Is the strategy decisive? That’s the standard for me.
— Bob Woodward
As strange as it sounds, it is nevertheless absolutely true: Every black man in America is a potential target of racist policing, just by virtue of being a black man in America. Every one of us—just by being alive—is at risk. Anytime. Anywhere.
We are not being judged by the content of our character.
That’s why racialized law enforcement must be destroyed.
How can we accomplish this?
What strategic actions can we take that would be decisive enough to disrupt the mechanics of the problem?
These questions have possessed me for decades. Time after time after time, I have experienced the problem up close and personal as well as interviewed and dialogued with others who have also had unwarranted run-ins with law enforcers. In addition, I have followed the horrible news stories that pop up in the media with random, regularity. The headlines are often disturbing: “Hidden Camera Reveals Racial Profiling … ” “How Is There Still Racial Profiling in the ‘Post-Racial’ Age of Obama?” “Racial Profiling Incident Leads to Police Shooting …,” “All-White Jury Acquits Houston Ex-Police Officer in Videotaped Beating of Black Teen Chad Holley,” “Police Are Charged in Post-Katrina Shootings,” “Amazing Video: Guard Beats Handcuffed Man,” “’Driving While Black’”… And of course the high profile stories that in 2014 started coming out of places like Staten Island, New York, Ferguson, Missouri, Cleveland Ohio, North Charleston, South Carolina, Baltimore, Maryland, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum, to the point that the very mention of the problem makes me sick.
But there is something within me that keeps me from getting so sick and tired that I give up hope or pick up a brick, gun or Molotov cocktail. I envision law enforcers treating all citizens with respect and consideration—to the fullest extent that this is possible. And I believe the relationship between black men and law enforcers can and shall be transformed.
The victory will be earned. Not given.
It will require a sustained battle, fought on multiple fronts and it may take years before the war is won, but such is often the case when trying to change large, amorphous systems and old ways of doing things.
I have attempted to make sense out of my interactions with racialized law enforcers by taking my lessons learned and weaving them into the proposed solutions. I have included some of them in this chapter.
My solutions are officially called the Strategic Solutions to End The War in America (SSEWA). Some of the solutions can be implemented in local communities. Others have a national focus. And some have been culled from my own experiences and meditations.
Some of the solutions are fundamental to basic police-community relations. Other solutions reflect out-of-the-box thinking. Taken as a whole, all of the solutions form a Way Forward to a better relationship between the police and the communities they serve, and especially a better relationship between police officers and black men.
Strategic Solutions to End The War in America
Power concedes nothing without a demand.
It never did and it never will.
— Frederick Douglass
Solutions are organized into the following sections:
- Launch Direct Attacks Against Bad Policing
- Reinforce Your Community/Reclaim Your Cops
- Sharpen Your Inside Game
- Use Your Words
The solutions proposed in this chapter would result in:
- Updating the police Oath of Honor to specifically address racially-biased and abusive policing.
- Good cops blowing the whistle on bad cops;
- Officers involved in major incidents independently writing their own reports, which would prevent the orchestration of false facts and cover ups;
- Establishment of a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission that can coordinate ex-cops’ appearances before the public to speak openly about their experiences and concerns;
- Fewer bad characters being hired to be cops;
- Police departments removing cops who have shown disrespect towards the people they serve;
- Citizens being able to more easily access police complaint forms;
- Increased exposure of bad policing;
- More PSAs pricking the conscience of the public;
- Strategic dismantling of structural barriers to justice
- Ensuring that cops, who have the legal right to operate stings and lie to people, do not abuse their right to deceive, This will prevent them from playing mind games and pressuring people to confess to crimes they did not commit.
- Rooting out false charges of disorderly conduct, which will help prevent citizens from going to jail simply for voicing their opinions in the presence of police officers.
- Fulfilling the duties of good citizenship by fostering effective interaction with law enforcers.
- Overcoming the fear of the police, channeling outrage and anger into positive action and preparing oneself to persuasively argue against the use of racial profiling.
- Debunking dangerous myths about black male criminality and preparing black youths to participate in law enforcement reform efforts.
- Increased voting: An engaged citizenry will learn from the mistakes of the 2016 election, where hate and abusive government prevailed.
- Promoting solutions through structured and compelling storytelling.
LAUNCH DIRECT ATTACKS AGAINST
American police forces normally operate in a smooth and predictable fashion by design. Moments of chaos break out from time to time, but even then, police response is governed by methodical and well-rehearsed procedures. Each day, around the clock, officers report to duty at their assigned times and conduct their patrols in a well-disciplined manner. Bad guys are apprehended, reports are written and officers sign out at the end of their shifts and return home to their families. However, this efficiency allows bad cops to weave themselves right in with good cops. Their wrongful actions disappear within the fabric of everyday policing. For instance, when a bad cop files a police report with false information in it, the report goes into the same stack with the reports filed by good cops. The false information may never be detected. The solutions in this section focus on internal police operations and are designed to draw distinctions between good and bad cops, so that the bad cops can be exposed and weeded out.
1. ATTACK FROM WITHIN: GRANT WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTION TO GOOD COPS
Help good cops take down bad cops. When you attack a problem from within, it becomes possible to dismantle and destroy it. Black men and their allies can dismantle the problem of racialized law enforcement by pushing elected officials to enact Whistleblower Protection Laws that enable the good cops within America’s police forces to expose acts of racialized law enforcement committed by dishonorable colleagues, without having to fear retaliation by law enforcement officials. Just as police officers need witnesses to come forward with information to help get bad guys off the street, law enforcement reform advocates need police officers who have witnessed racialized policing to come forward to help get bad cops off the force.
Consider this: If every police force in America had just one good cop blow the whistle on wrongful acts committed by his or her colleagues, the prospects of reforming law enforcement would increase exponentially.
According to the federal Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which serves as an independent investigative and prosecutorial watchdog policing impropriety among federal workers, a whistleblower is an employee who reports certain illegal actions committed by other employees. Specifically, the OSC states that a whistleblower “discloses information he or she reasonably believes evidences: A violation of any law, rule or regulation; gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds; an abuse of authority; a substantial and specific danger to public health; (and) a substantial and specific danger to public safety.”
There are many whistleblower protection laws and programs targeting various areas of government operations, such as the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act; Military Whistleblower Protection Act; and Tax Whistleblower programs. Some law enforcement whistleblower programs already exist, however what is missing is a whistleblower program that specifically targets racial profiling and other forms of racialized law enforcement. Such a program might be called the Racial Profiling Whistleblower Protection Act.
Whistleblower protection could have a profound impact on cities like Ferguson, Missouri, where a Justice Department investigation found that the police force, in cahoots with the court system, functioned as a predatory law enforcement system designed chiefly to generate revenue for the city through the imposition of excessive fines and penalties. If good cops across the country who work for bad law enforcement organizations like Ferguson’s department are granted whistleblower protection they can a play a vital role in uprooting wrongheaded and illegal law enforcement practices.
Whistleblower protection would encourage good cops to break though the Blue Line of Silence, which unfortunately shields bad cops from accountability, and obtain the services of aggressive attorneys who understand how to use legal provisions to push for reforms. For example, in Chicago, the Blake Horwitz Law Firm has developed a reputation for effectively attacking bad policing in the state of Illinois. According to an official statement published by the law firm:
“Police officers are not above the law. Any actions outside … (the) rules and procedures are police misconduct. Our firm will work tirelessly … to ensure that law enforcement is held accountable for acts of police misconduct, which can include coercion, intimidation, falsified evidence, false arrest, corruption, malicious prosecution, excessive force, invasion of privacy, and physical or sexual abuse. The attorneys at the Blake Horwitz Law Firm have litigated over a hundred police misconduct cases. In fact, the firm was able to get the highest jury award for police misconduct in the state of Illinois, $28 million dollars. The Blake Horwitz Law Firm does not take an anti-police stance. We have represented police officers who themselves have had their civil rights violated. However, we do take a strong stance against abuse of power. We praise the thousands of Chicago police officers who do their jobs within the rules set out by our Constitution. Unfortunately, there are many officers who feel that they are superior to the citizens whose rights they were sworn to protect.”
With the help of strong whistleblower protection laws and aggressive law firms like Blake Horwitz, good cops will be able to strategically bring about meaningful change.
2. NO HUDDLE ALLOWED
Prevent police from huddling together to write reports: Give a few bad apples a chance to get together and they will surely stink up the place. The same with bad cops. When they get together after doing their dirt, they can create all kinds of false allegations to justify their dangerous behavior. Unfortunately, their fiction is routinely accepted as fact by just about everyone, which is sad news for a whole lot of innocent people. Robert Gangi, director the Police Reform Organizing Project (P.R.O.P.), describes the importance of establishing some oversight and control over the falsification of data written into police reports after bad cops get together to “get their stories straight.” Gangi said, “From an institutional perspective, it’s important to realize … (police) have enormous powers of discretion. And when you have the power to deprive people of their liberty, the power to have people locked up for long periods of time, when you have that kind of power and authority and there isn’t a sufficient countercheck to monitor the exercise of that power and authority … abuses are inevitable, corruption is inevitable.”
When I was arrested by Officer John Alter, it was only after he had huddled with the crooked sergeant who led him through the process of creating fictitious details to justify his misdeed. We need to prevent this type of underhanded police work from reoccurring by a) requiring every officer involved in a major incident, such as one that results in fatality, serious injury or arrest, write his own individual report, based on his own observations and actions; and b) making it illegal for cops to huddle together or collaborate with one another to produce their reports.
Police reports on major incidents should be made immediately available to the public online (with redactions to protect the rights of witnesses and the accused). This transparency would not hurt honest police work or valid criminal prosecutions, because the truth has a certain ring to it and is consistent, no matter how many people tell it, but lies fall apart. The time has come to stop cops from colluding together to weave tall tales into official police reports.
3. FIRE ANY COP WHO USES HATE SPEECH
If a cop says it, make him pay for it: Any cop who uses hate speech should be fired on the spot. Hateful language is a precursor to hateful action. Hate speech is a telltale sign of a bad cop. During war, hate speech (including derisive and racially-charged language) strips away the intended target’s humanity and preps a combatant to commit unconscionable violence against a fellow human being. Similarly, hate speech helps cops prep themselves to abuse their power against targeted individuals, without remorse.
When members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma were exposed for using racist hate speech, the university president took bold and decisive action, expelling certain members who incited the offensive statements and shutting down the frat house. Police officers often call themselves a fraternity. They should be held accountable in similar fashion, if they express racist sentiments. Kick them off the force.
4. ESTABLISH A TRUTH AND RECONCIALTION COMMISSION FOR CONSCIENTIOUS X-LAW ENFORCERS
Invite them and they will come. This proposal dovetails with the Whistle Blower Protection proposal mentioned earlier and is intended to help America harness the power of good, conscientious law enforcers, especially good cops who have retired from police forces across the country and now feel free to break the Blue Wall of Silence without fear of retaliation or prosecution. Retired good cops appearing before a law enforcement reform truth and reconciliation commission to share their experiences and observations regarding the inner workings of police work—especially processes and practices that foster racialized law enforcement—would enlighten the American public tremendously. Such a commission, comprised of citizens from all walks of life, including elected officials, and representatives from government agencies and private sector groups, should hold public hearings, town hall meetings and other forums from Capitol Hill to California, letting retired cops speak openly, answer tough questions and make recommendations for preventing police abuse of power. Truth and reconciliation commissions have been effective in such places as post-Apartheid South Africa. There is no reason for Americans to deny themselves the benefit following a similar path towards enlightenment and reformation.
5. NO MORE TRAFFIC STOPS FOR BROKEN TAIL LIGHTS
Encounters on streets and highways for petty offenses must be prevented: Alton Sterling was killed in a situation that was created when a cop pulled him over for having a rear taillight out. This type of traffic stop is done at the discretion of the police. It is not mandatory. In some cities like DC, technology is used to ticket car owners whose vehicles are caught speeding by speed cameras. Tickets for these infractions are mailed to the owner of the car. We need new technological devices that can be used by police to capture the tag number of drivers with broken taillights and send tickets to them rather than pull them over and risk a situation escalating. Tickets would be mailed immediately and drivers would have five days to pay the fine. If they do not pay the fine on time and are seen again with the broken tail light, they would be subjected to a stop. Police will say, “Sometimes stops for taillights and other minor offenses are like ‘broken glass’ policing and lead to encounters that capture people who have committed more serious offenses.” In that case, the police should just randomly pull over drivers and check to see if they have warrants, etc. The broken tail light as an excuse to pull over black Americans or any other Americans should not be used. This would be one change that would benefit all of us.
6. REVAMP POLICE RECRUITING / SCREEN FOR RACIST ATTITUDES
One of the most efficient ways to destroy racialized law enforcement would be to snag bad characters before they get hired. Bad characters become bad cops. According to studies, certain abusive personality types are attracted to the trappings of police power. Such trappings include the highly respected badges and uniforms as well as the guns and handcuffs cops carry. Unfortunately, police forces do not do enough to prevent people with ill intent from joining their ranks. That’s why black men and their allies need to step in and exert their influence into law enforcement recruitment and hiring processes. Here’s what we need to push police forces to do: Openly vet police job applications, i.e., allow people from local communities to ask questions of officer candidates. Give people who can vouch for a candidate’s character a chance to participate in the vetting process as well. The message to convey to police applicants is this: If you are a good person, we welcome you. We’ll recognize you and honor you. But, if you are an abusive person with a bad reputation, please just go away and work on your issues.
7. REMOVE ANY COP WHO HAS LOST THE RESPECT OF THE COMMUNITY
If a cop loses the respect and trust of the people he serves, remove him: There are rotten apples in every profession—rotten journalists, rotten doctors, rotten lawyers and rotten cops. In most professions, the rotten apples are isolated, given assignments where they cannot do much harm or simply fired. Not so with cops. Too many of them get assigned to patrol black communities. To remedy this, community leaders and residents can collect petitions and demand that police officials remove cops who have developed reputations for being abusive.
It is critical that law enforcement reformers remove bad cops from black communities, because bad policing leads to increased crime. Studies have confirmed that racialized policing leads to a waste of police department resources and prevents cops from using their time in the most effective manner possible. One such report, published by the Civilian Complaint Review Board in Washington, D.C. stated: “To the extent improper arrests are being made, they are consuming officer and station staff time that would be much better used on patrol or addressing other issues that citizens bring to the police on a regular basis.”
8. PUBLISH A UNIVERSAL LAW ENFORCEMENT COMPLAINT FORM
Difficulty filing complaints against bad cops encourages them to continue their dangerous behavior: Police typically do not make it easy for citizens to access police complaint forms. And every jurisdiction has a different form to use. Solution: Let’s make it simpler for people to document their experiences, if they believe they have been mistreated by law enforcers. Let’s give every person in America access to a Universal Law Enforcement Complaint Form, which would be available in all post offices, libraries, law offices as well as on the Internet. Currently, many police jurisdictions require complainants to fill out complaint forms in a stationhouse under the peering eyes of random police officers. Many citizens find this scenario intimidating and humiliating. The Universal Law Enforcement Complaint Form would eliminate the need for a citizen to go to a police station to file a complaint. The Department of Justice should be responsible for creating the form and enforcing use of it.
The NAACP has posted a sample of a complaint form to its website that I strongly endorse.
9. PERSISTENTLY EXPOSE RACIAL PROFILING
Everyone can help expose racial profiling: Dr. Alvin Poussaint, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says that “calling attention” to the impact of racial profiling is the number one thing that needs to be done to get rid of the problem. This is why I believe it is black men’s responsibility to help make the details of racialized law enforcement known to the world by telling their stories. This topic was thoroughly discussed in the Prologue followed by about a half dozen personal examples from my own experiences.
I would like to make one final point about the importance of black men telling their War in America stories by referencing the insightful analysis of Michelle Alexander. In her book, The New Jim Crow, she calls for the formation of a political environment conducive for creating and implementing law enforcement reforms. She also speaks about the need to galvanize support for the reforms. Specifically, Alexander says: “For the last 30 (to) 40 years, there’s been a lot of criminal justice reform work that has been done. It’s not like people haven’t been doing anything. People have been working (and) important work has been done, but the problem is that we haven’t yet mobilized people who are most impacted by the system and created a political environment in which major change can come. Well, that political environment will only be created when folk who are directly impacted by the problem get organized and educated around this and mobilized and engaged. And so that act of mobilizing is an integral political part of what must occur. It’s crucial that we don’t just tinker with this issue and create pilot projects and policy reforms, but really galvanize the public and create a major shift.”
It is my belief that when a critical mass of black men, up and down the socio-economic spectrum, open up and share their war stories directly with the American people, they will contribute an essential element to the galvanizing process that Alexander is talking about.
Black men’s stories matter.
Stories are the most powerful communications tool that we have.
– Jack Canfield
10. PRODUCE HARD-HITTING PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS (PSAs)
Have you seen any anti-racial profiling PSAs lately? PSAs are those cool informational advertisements that highlight issues of importance. Often, TV and radio stations broadcast them and publications print them for free as a community service. Sometimes PSAs appear on billboards and the sides of buses and on the Internet. PSAs are intended to generate awareness and support for a particular cause. Here’s a PSA with a simple message that I would like to read, see or hear: “Racial Profiling Is Illegal.” Here’s another one: “Targeting people by race, color or ethnicity Is Unconstitutional. Treat Everyone Equally.”
PSAs with strong messages and jarring images, such as pictures of victims of police brutality and cops convicted of violating citizen’s rights, can serve as direct attacks against racialized law enforcement, because they can influence public opinion. It would be beneficial to work with community groups and reach out to media companies to drum up support for the creation and publicizing of anti-racial profiling PSAs. Posting PSA announcements at bus stops, on subway trains and other public spaces would help increase awareness and tear down barriers to progress. PSAs should also be posted in police department headquarters and stationhouses to perpetually prick the conscience of officers.
11. CLARIFY THE LAW THAT ALLOWS COPS TO BE DECEPTIVE
Did you know that it is perfectly legal for a police officer to lie to you? There is no single law that provides the police this legal power. However, in case after case, the highest courts in the land have ruled that police have great latitude when it comes to deception and trickery. For instance, in Sherman v. United States, the Supreme Court stated that “stealth and strategy are necessary weapons in the arsenal of the police officer.” But America needs a single law that explains in detail when the police can lie and when they cannot. This clarification is needed to limit the possibility that police will abuse the practice of deception and bring harm to themselves and others. When cops create false “facts” and lie to innocent people, their sly tactics can lead to false confessions, suicides and retaliation against the police.
12. MAKE IT A CRIMINAL OFFENSE TO FILE FALSE DISORDERLY CONDUCT CHARGES
No cop should be allowed to use disorderly conduct charges for his own personal satisfaction, and if he does he should face criminal sanction. In Washington, D.C., where the vast majority of people arrested are black males, the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) released a comprehensive report in 2003 that revealed that local cops regularly falsely charge citizens with disorderly conduct. Most of the complaints that challenged the false charges were sustained. The CCRB report stated that cops “appeared to be retaliating against” citizens simply for using their right to free speech, charging them with disorderly conduct as an excuse to yank them up and throw them in jail.
The CCRB report cited an example of D.C. cops arresting a citizen complainant for disorderly conduct: “Though the complainant’s attitude toward [the subject officer] may have been disrespectful and annoying, his behavior did not justify an arrest for disorderly conduct, given the statutory definition … [The complainant] had no intent to provoke a breach of the peace; his behavior was offensive to no one but the officers.” Such illegal arrests, “whether the result of lack of knowledge or intentional action, are intolerable …” The CCRB concluded that: “In the absence of evidence of annoyance to others, the mere acts of yelling or using profane language toward police officers, or repeatedly demanding to know the purpose of being stopped, do not constitute disorderly conduct.”
Illegally charging someone with disorderly conduct is a flagrant crime committed by bad cops. If they do it, they should be charged for that crime. You can demand that your local civilian review board determine whether similar abuse of power is occurring in your community. If so, demand that public officials shut it down.
REINFORCE YOUR COMMUNITY/RECLAIM YOUR COPS
Americans often lose sight of the fact that police forces are owned by the communities that they are sworn to protect. The community and the police should be in sync on all levels. Here are some methods law enforcement reformers can bring the two closer together.
13. COORDINATE CUSTOMER OUTREACH PROGRAMS
Ensure your local police department knows what you think about their service: Chances are the police in your community are not taking the time to ask you what you think about them. However, that should not stop you from making sure they know exactly how you think they are doing. They should also know what you think their priorities should be.
Private corporations often create opportunities for their customers to tell them how they think they are doing and how they can improve the quality of their services. The information they receive from customers helps them more effectively conduct their businesses. Similarly, every police department in America needs to reach out to the public on a regular basis and, at minimum, ask these two basic questions: How are we doing? What can we do better?
There is always room for improvement in any organization. By reaching out to the people they serve, law enforcers will receive the feedback, suggestions and, yes, even the criticisms they need in order to improve. If your local police department is not reaching out to you, then it is incumbent upon you to reach out to them. Make a firm demand that they create customer outreach activities and events on par with customer outreach programs sponsored by corporate America. They should welcome your input, according to leading law enforcement expert Milton Mollen. Former chairman of the Special Commission to Investigate Corruption Within the Police Department of the City of New York, and a former judge on the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Mollen says: “Part of rebuilding the image of the police is to bring about a greater sense of relationship and interaction between the community and the members of the police department. I think that it is imperative that be done.”
14. PUBLISH A UNIVERSAL LAW ENFORCEMENT PRAISE FORM
Let’s recognize exceptionally good policing. Give every American access to one Universal Law Enforcement Praise Form. This tool, in tandem with the Universal Law Enforcement Complaint Form, can serve as an incentive for bad cops to get their acts together. Cops who professionally resolve conflicts without violating citizens’ rights should be heralded as examples of the kinds of cops we want in our communities—and they should be financially rewarded as well. The fundamental idea is that recognizing and rewarding good cop behavior will increase such behavior. Easy access to a universal form that can be used by any citizen regardless of jurisdiction would help foster more positive police behavior across the country.
15. REACH OUT TO ALLIES
Black men are not the only ones desiring better law enforcement in America. It is critical that black men reach out to potential allies who share their interest in destroying dangerous police practices. They can start by working with allies within their own police departments, where there are cops who are trying to get rid of racialized law enforcement. As Anthony Miranda, a retired New York Police Department sergeant, and chair of the National Latino Officers Association (NLOA) says: “Change does happen… when officers come out and speak out and the community joins with them, rather than having one side against the other.”
If we reach out to empathetic law enforcers as well as former law enforcers like Miranda, many of them would be willing to help us bring change to the law enforcement system. Some law enforcement groups, such as the National Black Police Association and Miranda’s NLOA, are already pushing for reform and just waiting for us to catch up with them. Such groups have campaigned against police brutality and supported reform measures for years. Miranda regularly speaks before citizens’ groups and passionately tells them “This is a fight that we can win as long as we are all engaged and we are all involved … all nationalities … young and old … It’s going to take a community push … to change the process.”
In addition, by working with groups that have come under fierce attack from bad cops in recent years, including identified as Mexican, Arab and Muslim, black men can form large coalitions of concerned citizens. These coalitions can create a political powerbase of support for politicians and activists willing to do whatever is necessary to deconstruct the mechanics of racialized law enforcement. Also, in this age of “gentrification” that is sweeping through urban areas, allies might be found among blacks’ new white, Asian and other non-black neighbors. Some of these urban pioneers may be eager to help, if black men take the time to ask them for their support.
16. CREATE POLICE-FREE ZONES
If anything is possible in America, then surely we can create places where black men can go to be safe from police misconduct. Certain predominantly white and wealthy jurisdictions have established zones where the police may not enter without first being called by a citizen. Police are not allowed to patrol these areas. Black men would benefit from creating similar zones in areas that they frequent.
This solution should be implemented in tandem with black community efforts to decrease crime. Once significant progress is made in that area, this piercingly profound message can be sent to the police: “You know, we really don’t need you as much anymore. In fact, please don’t come into our community unless we call you. And when we do call you, we will be watching you to make sure you don’t get out of hand and make things worse.” This proposal addresses the outcry of young black men beleaguered by excessive policing. Young men such as the college student quoted in Cop in the Hood, a book written by former Baltimore, Maryland, police officer Peter Mosko.
The student said that he found it annoying to live in a heavily policed community. He stated, “If there’s a cop every other block, it means you get harassed every other block … They look at you, ask you questions. They’re just there to give you a hard time.”
SHARPEN YOUR INSIDE GAME
17. LOSE YOUR FEAR OF THE POLICE
Over the course of many years, black men’s negative experiences with police have had a devastating psychological impact on the way they view police. The fear of crooked, deceitful, abusive and murderous law enforcers has been passed down from generation to generation of black men. It is time to lose this fear and replace it with open-eyed fearlessness as we develop a soldier’s mindset. According to William DeFossett, a former Army officer, a soldier’s mindset can be very beneficial even when dealing with social issues. He told journalist David Halberstam that “My military career gave me the ability to search out a problem … It taught me how to plan, how to examine things, when to improve upon them. It taught me about teamwork, physical fitness—pride.” Thinking like soldiers will help black men search out methodical ways to attack and destroy racialized law enforcement instead of sitting on the sidelines in fear.
18. CHANNEL OUTRAGE AND ANGER INTO POSITIVE ACTION
Outrage and anger can be good things. Many political and community leaders tamp down the anger and fighting spirit within black men, especially young black men, because they do not want to see them violently unleashing their anger. These leaders have good intentions, but they fail to appreciate the value of outrage and anger, which when channeled into productive pursuits can be powerful forces for good. A man’s anger should be respected, in particular a black man’s anger, because it is such a logical outgrowth of the microaggressions created by racialized law enforcement and other socio-political realities that often confront black men. Any black man in America who doesn’t feel at least a little angry about what he has to go through in this society is missing something. I’m not talking about bitter, out-of-control anger. I am speaking of the anger otherwise known as “fire in the belly.” A successful businessman, publisher and real estate entrepreneur, Bill Regardie, once told me that the fire in his belly fueled the “killer instinct” within him. It enabled him to analyze problems and take action to solve them no matter how challenging the task—all within the bounds of the law.
While focused anger is productive, misdirected anger has no value and is very dangerous. As Wes Moore, former White House Fellow and author of The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, said during an interview with me: “One of the reasons anger is so dangerous is because it blinds one of the most important facets that all of us have to our personalities and all of us have to our development, which is critical thinking. Anger has a way of masking that critical thinking element. So, (as a result of this masking) many times we make decisions that very soon afterwards we end up regretting, because anger became the force that took over for our actions … Decisions made out of anger are generally never going to be good decisions.” However, properly directed anger has great value in all facets of life. In sports, you see black men being allowed and even encouraged to express their anger and channel it into athletic excellence. They are trained to tap the psychological benefits of anger. Indeed, during a halftime pep talk, a basketball coach whose team was in a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Sweet 16 game, urged his players to “Play angry!” They won their game and went to the NCAA Final Four.
Repressing anger creates implosions and explosions and leads to poor health and impulsive acts of violence. It makes better sense to encourage black men to channel their anger into academic, professional and social justice activities.
19. BE EVER READY TO ENGAGE IN THE TOPIC
Quick, answer this question: What’s wrong with racial profiling? Always be ready to answer this fundamental question. It will be easy to do so, if you are prepared. It is a question that can be answered in different ways. A few examples follow, each providing a level of insight worth noting:
- “Racial profiling is inconsistent with effective policing and equal protection.” — Department of Justice, 2007
- “Racial profiling is a “morally indefensible, deeply corrosive practice” that “is in fact the opposite of good police work, where actions are based on hard facts, not stereotypes. It is wrong; it is destructive, and it must stop. — Bill Clinton.
- “Racial profiling at its core concerns the invidious use of race or ethnicity as a criterion in conducting stops, searches and other law enforcement investigative procedures. It is premised on the erroneous assumption that any particular individual of one race or ethnicity is more likely to engage in misconduct than any particular individual of another race or ethnicity. Racial profiling in law enforcement is not merely wrong, but also ineffective. Race-based assumptions in law enforcement perpetuate negative racial stereotypes that are harmful to our rich and diverse democracy, and materially impair our efforts to maintain a fair and just society.” — Department of Justice, 2007
Here’s a brief answer that I like: “Racial profiling is a demeaning experience that you wouldn’t want to happen to you. It can lead to the deaths of innocent American citizens.”
Whether you recite the long or the short of it, racial profiling is a problem that should be put to an end as soon as possible. It behooves everyone who is against the practice to be ready to argue for its demise, without struggling to define it or articulate one’s position on the issue.
20. DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH, DEBUNK THE MYTHS
Black men are going to have to do their own research and challenge the conclusions and assumptions of those who publish negative statistical reports about them. For instance, black men would do well to debunk the so-called, commonly believed “fact” that about eight out of 10 black men are criminals. This is an absurd statistic based on a minority of black men who are repeat offenders. The statistics do not account for that.
I’ll give you an example: Ten black men are riding a bus. Seven of them are upstanding citizens. Three of them are career criminals who have committed a combined total of 100 crimes over the past year. Through the corrupt magic of raw statistics, a “fact” arises that black men on that bus have committed on average 10 crimes each (i.e., 100 ÷ 10 = 10). Yet, it is certainly not an actual fact that each of those men committed 10 crimes. Seven of them committed no crimes at all. Of course, one could argue that since “the average black man on that bus committed 10 crimes,” the police would be right to profile all 10 of them as criminals—-not just the three knucklehead repeat offenders, but the seven upstanding non-offenders, too. How wrong is that? Clearly, it is very wrong, because the police should not treat all 10 of those men like criminals, since only three of them are in fact criminals.
Another oft-repeated myth is that most crimes in America are committed by black men, therefore the police are justified to racially profile black men—all of them—regardless of circumstances, general appearance or behavior.
The truth is most people arrested for committing crimes in America are white. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, of the 9.5 million people arrested for committing crimes in America in 2011, 6.5 million—68 percent—were white and 2.6 million—27 percent—were black. Thus, the truth of the matter is that whites commit nearly three times as many crimes as blacks.
Clearly, the myths that portray black men as rampant criminals are very troubling. We must constantly attack and thoroughly debunk these myths by any means necessary, because when law enforcers use these myths as justification for racially profiling black men, they make a dangerous, sometimes deadly, mistake; and when a dangerous mistake is willfully repeated over and over and over again, it becomes a crime in and of itself. That is exactly what racial profiling is: a crime.
21. MAKE VIDEO CAMERAS UNIVERSAL ATTIRE FOR EVERY ARMED LAW ENFORCER
If a cop has a gun, he must also have a camera on his lapel. Require every armed law enforcer, from store security guards to police snipers, to wear a body cam. Body cams protect law enforcers as well as citizens. Camera footage can provide unbiased evidence of police activity, removing the risk of having a he said-she said form of justice, which most often is weighted against the citizen. Private corporations can be asked to contribute funds to support this reform effort.
22. PROSECUTE HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
Ensure police abuse is prosecuted as human rights abuses whenever appropriate: The federal government should remove obstacles to the fair and thorough investigation and, where appropriate, prosecution of human rights abuses committed by police officers. Human Rights Watch, an international watchdog agency, urges the White House White House to support the introduction of a bill in Congress to remove the “specific intent” requirement of the civil rights statutes which, in effect, undermines the spirit of the law. It should be sufficient for federal criminal prosecution that a police officer intentionally and unjustifiably beat or killed a victim without the additional burden of having to prove the officer specifically intended to violate the victim’s civil rights by abusing the individual. Even without its removal, a finding of “specific intent” should be directed by the court in all cases of excessive force by on-duty officers because, by virtue of their profession, they should know that using excessive force deprives individuals of their rights and because jurors are often confused by the “specific intent” requirement.
23. PREVENT BAD COPS FROM MOVING TO OTHER STATES
Put More Teeth in Police Decertification Procedures: Human Rights Watch has proposed that police officer decertification procedures, which exist in about 40 states, should be reinvigorated and fully funded so that police officers who engage in serious misconduct will be “decertified” as officers and unable to serve on any police or security force in the nation.
24. TAKE AWAY THEIR EXCUSE
Stop Giving the Cops an Excuse to Come into Our Neighborhoods: We must short circuit police assertions that crime in the black community requires them to be ever present. We need to take this excuse away. As the late Washington Informer newspaper publisher Dr. Calvin W. Rolark, my first boss in the newspaper business, used to say: “No one can save us from us but us.”
25. LINK RACIST POLICING TO BLACK CRIME
Link Racist Policing to the high rate of crime in the black community: Racist policing increases the level of crime in black communities, especially homicides. How? According to Human Rights Watch, racist cops do not take black homicides seriously. In fact, bad policing often leads to increased levels of black homicide. It is not uncommon for police officers patrolling black communities to develop a cold attitude and a disdain for people living there. This attitude leads many cops to say amongst themselves: “Let them kill each other.” Linking racists policing to black-on-black homicide will help raise the level of concern among decision makers and show them why they should work towards reducing dirty policing.
26. DEFINE RACIST LAW ENFORCEMENT AS TYRANNY
Tyranny did not end in 1776. Tyranny exists today in the form of excessive and selective law enforcement targeting black people, especially black men. It would be very beneficial to draw the connection between the tyranny that faced the original patriots and the tyranny facing black men today. Paul Butler, a former federal and municipal prosecutor and now a George Washington University professor, writes in his book Let’s Get Free: “The men who wrote the Constitution were frankly distrustful of law enforcement. The Bill of Rights … sets high standards for when the police can search, or for the kinds of questions they can force you to answer.” Black men today face worse abuse than the Founding Fathers, who complained about the excessive law enforcement the British put upon them. The War in America Volume 2 delves deep into a discussion on the tyranny of racist policing.
27. POLICE REFORM REPORT CARD
The government should report police efforts and effectiveness on one single web site. Public and private groups working for reform should also have space on the site. Though the problem of racialized law enforcement persists, like an unhealed sore, pockets of progress exist. People should not be left to wonder what initiatives exist and which are being successful. I believe such awareness can calm anxieties and anger if people can gain a sense that government agencies and public and private sector organizations are forging ahead to solutions.
28. OFFICER, PLEASE IDENTIFY YOURSELF
All police officers who have regular contact with the public should be required to wear large yellow patches that prominently display their names and badge numbers. The patches should be made of bright yellow reflector material. This information will help the public easily obtain the ID information on police officers and will prevent people from asking officers for this information. My experience and research indicate that in intense encounters it is not uncommon for officers to get nervous and defensive when asked to identify themselves. They feel threatened. They tend to react defensively and some will falsify charges and arrest a person to cover themselves in case the person files a complaint against them. For instance, if cops feel that someone will file a case against them for harassment, the cops might arrest the person and charge them with disorderly conduct. This takes the pressure and attention off of the police officer and shifts it to the person filing the complaint. Too often people are harassed by police officers but cannot file a complaint because they do not know the officer’s name. Currently, badges are small and sport intricate designs, but the actual badge numbers are hard to see unless you get right up on the officer. Additional data that communities might want attached to police uniforms include officers’ years in service, the number of complaints sustained against them and any awards they have won.
29. HIRE LOCALS, INCUDING EX-OFFENDERS
One last piece of the solution: Police departments should be required to hire local people as a priority, giving them 10 points automatically on job application ratings. Cops who live in the communities they patrol tend to exercise respect for those communities and their neighbors who live there. David Brown, chief of the Dallas, Texas Police Department set the right tone in July 2016 after his city experienced the worst day of police tragedy since 911. He reached out to the community, stating: “We’re hiring … Get out that protest line and put in an application. We’ll put you in your neighborhood and help you resolve some of those problems.”
30. ADD THE ‘WALK’ TO THE ‘TALK’
Black parents and educators should add to the message they routinely teach black boys on how to behave around cops. As of now, black boys are encouraged to be extra, extra humble when interacting with cops
The Covenant with Black America, written by Tavis Smiley, advises: “Talk to young people about how to conduct themselves if they are stopped or confronted by police officers: even if police officers do not respect your rights, be respectful of theirs.” This generations-old admonishment is called “The Talk.”
Some black parents, such as former US Attorney General Eric Holder, call The Talk “The Conversation.” Holder, in an interview with TheRoot.com, described a negative encounter he had with police while he was a college student: “I happened to be … stopped by a state trooper and told to open up my trunk. I wasn’t a law student and didn’t really know what my rights were and asked, “Why?” [The trooper said,] “’I want to check to see if you have any weapons in your trunk.’” I opened the trunk, and I remember the feeling I had. I was mad. I was humiliated.” Continuing, he said his experiences being racially profiled left him feeling “angry.” “As a black man who has a young son who’s 15 years old, I’ve had The Conversation with him: how he’s supposed to interact with the police, if he’s ever stopped, and I told him there are certain things you say, certain things you do, certain places you place your hands … If you’re treated in a way that you think is not appropriate, you just have to maybe take it for that moment and deal with it later on when you are in a position to talk to somebody who is perhaps that person’s superior. It’s a terrible thing, but it is a reality that the attorney general of the United States has to have this conversation with his son, but I have.”
Essentially, The Talk boils down to training young men to behave like soldiers caught behind enemy lines when they are accosted by bad cops. Basically, the young men are ordered to: Just give your name and serial number, soldier! Take whatever abuse the enemy dishes out. Be strong! Be disciplined and just hope like hell you make it back home alive.
Dwayne Wade, a wealthy and powerful black basketball player, tells his sons to bow down to the cops, for their own good. He orders his sons to just “say your name, say where you live, answer the questions they ask you … Put your hands down. Don’t put them (up) unless they tell you to. Just go through every step.”
What is missing from The Talk is wise parental guidance that will teach black youth how to strategically fight against falsified charges, harassment and other forms of racialized policing. Black men should teach their sons The Talk, but they also need to teach them The Walk. The Talk teaches them to anticipate injustice and to accept it as a norm that will never end. The Walk teaches them to be proud men at all times and to take action to solve the problems they face in this world, not to succumb to them.
I will discuss this issue further and how to teach our sons The Walk in The War in America Volume 2: Stop Abusing My People: A Warning to Racist and Abusive Police and Politicians.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil
is for good men to do nothing.
— Edmund Burke
If these 40+ proposed reform activities and other worthy ideas and strategies proposed by various other entities fail to bring about the requisite level of law enforcement reforms, black men will be confronted with very serious questions, such as what we must be do to make the difference and what is the ultimate solution?
We will pursue the answer to these questions in Stop Abusing My People: A Warning to Racist and Abusive Police and Politicians, Volume II of The War in America book series.
31. CONSISTENT AND STRCUTURED STORIES
Consistency builds impact. Often, the most effective stories are told in a linear fashion that builds momentum and creates energy, intrigue and impact. When a story is told from a starting point, move towards a climax and then proceeds to the ending, audiences find it easy to observe, understand and feel. “As the story unfolds.” We’ve all heard this expression. By following a structured outline, we can unfold our stories (war reports) in a disciplined manner will be best received by others. I have developed the following 10-step outline, which I believe will be useful to all people who have experienced drama-filled encounters with the law:
Tell Your Story in 10 Simple Steps
- What were you doing 24 hours before the encounter?
- What were you doing an hour before the encounter?
- What were you doing 30 minutes before the encounter?
- What were you doing right before the encounter?
- Tell me about the incident itself.
- What were you thinking while the encounter was occurring?
- What were you thinking immediately after the encounter?
- What were you thinking an hour after the encounter?
- The next day what were your thoughts and actions?
- Today looking back at the incident what would you recommend should happen in order to prevent such an incident from ever occurring again?