Notes on the Fault Lines Debate

Today I debate my fellow Fault Lines contributor Noel Erinjeri over whether African-Americans killing cops is justified.  There’s a couple of points I want to make in light of this debate.

  1. While I appreciate our managing editor, Scott Greenfield prefacing the debate this morning by making it clear neither Noel or I truly believe killing anyone is the answer, I want to state it again.  I do not believe killing another person for any reason is justifiable.  I do not believe violence is the solution to any problem, unless you’re a trained professional fighter and the problem is “beat the other guy.” This was a debate, and I picked the side of “violence is justified” because I wanted the logical exercise.
  2. Our fellow co-contributor, Greg Prickett, believes the debate as framed is too narrow.  His take is that this issue extends far beyond African-Americans and Black Lives Matter. I agree with him on this point, but as this is a debate, Noel and I were constrained to argue a specific, narrowly-tailored question.
  3. Someone will inevitably tell me that I have no place in this argument because I haven’t “lived the black experience” or something like that.  To those who would make such an argument, I tell you now to piss off.
  4. Someone will inevitably ask either Noel or I if there’s a solution to the problem.  I think any solution to the issue of ending police violence against African-Americans will run into the H.L. Mencken variety, but I will offer a few ideas below on how we can begin.

First, eliminate the section 1033 program that gives police departments access to military hardware.  All police departments with equipment under the 1033 program have sixty days to arrange for pickup or disposal or face fines and sanctions at the Federal level for failure to comply.  It’ll be rough without war toys for a little while until the cops finally figure out the whole “community policing” approach works better than “comply or we kill you” with the communities they serve.

Second, stop training cops with a warrior mentality.  Eliminate “warrior” culture from police forces.  No cop needs to see the community they serve as a battlefield and every potential encounter with civilians as an unseen threat.  They’re people too, and a return to the days of police patrolling “beats” and knowing the neighborhoods they monitor would be a positive step forward.

Third, eliminate Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights from collective bargaining agreements struck between police unions and governments.  This is a huge deal, and most people don’t know in the wake of a shooting like Alton Sterling’s or Philando Castile’s, cops have enhanced rights above and beyond those of an average citizen. Placing police on the same level as those without a badge in the wake of a death would help restore some trust among the communities affected by these deaths.

Fourth, end proactive policing for protests and demonstrations.  Yes, it’s important to make sure no demonstration gets out of hand and turns into a riot.  However, confining protests to “safety zones” or keeping the protest monitored heavily with a police presence only invites those who want to antagonize other parties into doing so.  Once one side antagonizes the other, then the entire debacle spirals into nothing but arrests and more anger.  Targeted arrests and detentions only lead to more over-crowding of jails, and that’s a problem we don’t need in any police district.

There is no easy, concrete solution to this troubling boiling point at which we find our nation.  There are a number of steps we can take to begin addressing the issue in a positive fashion that won’t see constitutional rights violated and a start towards real justice begin.

Something has to give.  The cycle of violence, while potentially foreseeable and preventable, cannot stand.