Will Hammer: Judicial, police reform needed
The recent appalling incident that left UVA honor student Martese Johnson bloodied and arrested is yet another example of the apparent increase of excessive force used by police across the country. Unfortunately, this incident is nothing new as police brutality, especially against minorities, has been a widespread problem in this country for a very long time. Technology has just allowed for this issue to come to light, allowing anyone to record high definition video at anytime and anywhere with their phones.
The news has been peppered with similar incidents over the last year, luckily this one did not end fatally unlike many of the others. While there are discrepancies with what happened leading up to the Michael Brown incident, there is no doubt that the Eric Garner tragedy was unjustified. Technology allowed us to see that Eric Garner did not aggress against the police officers who would go on to put him into a chokehold, resulting in Garner’s death. A good samaritan filmed the altercation, preventing Eric Garner from becoming just another statistic.
Though film evidence is not available, it appears that Martese did nothing to warrant the excessive force that was used against him. He was not intoxicated nor did he present a fake ID, though, even if he did, that still would not warrant the actions of the ABC police. With that thought in mind, it makes me wonder why a regulatory agency even has law enforcement officers to begin with.
Incidents like this, and the numerous police brutality videos found online, hurt public trust in the police. Law abiding citizens feel anxious and nervous around police officers, worrying if they are unknowingly doing something that would warrant the police officer to ticket or arrest them. Last year I was pulled over for speeding. I was doing 37 in a 35 that just turned into a 25 when the police officer coming the other way flashed his lights. The police officer approached my car with his hand on his gun and kept it there the whole time, barely showing his face by leaning forward. I had my hands on the steering wheel, showed no aggression or agitation. Why was I treated like a criminal? It has become the norm and it’s abhorrent. People of all social backgrounds, ethnicities, sex, and age get the same treatment. There seems to be more and more insolation between law enforcement and the communities; the mantra “to serve and protect”, has become “to fine and arrest”.
So how do we bridge the disconnect between law enforcement and the community? We need judicial and police reform. There needs to be more transparency, less victimless crimes and finable offenses, and better training.
To create more transparency, we must take several steps. First, we need legislation requiring all law enforcement agents to wear body cameras as well as heavy penalties if the cameras, memory cards, or video are tampered. Second, internal affairs is a conflict of interest because they are not an independent department. We need to have an independent organization where citizens can report incidents involving police. Also, there needs to be legislation requiring police officers to file a ‘use of force incident report’ for every matter that requires any force, not just the use of their firearm.
It is said that the average citizen commits 3 felonies daily on average in the US. This statistic is appalling and just shows how ridiculous and numerous laws have become. About ½ of the prison population stems from victimless crimes. Peaceful citizens get locked up for longer sentences than child molesters. It is clear the system is broken. Legalization of marijuana will greatly reduce the military aspect of police, reduce spending, and reduce crime rates. Look at Colorado and the success they have had with legalization. Violent crime is down, more tax money goes to schools; it’s been a huge success.
Finally, police need to be trained and acclimated into their communities. The police officer who pulled me over seemed scared, as if he was waiting for me to attack. Police officers need to be trained to not assume everyone is a violent criminal and to not rush to use their firearms. Police need to be able to protect themselves, obviously, but not to the point where it makes everyone feel like a criminal or in danger from the officer.
In conclusion, there is a rampant issue across the US of excessive force being used by law enforcement and it disproportionately affects black males. This is not a new issue, but rather a problem that has been going unchecked and expanding for decades if not for a century. Apart from that, we have a system where just about every citizen is committing crimes. The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world because of this, about half being non-violent. We need serious judicial and police reform to bring about transparency, less victimless crimes and finable offenses, and better training for law enforcement to protect and serve, not fine and arrest.
Will Hammer is a resident of Staunton. He ran for US Congress last year and is currently seeking the Libertarian Party nomination to run against Dickie Bell for the VA House of Delegates, 20th District.