An article in the April 15, 2022 New York Times describes how various cities are trying to staunch the flow of police murders of people of color by restricting the practice of traffic stops for minor violations and technicalities.
The most recent horrendous example is that of Patrick Lyoya, an emigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who was shot in the back of the head after being stopped because his license plate didin’t match the vehicle. The officer could argue that Lyoya grabbed his Taser, but that only makes us ask why a simple traffic stop turned into a situation where the officer took his Taser out of its holster in the first place.
Over and over, officers escalate minor encounters into deadly ones. Why is this?
First, we agree that the practice of allowing officers to perform these nuisance stops is likely to result in more violations of citizen’s civil rights, including executions. There is evidence to believe that policies aimed at decreasing these harassments would promote public safety.
But that doesn’t get close to the root of the problem.
Another, more substantial issue is that of police training. They are taught, whether by doctrine or example, that they can issue commands, demand instant compliance, and use physical force if the citizen doesn’t comply. This may be true in the case of an arrest for an actual crime, but not in these more casual encounters.
But that is still superficial.
Another question is, why does joining law enforcement appeal so much to bullies with fragile egos, who must use pain and abuse to make themselves feel better? Some might argue that most cops are good people and that these bullies are the exception. There is no evidence to support this. Using the maxim that for every reported case of police brutality, there are many others that go unreported, one has to conclude that these abusive officers are not that small a minority, and may for all we know be in the majority.
But if these bullies were screened out before hiring, it still wouldn’t solve the problem. We still have to ask, why are blacks, Hispanics, and other people of color assaulted by the police in dramatically higher numbers than whites? If it was just due to policies, training, and character flaws, we’d expect the brutality to be applied across the board. It is not. It is built into the system, and has been since the first enslaved African arrived in America 400 years ago.
Police reform is just putting band-aids on racism that is baked into our institutions.