But there are still three boring, noncontroversial reforms which could be set in motion with bipartisan support immediately.
Look! It’s a bipartisan groundswell of popular support for reforming policing and criminal justice in America!
Quick, what do we do?
Defund police departments! Abolish the police! End qualified immunity! End cash bail!
…and a list of 10 other demands more suitable to a hostage negotiation; each one guaranteed to get pushback from all and sundry, including from opponents willing to fight tooth and nail every agonizing step of the democratic process.
Not just Republicans, either; far from it. The above proposed measures give police unions- a reliably voting Democratic block until approximately yesterday- heart failure. Democratic politicians pushing such measures put progressive police officers everywhere in a bit of a bind; their livelihoods or party loyalty?
For working-class cops who are Democrats, pushing mad ideas like “defund the police” off on a tiny minority of radical progressives is the only course of action.
More moderate prominent Democrats might not have been as explicit as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar in their support, but they were hardly loudly clamoring voices of reason against radical ideas like “defund the police”. Moderate Dems on Capitol Hill and beyond defended the defunders, and even looters and arsonists using the protests as cover for violence and criminality.
What can local progressives elected to public office do?
They now have an army of highly-involved, elite fellow progressives clamoring at them to defund the police- online and off. There are no clearly contrary marching orders coming down from on high. No effort is being made on a national basis to walk-back some of the more incendiary rhetoric against cops lobbed during the height of the George Floyd protests.
No effort is being made to reform the unfairly tarnished image of ordinary beat cops everywhere- the lowest paid members of the law enforcement community, the lowest rungs on the corporate ladder.
There is no question that the U.S. prison and criminal justice system is flawed and in need of correction. The U.S. incarcerates more of its citizenship than any other country on earth. Complaints about racial disparities in sentencing minimums aren’t just coming from progressives anymore.
But the public’s problem is with the board of directors and “defund” activists are taking it up with the cashiers.
Most beat cops have never and will never kill anyone in the line of duty- Black, White, armed, resisting arrest or otherwise. What’s more, law enforcement departments nationwide are some of the most diverse work places anyone is likely to find.
Focusing the public’s ire onto working-class cops with no control whatsoever over the systemic problems in the justice system or policing- who probably wish they did on a daily if not hourly basis- while ignoring the politicians who passed sentencing minimums and other powerful interests who are the actual decision-makers was not sensible.
Worse, it was bound to get criminal justice reform efforts exactly nowhere.
If criminal justice and policing reform activists are really interested in making a difference in the lives of people who experience injustice and persecution at the hands of the U.S. criminal justice system, they would stop with the sloganeering and grandstanding and get behind commonsense reform that could be passed with bipartisan support before the end of the year with enough pressure from the public.
Neither party would say no to a win right now.
These measures would be near-universally popular. They would benefit people suspected and accused of crimes as well as police officers and the communities they serve.
The Three Reforms
Here are three boring reforms. They will not provoke any angry outbursts; they will not get a million re-tweets. None of them will look good on a protest sign or in a protest selfie. They don’t hashtag well, or look good in ALL CAPS.
What these reforms would do is fundamentally transform the U.S. criminal justice system in a relatively short amount of time, for the better, while saving the lives of police officers and reducing the number of people killed by police officers down to the barest minimum intent on committing “suicide by cop.”
These reforms would also make neighborhoods and communities safer, as opposed to defunding and demoralizing police departments nationwide, which has had the opposite effect.
No More No-Knock Warrants
No knock warrants are dangerous, antiquated and completely unnecessary. Police officers are frequently killed in the line of duty serving no-knock warrants. As we saw in the case of Breonna Taylor, innocent bystanders can also be killed.
Taylor was in the same room with the man police were serving the warrant that night, but she needn't have been. Walls don’t stop bullets. That bullet could have just as easily gone through a wall and hit a person in the apartment next door or on the next floor.
There are a million ways to serve a warrant; no-knock, in the middle of the night is the most dangerous for everyone involved.
With the advent of cell phones, whereupon every potential criminal suspect in America is now lo-jacked to within an inch of their location at all times, no-knock warrants should have been retired.
Ten years ago was the best time to dispense with no-knock warrants; the next best time is now.
Mailed Traffic Tickets
Traffic stops are another bit of low-hanging fruit on the criminal justice reform tree.
With the advent of surveillance cameras everywhere, traffic light cameras, speeding cameras, et all, there is really no reason for cops to devote as many resources as they do to enforcing traffic laws.
Traffic cams work. Police officers can’t be everywhere at all times; they aren’t always watching; traffic cams are.
Police officers didn’t join the force to give speeding tickets; most joined to catch criminals, to make their communities a safer place. Rather than watch for traffic violations, patrol units could turn their attention to watching for more serious crimes.
A traffic stop should never end in a fatality; officer or suspect.
Active warrants should be served by more experienced officers; especially if weapons are likely. They should not discovered by accident during a traffic stop.
The responsibility of catching drug dealers moving their illicit product should also not fall to traffic cops. If the drug enforcement units of police departments are counting on random traffic stops to stamp out drugs or any other type of serious crime in the community by sheer luck, thats a problem.
Let traffic cops handle cars seriously endangering other drivers drag racing on the Beltway- we hear you in D.C- or driving the wrong way, or driving drunk.
For everyone else, let traffic cams, insurance companies and the legal system enforce traffic laws and leave police officers more time for real police work.
Defund For Profit Prisons
For profit prisons is not a free market economy idea. It has no place in the American landscape, or anywhere on Earth.
If space aliens landed, it would be impossible for them to distinguish between detained Uyghurs in China working in forced-labor camps and guests of the U.S. correctional system consigned to work programs in for-profit prisons.
Imagine the hairs you’d have to split in order to explain the difference; we’d be embarrassed in front of ET.
For-profit prisons are difficult to defend using any other argument than “we need them, sorry- overcrowding.”
For help with overcrowding in U.S. prisons, there are better ways.
Criminal justice reform efforts must go on, even in the face of rising crime; especially in the face of rising crime.
Why start with the most extreme measures least likely to gain popular support, that are often untried in many cases?
Instead, sensible reforms could be supported by everyone; Democrats, Independents, Republicans, Green Party, Birthday Party. Police officers, the communities they serve, voters, politicians, constituents and lawmakers alike could all support these measures without compromising their values.
Isn’t that what democracy is all about?
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)