Virginia Tech expert: Supreme Court must take away police ‘license to kill’

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Police violence against blacks won’t end until the U.S. Supreme Court adopts a substantially different approach to the issue, according to a Virginia Tech expert on race and social policy.

“The bottom line is that better or different police training will not end this violence because it does nothing to limit the police’s power to do violence,” said Wornie Reed, the director of the Race and Social Policy Research Center and a professor of Africana Studies and sociology in Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

“Police have a license to kill anyone, and they use it disproportionately on black people,” Reed said.

Law enforcement received this “license” in the Graham v. Conner Supreme Court decision in 1989, written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

The Graham decision in 1989 interpreted the Fourth Amendment to protect police officers, not black people, Reed said.

“It in effect changed the view of the police use of force from that of an individual encountering a state action that could potentially be a violation of the person’s constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment to that of the police officer’s right, the right to act — and use force — if they feel it is reasonable,” Reed said.

“If the intended situation is to place the police officer’s life equal to that of the civilian, we need to make these rules clear and have police practices conform. If the intent is to value the police officer’s life as more significant, we need to debate this issue in public and the courts. A large proportion of the citizenry might object to that orientation as a cultural practice,” Reed said.


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