By Winston Smith
“Do you know where ‘policeman’ comes from, sir? … ‘Polis’ used to mean ‘city’, said Carrot. That’s what policeman means: ‘a man for the city’. Not many people knew that. The word ‘polite’ comes from ‘polis’, too. It used to mean the proper behaviour from someone living in a city.”
― Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms
As we now come to the end of this series, it is important to revisit our the topics broached in the introductory article. What is most important to realize is that this issue of police brutality in the United States is very, if not inherently, tied to race and application of racial stereotyping within policing. When looking at these large scale issues of police brutality against minorities, especially cases involving African Americans, there is a need to do a hard, close look at the way in which race plays a role in modern American life. While it is undeniable that we as a nation have made strides in race relations, the dark underbelly of racist attitudes towards African Americans and other minorities persists.
When looking at how to reevaluate how we view police and their conduct on the force towards those they have interactions with, race is one issue that is especially tricky to solve with policy. The attitudes that many individuals hold towards those of another race will inherently bias and change the ways in which the individual will act towards the other person, whether they are aware of it or not. When looking at law enforcement policy it important to always recognize the human factor of policing, meaning recognizing that individuals who work on police forces may have opinions on race that are discriminatory and will eventually cause issues. Unfortunately, we only have ourselves to police ourselves.
This is not to say that the application of policy is, in itself, pointless as any change that can help prevent future Eric Garners and Rodney Kings is always worth it. Policy concerning police use of force should continue to make sure that police are held accountable for their actions as they are given authority over the general population. Checks on their use of this authority is absolutely necessary. While policy can’t make us change our inherent beliefs, it can mitigate those beliefs that can be harmful to others. Therefore, this issue craves policy changes.
So what should we do? I know that I have absolutely not covered all options that exist for reforming police use of force. However, based on the options previously written on, it would be most desirable to adopt a combination of body-worn cameras and the establishment of a permanent special prosecutor’s office through giving state’s attorney generals the authority to establish permanent special prosecutor’s offices.
The reason for the lack of community policing in this recommendation is that it simply has not proven itself to be an effective way to address both the concerns of police and of citizens in a statistically significant way. Both body-worn cameras and special prosecutors have the effectiveness to actually address the problem by crossing the aisle in this issue and having effects on both viewpoints which would satisfy their wants. The citizen who is concerned about police brutality will have the extra protection of the body-worn camera along with the knowledge that if the officer acts inappropriately, that they have a legitimate shot at prosecuting the officer. Officers and other individuals who are concerned for the safety of the officer will now see the use of a body-worn camera as a deterrent and a training tool for if an individual tries to attack the officer. It also allows for the regaining of the public’s trust as the recordings have vindicated officers in the past. The special prosecutor will also help establish trust in the justice system and allow for those officers who would sully any otherwise upstanding department to be removed from his or her position. In short, both body-worn cameras and special prosecutors can help bridge the divide created by acts of violence to bring communities back together.