our personal autonomy, which you now demand in the absolute.
You, however, abandoned yours. Your officers walk the earth with the greatest power man has at his disposal — the power to take a life with neither counsel nor reflection. Instead of policing your police to act with consistency, the nation gets excuses. Indeed, we are angry, as we very well should be.
Do not complain to — or about — us because we reject your calls for more patience during our genocide. You have been far too patient for far too long. In truth, you should complain not at all, but instead be grateful the nation has gone this long by just asking.
Let me share another personal experience. I lived in a basement apartment decades ago, and the homeowners — who were White — lived in the top residence. They decided to modernize security. When I returned from work one evening, my window guards were removed but theirs remained in-place, though both sets were to be replaced the next day. When I contacted the owners about my exposure, they were horrified about their complete inconsideration. They were safe and, in that safety, my risk was not even on their radar.
That is your call for patience, without any of the attending introspection or humanity. On behalf of non-White America, that is also a hard “no.”
You chose to lament — but not end — a slightly modern version of slave patrol policing. That choice is the only participation you are entitled to in what comes next. Conduct-to-consequences is the bread and butter of your profession, so that is a line in the sand I expect you to respect. And never forget that it would have been far easier to replace our window guards than to force our hand into removing your own.
MAYORS, I AM ADDRESSING YOU NO LESS.
Do not hold yourselves out as having clean hands. A Mayor’s office owns, and can review, police personnel files. It can also act on information those files reveal. Mayors can set employment standards, direct members, maintain operational efficiency, discipline employees, and relieve members from duty for lack of work or other legitimate reasons. No reasonable interpretation of CBAs bars a Mayor from imposing severe and immediate consequences for non-performing city employees.
Do not hold yourselves out as having ideologically clean hands either. Most mayors belong to the U.S. Conference of Mayors (“USCM”). USCM is an intellectual trust of best practice policies, procedures, measures, and tools.
USCM members understand the crucial need for competent oversight. They appreciate that targeting officers, while ignoring department leadership, offends accountability baselines. Members embrace the relationship between justice and a community at rest. Here is the USCM 2020 President:
“For without justice, there is no peace. No peace of mind nor of spirit, nor of community.”
In August 2020, USCM issued its Report on Police Reform and Racial Justice. It identified supervisors as a department’s primary oversight inroad to govern officer conduct. Again, the USCM 2020 President, speaking here in his capacity as a city mayor:
“And as uncomfortable as it may be, we also must recognize that much of the inequity we struggle with today is the result of deliberate actions by government and other institutions. This is particularly true for our African-American brothers and sisters.”
Now, do this: reconcile for the public how the 2020 USCM President and the Louisville Metro Police Department’s (“LMPD”) Mayor are one in the same: Greg Fischer.
You may recall that LMPD wrongfully killed Breonna Taylor in a botched raid in March 2020. And yet, of the 1,538 LMPD personnel in place on May 13, 2020, every supervisor, lieutenant, major, assistant chief, deputy chief, and chief in that decision chain retained his and her post save two. Mayor Fischer left them all in place.
We know you understand the need, the obstacles, and the cost of failure. We also know that by failing to personally act, you play a role in that failure. What we do not know is why you keep packaging yourself as our champions, given the diametrically opposed relationship between the two.
“We’ve been called a ‘laboratory of compassion,’ but we are even more than that — we are a ‘proving ground,’ . . . showing the rest of the nation, the rest of the world, that compassion works!” ~ Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Second Inaugural Address.
“You have to work for it; and sometimes, you have to fight for it.” ~ Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Third Inaugural Address.
If you fire supervisors, you end disparate policing and unite the community. If you fire supervisors, you end excessively forceful policing and become a proving ground for compassion. Firing supervisors is the fight, and you have not worked for it at all.
Words and palliative care are an unconscionable exploitation of public trust. Our respect on faith is something you must all earn anew.
LET ME MODERNIZE YOUR THINKING ABOUT BLACK AMERICA IN A WAY THE NATION HAS YET TO FULLY REALIZE.
Black America is not in need of guardianship, as we are so often addressed, treated, and perceived. We are not America’s children, you are not our caretakers, and we need no help standing. We are formidable; and, as just one example, Georgia did not flip during the 2020 election cycle.
Black America did.
I do not mean Black America did not convert Georgia — we did. I mean Black America quietly flexed a power most assume we do not have. Let me show you, by unpacking what was arguably one of the most aggressive, coordinated disenfranchisement efforts in modern history.
Elected officials made an end run to suppress, with surgical precision, every Black vote it could reach: false drop boxes; false robocalls and mailers; USPS mailbox removals; dumping mail; ditching mail; slowing down the mail; closing Black community polling places; 1 to 4,700,000 dropbox-to-voter ratios; burning ballot boxes; “lost” ballots; register purge; rampant misinformation; broken vote machines; blocking poll access; ballot box inaccessibility; general intimidation; and vote-day intimidation.
And Black America stopped it cold. That was no Hail Mary, that was the Duchess and the Duchess shrugged. What unfolded then was calculated planning and a hardcore Black electorate, beginning to end.
The 2020 election saw 20.2 million Black over-votes — some 13% of 155,506,32 — in a field of anti-Black American fervor. That is, Black voters had to first recoup its under-vote losses. That is, we had to overcome the volume of votes those under-votes would consume, just to return us to net-zero. Then, we had to aim the over-votes to turn five Trump strongholds, and capture the senate to reclaim governance. And, we did.
Like you, we would rather change the culture of policing the “easy way.” But the easy way does not include a gradual decrease in epidemic-level police shootings, and that line has been drawn. If history has taught you nothing else, it should have taught you this: we are not powerless, optionless, or asking.
I am the progeny of former farm chattel. Some here are the progeny of its owners. Centuries later, the property faces the purchaser, squarely, equal and unflinching. Luck does not deliver one here, unyielding tenacity does. And though we would prefer otherwise, if you insist that we fight in the shade, we will.
The nation cannot cap our entitlement at a diminished brand of Americanism. You are done expecting this of us. We are done accepting this from you. Cease the endless calls for patience. You can be patient with our impatience, or you can make a change. Your glacier’s pace has taken all other options out of play.
MAYORS and CHIEFS, THE CHOICES HAVE BEEN YOURS, AND THE RESPONSIBILITY IS TOO.
CBAs seem insurmountable because your failed supervision keeps you from satisfying the required groundwork. “Good enough” is not the goal. “Hard” is a byproduct of the duty. Training is far from enough. No one asked you to solve racism. You have earned that low regard in non-White communities.
Those are excuses in a world that demands results. If you cannot do the job, make way for someone who will. It is no more, and no less, complicated than that.
Do not let leadership continue running with a false bad apple / lone wolf narrative. Officers are not innocents, but the apples riding desks are holding the reins. Demand that Mayors and Chiefs supervise their supervisors until we get the culture to which the nation is entitled.
Be the force motivating the driver,
Before you engage me or others, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Catherine Pugh is an Attorney at Law and former Adjunct Professor at the Temple University, Japan. She developed and taught Race and the Law for its undergraduate program, and Evidence, Criminal Law, and Criminal and Civil Procedure for its law program. She has worked for the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section, and was a Public Defender for the State of Maryland. View her Race and Profiling Lecture Series appearance here. The view expressed here are personal. Nothing in this or any Medium writing is a legal recommendation, legal advice, or a legal opinion.
To my sweetest of loves: I am the wall for them; you are the wall for me. And nothing — nothing — has ever gotten past you. You are my everything. #CubanKitchen.
“It takes the wisdom of the elders . . .” Thank you for teaching us, loving us, leading us all: Mary Stovall Davis Budd, Andrea Tucker, Lorenzo Pugh, Dorris Pugh, Jacqueline Wallace, Roger Wallace, Kenneth Davis, Sandra Davis, and Karen Davis.
Keywords: racism, police misconduct, police accountability, police reform, society, culture, leadership.