Yes, there are racists in America. Always have been and always will be. But William Galston is likely closer to the truth in his analysis that there is something missing in American police organization that will not correctly address the “bad apples”, the bad cops who are the cause of an extremely high percentage of the problems. And if the Police unions bear some of the blame, they need to own it too. mrossol
WSJ 6/3/2020. by William A Galston
Along with millions of Americans, including President Trump, I watched the video in which former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes before Floyd died. Although Mr. Chauvin knew he was being recorded, he appeared not to care. He must have believed that he could act with impunity. And why not? The 18 complaints previously filed against him had led to nothing more than two letters of reprimand.
This is part of a larger pattern. Civilians have lodged more than 2,600 complaints against Minneapolis police officers since 2012, the Journal reports. Only 12 have resulted in disciplinary action, and the most severe penalty was a 40-hour suspension from duty. It is hard to believe that the facts underlying so many complaints warranted no more than this.
Writing in these pages on Monday, Robert L. Woodson, a veteran African-American leader, recalls his work decades ago with the National Black Police Association, which recommended requiring police officers to restrain or even arrest other officers who were using undue force against civilians. “Loyalty and commitment to the rule of law should prevail over loyalty to fellow officers,” Mr. Woodson writes.
This did not happen in Minneapolis last week. The three other officers on the scene did nothing to restrain Mr. Chauvin and said almost nothing to persuade him to alter his conduct. It is hard to believe that they would have behaved this way if Mr. Woodson’s unarguable principle had been an enforceable rule in their department.
In some ways, Minneapolis was ripe for this incident. The city’s income gap between white and African-American households is among the widest in the country. Minorities are significantly underrepresented in its police force. Only 8% of its officers live in the city—almost none in minority communities—compared with a nationwide average of 40%.
Although Minneapolis has had its share of reformist police chiefs and elected officials, change has come haltingly. As in many other cities, the police union has protected its members against discipline and dismissal. The current head of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis was named in a racial-discrimination lawsuit brought by a group of black officers, including the city’s current police chief.
Despite its special history, Minneapolis is far from unique, which helps explain the eruption of protests across the country. The U.S. has a pervasive problem. Bolstering federal criminal and civil laws against police misconduct is part of the solution—if the attorney general is committed to enforcing them vigorously. But the bulk of the response must take place at the state and local level, starting with Mr. Woodson’s proposal. And while officers charged with misconduct are entitled to due process, police unions should be deprived of the power to thwart needed disciplinary action.
Sadly, Americans’ response to these episodes has become routinized. We repeat, accurately, that most officers are dedicated public servants doing their best, under difficult conditions, to protect local residents and preserve public order. We insist, as we should, on preserving a bright line between peaceful protest, which is the right of every citizen, and violence against lives and property. And we recognize, rightly, that when arson and looting occur, minority-owned businesses are often the principal victims.
But Americans have been mouthing these sentiments for decades, and nothing has changed. A structural problem requires a structural response. We need one urgently.
I have long regarded 1968 as the worst year for America since the Civil War. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the violent protests it sparked; the killing of Robert F. Kennedy and the Democratic Party’s subsequent self-immolation at the Chicago convention; intensifying controversy over the Vietnam War, which divided classes and generations; George C. Wallace’s racist and populist presidential campaign, which garnered 13.5% of the popular vote and 46 electoral votes—these were but some of the milestones in that annus horribilis.
April 1968. Smoke was billowing in the distance—from the South Side—as I drove in Chicago, where I was a student at the time. I remember saying to myself: It can’t get worse than this. For more than half a century it didn’t—until now. A health crisis, an economic crisis, and a racial crisis have converged to produce a clear and present danger to American democracy. U.S. enemies abroad cannot contain their glee; America’s friends regret our plight—and fear for the future of a world order that was built on a foundation of American power, principles and persistence.
Adam Smith famously remarked that there is “a lot of ruin in a nation.” But there are limits, and we are testing them. Previous crises have always summoned the leadership the U.S. needed. Will our current crisis do the same? I’m not sure. I fear, as never before, for the future of my country.