Po­lice re­form must be part of the 2020 pres­i­den­tial race

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD -

You may not have heard much about Ju­lian Cas­tro, the for­mer Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment sec­re­tary who’s stuck way back in the pack among the two dozen Democrats run­ning for pres­i­dent, but he’s talk­ing about some­thing that mat­ters to Bal­ti­more. It’s not af­ford­able hous­ing (though he plans a pol­icy plat­form on that soon) but po­lice re­form. Far more than the other pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, he is tak­ing aim at pol­icy, tac­tics, le­gal pro­tec­tions and cul­ture that re­sult in 1,000 fa­tal po­lice shootings a year in this coun­try, with black men dis­pro­por­tion­ately the vic­tims.

Mr. Cas­tro brings up the topic in speeches by ob­serv­ing that “if po­lice in Charleston, S.C., can ar­rest Dy­lann Roof af­ter he mur­dered nine peo­ple wor­ship­ing at Bi­ble study, with­out hurt­ing him, then don’t tell me that Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and Aiyana Jones and Eric Gar­ner and Ja­son Pero and Stephon Clark and San­dra Bland shouldn’t still be alive to­day, too.” We would add Fred­die Gray to that list. How he sus­tained his fa­tal in­juries one April morn­ing in 2015, we may never know. But the dis­re­gard for his hu­man­ity at ev­ery step of the way from his ar­rest to his ar­rival, un­con­scious and un­re­spon­sive, at the West­ern District has never been in doubt.

The un­rest that fol­lowed Gray’s death, cou­pled with long­stand­ing com­plaints of con­sti­tu­tional vi­o­la­tions and un­nec­es­sary force, led to a fed­eral con­sent de­cree in Bal­ti­more that is de­signed to ad­dress many of the is­sues Mr. Cas­tro has raised. But such com­pre­hen­sive, man­dated re­form pro­cesses are rare. There are thou­sands of law en­force­ment agen­cies in this coun­try, op­er­at­ing un­der a wide range of poli­cies and laws. By us­ing the fed­eral fund­ing vir­tu­ally all po­lice de­part­ments re­ceive as lev­er­age, Mr. Cas­tro is propos­ing to re­quire uni­form stan­dards for the use of force, elim­i­nate stop-and-frisk searches, increase re­view and re­port­ing re­quire­ments for pos­si­ble racial bias and in­sti­tute pre-em­ploy­ment screen­ings for po­lice of­fi­cers to weed out can­di­dates who dis­play prej­u­dice or in­tol­er­ance. He wants a na­tional data­base to track of­fi­cers who have been de­cer­ti­fied. He would bar sales of mil­i­tary equip­ment like ar­mored ve­hi­cles and gre­nade launch­ers to po­lice de­part­ments and end agree­ments that dep­u­tize lo­cal po­lice to en­force im­mi­gra­tion law.

Some parts of his plat­form aren’t all that note­wor­thy — re­quir­ing body cam­eras, for ex­am­ple, which are al­ready be­ing widely adopted — but others could have pro­found ef­fects. Mr. Cas­tro wants to es­tab­lish a stan­dard that force can be used only when of­fi­cers ob­serve an im­mi­nent threat to some­one’s life — and only if other rea­son­able al­ter­na­tives, like re­treat­ing to safety, have been ex­hausted. He wants to tar­get the thin blue line by mak­ing of­fi­cers re­spon­si­ble for in­ter­ven­ing if they see a col­league us­ing ex­ces­sive force or act­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ately. And he wants to make it eas­ier to pros­e­cute of­fi­cers for mis­con­duct — in­clud­ing the vi­o­la­tion of in­di­vid­u­als’ con­sti­tu­tional rights.

We don’t ex­pect Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to take up this sub­ject; he still in­sists that stop-and-frisk works de­spite the con­tin­ued de­clines in crime in his na­tive New York since the prac­tice was banned. But the rest of the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates should. Some, like Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, have ad­dressed the is­sue of mass in­car­cer­a­tion, which is also of vi­tal im­por­tance, but the ques­tion of how po­lice in­ter­act with cit­i­zens and es­pe­cially mi­nori­ties, the an­i­mat­ing cause of the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment, needs to be a part of the Demo­cratic pri­mary de­bate. As we can at­test in Bal­ti­more, poi­soned re­la­tions be­tween po­lice and the com­mu­ni­ties they serve pro­vide fer­tile ground for crime. When peo­ple don’t trust the po­lice, they don’t co­op­er­ate as wit­nesses and crim­i­nals go free.

But more fun­da­men­tally than that, those who would lead the na­tion need to rec­og­nize the in­no­cent lives that have been need­lessly lost be­cause of the flaws in the cul­ture and prac­tice of Amer­i­can polic­ing. Put­ting that is­sue at the cen­ter of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion might be the only mea­sure of jus­tice Fred­die Gray, Stephon Clark, Tamir Rice and all the others ever get.

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