Go, Tell it On the Mountain!

These are trying times for police in America. Is this the “tipping point” when racism is purged from our nation and the ranks of its police? Some observers would say “no,” recounting our racial history in which, after an initial outcry, even massive property destruction, little changes.

Will it be different today? It was not only the observable execution of a black man by police in Minneapolis, but also the economic and personal impact of the pandemic and a government in Washington that does not seem be caring or effective by a great number of Americans.

Just this week, we have heard and seen cities proclaim various “reforms.” However, they appear to be in areas that many of us thought were resolved years ago and we agreed were the “best known practices” of policing.

For example, after Floyd’s death we hear some cities and their police departments are going to ban chokeholds, prohibit shooting at fleeing vehicles, require officers to report misconduct on the part of their peers, and limit no-knock search warrants.

Really? Forty years ago, most progressive police agencies prohibited these behaviors. One might ask, “What in the heck has been going on? Aren’t you a little late?” And, folks, that’s a big part of the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

So, I am not complaining that these departments are engaging in reform (although late to join the party), but it does say a lot about the state of American policing and the lack of agreement as to how citizens permit their police to operate.

A bit of advice to my former colleagues: Get on the improvement bandwagon or you will be left behind! Make the reforms that are necessary in order to build trust in your city between your officers and citizens of color.

But one thing I haven’t heard (perhaps you have?) and that is city and police leaders providing an answer to the cry I hear on the streets, “Stop killing us!”

A clear answer to that question will be to immediately raise the current standard of using deadly force (“objective reasonableness” in the USSC decision Graham v. Connor) to the current standard within the European Union (“absolute necessity“). It will demonstrate a commitment to the sanctity of all human life and, as its objective, reduce the number of deaths each year of young men of color at the hands of police.

How can this happen? It will take courageous LEADERSHIP from those who lead our nation’s police.

Chief, will you do this, raise the deadly force standard? It will go a long way to re-build the trust that you need from people of color who will then learn to support and work with you because of your courageous act of leadership.

We know that a diverse, democratic, and free society such as ours can only be legally and effectively policed if everyone trusts and respects them.

It’s time to go, tell it one the mountain!