5Their [the police] real power is manifested in the organized guns and force. But we’re saying that the people in this community, the people in this country, don’t have any control over that organized guns, force, and power. We’re saying that the capitalist, the racist, and others have control over it. And we’re saying that we want to change it, that we want to revolutionize it, turn it over into the hands of the people, for a new process to occur. We’re saying we want community control.
– Bobby Seale, Chicago Community Control of the Police Conference, June 1, 1973
Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg described his stop-and-frisk policy in New York City this way, “Ninety-five percent of your murders — murderers and murder victims — fit one M.O. You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male minorities, 16 to 25. . . . The way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw them up against the wall and frisk them.”
Forget about probable cause and basic constitutional rights. Over-policing by racial profiling is how black and brown people often encounter police. Bloomberg was speaking at the Aspen Institute in Colorado on February 5, 2015. The Aspen Institute is a liberal think tank that sees itself as “a place of moral instruction for the power elite.” It’s not the kind of place you would find Donald Trump, who has no shame, curiosity, or interest in self-reflection. Aspen is where the liberal elite goes to reflect. What Bloomberg’s remarks make clear is that black and brown people need community control of their police.
Whether under the direction of self-styled liberals like Bloomberg or the tough-guy bravado of his mayoral predecessor and Trump crony, Rudy Giuliani, stop-and-frisk racial profiling had devastating consequences for black and Latino communities in New York City. It meant constant stress and trauma for African American and Latino families, including the removal of hundreds of thousands of family members to jails and prisons mostly for minor offenses like marijuana possession. Under Bloomberg’s mayoralty between 2002 and 2013, black and Latino youth “got tossed,” as they called it, over 5 million times by New York City police. Young men were stopped for no reason other than being African American and Latino, whether they were on their way to and from school or work, out for groceries, or just talking with friends on their own block. Hundreds of thousands were stopped and frisked each year, with a high of 685,724 in 2011. Ninety percent of those stopped were African American or Latino in a city that was 54% black and brown. Ninety percent were not charged with a crime. Of those charged, more were charged with marijuana possession than anything else, and 440,000 were arrested for marijuana during Bloomberg’s mayoral tenure.
Racially profiled over-policing is not unique to New York City. It is the normal practice of many sheriff and police departments across the nation. It has been that way for centuries. It is a policy with deadly consequences for too many people living in those communities.
Summary of This Policy Paper
This policy paper makes the case for reviving the Black Panther Party program for community control of the police, an idea whose time came 50 years ago and never left. If New York City had community control of the police when Bloomberg was mayor, the community would have had the power to halt his racist stop-and-frisk program.
Community control means elected neighborhood review boards with real investigative and policy-making powers in their communities and a citywide elected police commission to set citywide police department policies and determine disciplinary sanctions for police misconduct. The Panther’s program was designed to give oppressed communities control of their police departments in order to hold police officers accountable for misconduct and to institute a culture and policies for policing so that police departments serve and protect communities instead of abusing them.
In the years since 1970 when the Panthers began campaigning for community control of the police, many cities have dealt with police brutality issues by instead instituting review boards appointed by politicians. As we will see below, review boards have failed to reduce police brutality and killings. They have also done little to change the culture and policies of police departments, which have become ever more militarized over the last five decades.
We will also see in what follows how one city, Richmond, California, under a Green mayor, did change the culture and policies of its police department and provided help and opportunities to at-risk youth who were responsible for much of the city’s property and violent crime. The result was a radical reduction in police shootings and brutality complaints as well as the city’s crime and murder rates. Proper policing is as much a goal of community control as holding police officers accountable.
The federal government cannot require community control of the police under the federal system of government established by the US Constitution. Community control of the police is a reform that must be instituted at the state, county, or municipal levels. However, the federal government can encourage community control and proper policing through policing-related data collection, federal investigation and prosecution of local police misconduct, policy recommendations, and funding programs. This policy paper concludes with a list of policies the federal government should adopt to encourage community control and proper policing.
Crime Down, Police Shootings Still High
The number of people killed by police each year has not declined in recent years even though the overall crime rate has been declining for three decades. Those killed by police are disproportionately black and brown and low-income. Few police who patrol these communities live in them. They are more of an occupying army than a police force that protects and serves those communities. It is time to renew the movement for community control of the police, particularly in low-income black and brown communities that experience the poorest policing services and the most police brutality.
Police killings of black men was an ongoing reality in America during slavery and segregation eras. The issue became a national political issue when the civil rights movement made police brutality a national issue. It has moved to the forefront of national consciousness since then in cycles, notably in the late 1960s when police beatings and killings precipitated the black urban rebellions and in the early 1990s after the videographed police beating of Rodney King. The issue returned to the national spotlight in with the high-profile killings of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and Eric Garner and Michael Brown in 2014.
The Black Lives Matter movement exploded in 2013 after the acquittal of a wannabe cop, George Zimmerman, for Martin’s murder. National attention increased the next year when a video of the strangulation by New York City police of Eric Garner went viral in July. The next month large protests were mounted in Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown was shot to death by a police officer. Scenes of unarmed protesters facing down a militarized police force with helmets, body armor, military-grade weapons, and armored personnel carriers were all over the media.
Although 96% of victims of police killings are men, Black Lives Matter also brought public attention to police killings of women, disproportionately black women, including Rekia Boyd in Chicago in 2012, Sandra Bland near Houston in 2016, and Korryn Gaines near Baltimore in 2016. In addition, Black Lives Matter brought attention to police bias, harrassment, and violence toward transgender people, particularly transgender people of color. High-profile police killings of black men in 2016, notably Freddie Gray in Baltimore in April 2015 and Philando Castile near St. Paul, Minnesota, in July 2016, made police brutality an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Thousands of people have been shot by police in the last decade since the issue was thrust back into the national spotlight. Only a few names of these victims made the national headlines. What is different about the current decade is that a number of these killings have been videographed on witness cell phones and police dashboard and body cameras. It has brought the reality of unjustified police killings home to more people than ever before. Yet the killings continue at the same high rate.
Violent crime and property crime have been steadily declining in the United States for three decades. The violent crime rate is about 50% lower and the property crime rate about 60% lower today than they were in 1990. The only exceptions to these trends are recent: a slight uptick in the murder rate, a substantial increase in rape, and a major surge in hate crimes. These new developments have come under the reign of Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency with his constant stream of racist, misogynist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic invectives and his many incitements to violence. Trump has encouraged police misconduct by telling Long Island cops to rough up suspects. He told Border Patrol to break the law to keep migrants out and promised a pardon to the head of the Customs and Border Patrol if that lawbreaking got him in trouble.
The federal government began only this year to collect comprehensive data on police shootings and killings of civilians. In January, after more than three years of pilot development, the FBI unveiled its official National Use-of-Force Data Collection. Because the federal government had no reliable data, the Washington Post began in 2015 to log fatal shootings by on-duty police officers. The Post found that the FBI had been undercounting police killings by more than half because reporting by police departments had been voluntary and many departments failed to report. The Post found that over the last five years there were nearly 5,000 fatal police shootings at a steady clip of about 1,000 each year. In the United States, police officers fatally shoot about three people per day, nearly as many people per day as police in most other wealthy nations shoot in a year. A VICE News investigation in 2017 found that for every fatal police shooting, there were two more nonfatal police shootings, which is 3,000 a year, or over eight police shootings a day.
The people shot are disproportionately people of color. The Washington Post found that black people were fatally shot by police at a rate of 29 per million, Latinos at 21 per million, and white people at 11 per million. Although not counted in the Washington Post study, American Indians are the racial group most likely to be killed by police, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These rates reflect the racially disproportionate rates of incarceration in the United States. In 2017, black men were incarcerated at a rate of 2,336 per 100,000, compared to 1,054 per 100,000 Latino men, and 397 per 100,000 white men. Incarceration rates have increased by over 500% of what they were before the War on Drugs was initiated in the 1970s. Though incarceration rates have declined modestly in the last decade, US incarceration rates remain the highest in the world by far with rates five to ten times higher than those of other industrialized nations.
Racial bias in law enforcement has targeted communities of color for over-policing. Even though drug-use rates do not differ substantially by race or ethnicity, black people were 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people in 2010, even though their use of marijuana is about the same.
In low-income communities of color, residents have a fraught relationship with the police. These communities see the police over-policing for minor offenses and under-protecting them from violent and property crimes. The officers, who are disproportionately white and live outside of their municipality, are often compared to an occupying army. In fact, many police officers are veterans of US military operations abroad, and civilian police departments are increasingly equipped with surplus military equipment, including grenade launchers, M4, M14, and M16 military assault rifles, and armored personnel carriers, which are transferred to police departments from the Department of Defense through the 1033 Program.
The Black Panther Party Proposal for Community Control of the Police
Over-policing and under-protection of black communities has a long history in America going back to the origins of police departments in the slave patrols. They have played a central role in enforcing segregation up to the present day. A major focus of the Black Panther Party based in Oakland, California, in the late 1960s was police misconduct toward the black community. “We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people” was one of the points in their 10-Point Program.
To address over-policing and under-protection, the Black Panther Party put forth a proposal in 1970 for community control of the police. They had hoped to get their proposal on the ballot in San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond, and Berkeley via ballot initiative, but were able to successfully complete the initiative petition only in Berkeley. The proposition was placed on the ballot as a referendum for the April 1971 city elections.
Instead of a police chief appointed by the mayor, the proposal called for a police commission elected by the people as the top police authority. Community control would be exercised through elected police review boards in each of Berkeley’s three distinct communities: the predominantly black working-class flats, the predominantly white middle-class hills, and the youthful university and downtown neighborhood. The elected neighborhood police review boards would have strong investigative powers and the authority to make recommendations to the police commission on the discipline or termination of police officers for misconduct. Officers would be required to live in the neighborhoods they serve. In a city that was one-third black at that time, only 18 of Berkeley’s 272 police were black.
The Berkeley referendum on community control of the police was closely followed throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. As a high school senior, I remember watching Ron Dellums, the newly elected US House member from his Oakland/Berkeley district, argue for community control in a debate broadcast by the PBS station in the Bay Area, KQED. Though the community control initiative was portrayed as an anti-police measure by its opponents, proponents like Black Panther leader Bobby Seale worked with progressive police officers to root out the racists in the police force. The black community wanted officers to really serve and protect the black community instead of abusing it. The poster and slogan of the campaign for community control embodied this approach: “It’s your choice—policemen or pigs? Vote for community control of police.”
When the election came, the Berkeley proposition was soundly defeated by a two to one margin. But the Black Panther Party continued to push community control of the police as essential to ending police brutality. In June 1973, the Black Panther Party held a major Community Control of the Police Conference in Chicago. The 1,000 people people in attendance heard speeches from Fannie Lou Hamer; Bobby Seale; comedian Dick Gregory; Richard Hatcher, mayor of Gary, Indiana; Bobby Rush, then chair of the Chicago Black Panther Party and now a member of the US House; and Renault Robinson of the Afro-American Patrolmen’s League in Chicago. The conference aimed to promote an ordinance for community control of the police in Chicago very similar to the Berkeley proposal, except that it proposed 21 neighborhood police review boards in that larger city. The proposal did not go far in the Chicago city council at that time.
Review Boards Are Not Community Control
No community control proposals were adopted in any city as a result of the Black Panther Party campaign. What was increasingly adopted in cities were citizen or civilian police review boards appointed by city officials to hear complaints and make recommendations to city and police authorities for reform and police discipline. Berkeley, for example, instituted a review board in 1973, two years after the community control referendum was defeated. In some places like Syracuse, New York, advocates insisted on naming the board a “citizen” as opposed to a “civilian” review board because they felt that calling it a civilian board implied the police were a military force rather than a municipal peacekeeping force.
The history of the citizen police review board idea goes back to the 1920s when progressive-era reformers were concerned with police corruption by urban political machines and civil libertarians and civil rights organizations were concerned with police brutality. Up through the 1960s, very few review boards were established due to resistance from police unions and politicians. The few that were created, including in Los Angeles, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and New York, had little authority and few resources.
With growing protests against police brutality by civil rights organizations, from the 1960s through the 1980s review boards expanded to more than 100 cities. But due to resistance by police unions and the prevailing law-and-order and war-on-drugs political narratives, those that were established remained appointed with limited investigatory and disciplinary powers. Most were designed to provide a safety valve for community anger to blow off steam at police brutality. They were intended more to improve community-police relations than to punish and root out police misconduct.
With crime in decline and police brutality persisting, the trend since the 1990s has been to make police review boards a normal part of city governments. Over 200 cities now have them in some form, sometimes since the 1990s with a hybrid or parallel structure for reviewing systemic racial bias in policing by city auditors, ombudsmen, or outside contractors. While the number of review boards has proliferated, they continue to face opposition from police unions and center-right politicians. Many have fallen into neglect, defunding, or outright abolition.
None of them have met the objectives of the community control of police proposal: elected, not appointed, review boards and police commissioners; full investigative powers including subpoena power; disciplinary power; and a police residency requirement.
Chicago Proposal for Community Control of the Police
A new proposal for community control of the Chicago police was introduced in 2018 into the city council. Chicago has a notoriously abusive police department. The 1969 murder of Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark by Chicago police and FBI agents led to no convictions for the murders. A subsequent civil lawsuit revealed that much information about the planning and execution of the murders was withheld by authorities, leading the City of Chicago, Cook County, and the federal government to finally settle in 1982 for a $1.85 million payment to the families of Hampton and Clark. Chicago police commander Jon Burge and his “Midnight Crew” of South Side detectives tortured more than 100 black suspects between 1972 and 1991 by suffocating, beating, burning, playing Russian roulette, and electrocuting them until they confessed to a crime. Burge was fired in 1993, but none of his crew were ever convicted of a crime for their torture. Burge was eventually convicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in 2010. He served four years in prison, far less than his many victims. The City of Chicago agreed to pay nearly $5.5 million in 2016 to 57 torture victims.
The abuse by Chicago police has continued. For decades more than one person a week has been shot by Chicago police—over 1,600 people between 1986 and 2015. Black people are fourteen times more likely to experience Chicago police use of force than white people. Chicago police use force on an average of 10 people a day, 90% of whom are black. From 2000 to 2016, only 1.2% of complaints against all Chicago police officers accused of misconduct resulted in a suspension or firing. Complaints by black people rose during this period even while the black population of Chicago declined. When a police dashboard video surfaced in 2015 of police firing 16 bullets the year before into Laquan McDonald, a retreating unarmed 17-year-old black youth, a campaign was initiated to replace the impotent review board, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, with community control.
As a result of public pressure spearheaded by the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Oppression, community control legislation has been introduced into the Chicago city council that calls for an all-elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) consisting of elected community members, one each from all 22 police districts. CPAC would be empowered to hold police accountable for the crimes they commit and to control how their communities are policed. Among CPAC’s specific powers are to hire and fire Chicago’s police superintendent, establish police policy, investigate police shootings and allegations of excessive force and abuse, negotiate police contracts, and pass judgment on police discipline. The proposal is championed in city council by the 6-member Socialist Caucus of members of Democratic Socialists of America and currently supported by nine other council members. It is still 11 votes short of the 26 votes needed for passage. Advocates vow to keep making it an election issue until they get the votes on council to pass it.
Richmond, California, Reforms to Change Policing Culture and Policies
The reforms made in Richmond, California, between 2006 and 2014 under a Green Party mayor, Gayle McLaughlin, can be seen as another legacy of the Black Panther Party campaign for community control of the police in the Bay Area. While the reforms did not establish elected neighborhood review boards and an elected police commission, it did institute the kind of policing approach the Black Panther Party hoped community control would create. These reforms got at the roots of police misconduct by changing the culture of policing from focusing on tickets and arrests to building relationships and solving problems with the people on community policing beats. The crime reduction reforms focused on helping at-risk youth.
Richmond is a working-class city with 80% people of color. It had earned a reputation as one of the most dangerous cities in America for its high murder and crime rates. Its murder rate was consistently higher than Chicago and Detroit, cities with notoriously high rates. In 2006 Richmond hired a police chief committed to diversifying the police force, to community policing, and to providing help to at-risk youth as central components of a proper policing and crime reduction policy.
The new police chief, Chris Magnus, replaced aggressive paramilitary “street teams” with real community policing. This community policing was not a small group within the department for public relations, as is the case in many so-called community policing programs. In Richmond, every officer was assigned to a specific neighborhood to patrol a defined beat, often on foot or bike. The officers were charged with building relationships and solving problems with the residents and businesses.
To address the high rate of gang-related crime and shootings, an Office of Neighborhood Safety was established with a $1.2 million budget and 12 staff to work in concert with community and church groups in reaching out to active shooters in gangs that were responsible for most of the shootings. They were given a choice: accept help (including cash payments for staying out of trouble and access to education, jobs, travel opportunities, counseling, and drug treatment) or expect close scrutiny and consequences for criminal activity.
Promotion in the police department was tied to successfully solving problems, de-escalating conflicts, and building positive relationships with the neighborhood, not on the volume of tickets and arrests. To integrate officers into city neighborhoods, police officers were offered free apartments in public housing projects paid for by the city budget. The president of the police officers’ union chose to live in public housing.
Many officers who preferred paramilitary policing over community policing left the force. Over Magnus’ tenure, he was able to personally select 90 of the department’s 140 officers and 42 of 46 lieutenants and captains.
Richmond did not set up a structure of community control. It used a hybrid model of independent internal investigations and a review board. Internal affairs investigations were removed from department headquarters to an independent Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) in city hall staffed by people who are not police officers. Richmond’s Citizens’ Police Review Commission hears appeals of OPA recommendations and employs a professional investigator who has the power to subpoena officers and question them under oath. The police chief retained the power to make the final decisions on officer discipline or termination.
The change in the culture of the Richmond Police Department was exemplified by Chief Magnus when he held up a “Black Lives Matter” sign at a December 2014 vigil for Michael Brown, who was shot dead by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, the previous August.
The reforms in Richmond corresponded with major reductions in violence and crime. After decades with homicides routinely exceeding 40 per year, they dropped from 42 in 2006 to 11 in 2014, the lowest on record. All violent crimes dropped by 23% and property crimes by 40% between 2006 and 2014.
The police force grew from 20% to 60% people of color over the same period. Twenty percent of the officers were women by 2014. There was less than one officer-involved shooting per year over the same period. No residents were killed by a police officer in Richmond between 2008 and 2014. In nearby Vallejo, with similar demographics and crime rates, 6 people were killed in police encounters over the same period.
Richmond’s progressive policing and crime-reduction policies are not a substitute for community control of the police. Those policies depend on the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) continuing to have a city council majority. A two-term limit required Gayle McLaughlin to run for the city council instead of mayor in 2014 and she won her race. The opposition to the RPA is candidates who are lucratively funded by Chevron, which has a major refinery in Richmond. A structure of community control would give the people direct control over the police no matter who has the mayorship and the city council majority.
Federal Policies to Support Community Control and Proper Policing
The federal government cannot require community control of local police agencies. The federalized system of government set up by the US Constitution does not grant the federal government a general police power. That authority is largely reserved for the states, which in turn have devolved much of that authority to local sheriff and police departments. The Constitution, however, does vest the federal government with some powers to influence local policing under the Spending, Commerce, Territorial, and Necessary and Proper Clauses as well as under the enforcement sections of the Civil War Amendments—the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. These powers include policing-related data collection, federal investigation and prosecution of local police misconduct, and policy recommendations and funding to encourage proper policing.
Federal Data Collection Efforts on Police Use-of-Force
Federal data collection of police use-of-force incidents gives policymakers baselines for measuring the effectiveness of policies in reducing police misconduct. The reality for federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies of having to report their use-of-force data in itself makes these agencies more aware that they can be held accountable for misconduct.
Use-of-force data collection should be continued and strengthened in the following ways.
- The FBI should continue the National Use-of-Force Data Collection program that began in 2020 to collect data on all incidents resulting in death, injury, and use of firearms by law enforcement agencies.
- The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Police Public Contact Survey (PPCS), which collects data on citizens’ interactions with police, including police use-of-force, should be strengthened from a voluntary survey to a comprehensive mandatory survey.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) operates in 40 states to gather and link records from law enforcement, coroners and medical examiners, vital statistics, and crime laboratories. The NVDRS should be expanded to all states and federal jurisdictions and include comprehensive data on deaths resulting from interventions by law enforcement agencies.
- Continue the Death in Custody Reporting Act, which requires states to submit data to the Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding the death of any person who is detained, under arrest, in the process of being arrested, en route to be incarcerated, or incarcerated at a municipal or county jail, a state prison, a state-run boot camp prison, a boot camp prison that is contracted out by the state, any local or state contract facility, or any other local or state correctional facility, including juvenile facilities. States face up to a 10% reduction in their funding under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program if they do not provide the data.
Federal Investigation and Prosecution of Law Enforcement Misconduct
Federal law enforcement of police misconduct should be strengthened in the following ways.
- The DOJ should be aggressive in bringing criminal enforcement cases directly against offending police officers under federal civil rights statutes.
- The DOJ should be aggressive in bringing civil liability cases against systemic abuse by law enforcement agencies as well as the wrongdoing of individual officers.
- The DOJ should expand its use of federal consent decrees to reform police departments with systemic problems of police misconduct. It should start by restoring and enforcing existing federal consent decrees to reform police departments that have been found to be abusing their citizens, including the Baltimore and Ferguson consent decrees that the Trump administration rescinded.
- Congress should enact a law to require the appointment of a federal prosecutor by the US Attorney General whenever a law officer is accused of violating the civil rights of a human being, including bodily injury or death. Local District Attorneys and state Attorney Generals are too close to local police in day-to-day law enforcement for impartial investigations. Many in the Green Party have demanded a law like this since the mid-1990s called the Jonny Gammage Law, named after a young black man suffocated to death by police in a Pittsburgh suburb in 1995. I have written elsewhere about the similarities in the police killings of Jonny Gammage and Eric Garner, where the cops were not punished, the DOJ declined to bring a civil rights action, and the families eventually received compensation as a result of their own civil lawsuits.
Federal Policy Leadership and Funding
While the federal government cannot compel local police department policies except in cases of remediating civil rights violations in federal consent decrees, it should exert strong influence on policies in the following ways.
- Condition federal funding for law enforcement agencies on the adoption of community control and proper policing policies.
- Enact a grant program to assist transitions to community control of the police.
- Compel and model community control of the police in federal jurisdictions, such as Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
- The DOJ should issue guidance for local governments and law enforcement agencies that encourages community control of local police agencies.
- The DOJ should sponsor studies that examine policing practices.
- The DOJ should provide training for local government and police officials in community control of the police.
- The federal government should discourage the militarization of local policing by ending the 1033 Program that transfers surplus US military equipment, including grenade launchers, assault rifles, and armored personnel carriers, to local sheriff and police departments. Police should not be an occupying military force. They should be a peacekeeping police force that serves and protects the people.
- The DOJ should provide more funding for, and condition other funding on, law enforcement agencies providing more training to law enforcement officers on eliminating implicit bias and racial profiling.
- The DOJ should provide more funding for, and condition other funding on, the promotion of diversity in police hiring and retention.
- The DOJ should provide more funding for, and condition other funding on, expanding the use of body-worn cameras under good policies. Good policies should promote police accountability, reduce police abuses, and increase community trust. They should prevent mass surveillance and invasions of privacy. Good policies should regulate when the cameras are to be turned on and who has access to the footage and under what conditions.
Rooting Out Racists and Sadists from Law Enforcement and the Criminal Justice System
We won’t rid policing and the whole criminal justice system of racism until we have a top-to-bottom reorganization that removes the racists and brings in new people who are committed to impartial justice, from local police departments to federal law enforcement agencies, from cops in the streets to lawyers and judges in the courts.
A major goal of community control of the police is to empower the community to remove racist and sadistic cops out of police forces.
The federal government should set an example by replacing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with a new immigration and border agency staffed by officers who have been vetted to weed out the racists and sadists. The racism and sadism has always been present in US policing, but has been encouraged by Trump since he took office and made it policy to separate migrant and asylum-seeking families and cage their children. The racism became evident for all to see with the public disclosure of the racist and misogynist comments that filled a Border Patrol Facebook group in which 9,500 of 20,000 Border Patrol officers were members. Investigations have also uncovered many racist Facebook groups for police officers. White racist groups have been actively recruiting racists into police departments.
The problem of racists in police departments brings us back to the need for community control of the police, particularly in black and brown communities that are the primary victims of racist police abuse. At the federal level, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security should redirect their investigatory resources to monitoring white racist groups and preventing white racist violence and stop their targeted surveillance of nonviolent dissident political groups that are critical of immigration and policing policies.
Cut Poverty and Inequality to Cut Crime and the Need for Policing
Policing is much more effective at apprehending criminals after crimes have been committed than preventing crimes in the first place. The most effective way to reduce police misconduct is to reduce crime and therefore the need for policing and the number of encounters where police might misuse force.
Crime rates and inequality are positively correlated within countries and between countries, according to a comprehensive 2002 World Bank study. The study found that this correlation is caused by the degree of income inequality, even after controlling for other crime determinants. Some 60 academic studies have found that income inequality predicts murder rates better than any other variable.
To really reduce police violence we must uproot the causes of crime in poverty and inequality and reduce the need for policing.
It is past time to enact an Economic Bill of Rights as President Franklin Roosevelt called upon Congress to enact in his last two State of the Union addresses in 1944 and 1945. The demand for an Economic Bill of Rights was picked up by the civil rights movement with the demands of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the 1966 Freedom Budget, and the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. It is time to renew those demands today.
An Economic Bill of Rights today should include these six economic human rights:
- A Job Guarantee—A public job for anyone willing and able who cannot find a private job. The jobs should be on public works or in public services and provide a living wage with decent benefits.
- An Income Guarantee—A guaranteed income above poverty built into the federal income tax system. If your income is below poverty, instead of paying taxes to the federal government, the government will send you a check to bring your monthly income above poverty.
- A Decent Home—A radical expansion of quality public housing to provide an affordable option for all and to serve as competition to keep rents in the private market down to closer to the real costs of providing housing.
- Comprehensive Health Care—An improved and expanded Medical for All system providing all medically necessary services with free choice of providers through a single public payer.
- Lifelong Free Public Education—Free public education from pre-K and childcare through postsecondary college, technical school, and continuing adult education.
- A Secure Retirement—Double Social Security benefits and fully fund job-related pension funds in financial trouble.
An Economic Bill of Rights will create a standard-of-living floor that will end absolute poverty. But it will not significantly reduce the high level of relative inequality that is not only the single most important cause of violent crime but also the source of many other social problems. In The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Stronger Societies, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett review the studies that show that income inequality increases many social problems, including mental illness, physical illness, infant mortality, drug use, illiteracy, racist scapegoating and discrimination against minorities, working hours, excess consumption driven by status competition, property crime, and incarceration. They show why more unequal societies have less social mobility, educational achievement, empathy, trust, cooperation, status for women and minorities, and life expectancy.
We will never reverse extreme and growing economic inequality as long as the capitalist mode of production predominates, where workers get a fixed wage and capitalists take the rest of the value that labor creates as profit. To increase equality, we must have a fair distribution of income at the point of production. People should receive income for working, not simply for owning productive property. If you want more income, you can do more work. For those who cannot work, do not work, or are limited in how much work they can do due to age, disability, family care responsibilities, school attendance, and so forth, a guaranteed income above poverty will ensure that everyone, no matter what their circumstances, can live at a decent standard of living. To have a fair and equitable distribution of income, we need to move to an ecological democratic socialist economy featuring:
- Worker Cooperatives where the wealth we create is distributed equitably according to our labor contribution, not capital ownership.
- Consumer Cooperatives that provide goods and services economically at cost to members, not for cost plus private profits.
- Democratic Public Enterprises for infrastructure, natural monopolies, and large-scale businesses that operate at cost for public benefit instead of maximizing private profits. Such public utilities will lower the costs of living and doing business and provide the public avenues for private commerce.
- Social Wealth Funds to progressively use a portion of tax proceeds and expenditures to buy a portfolio of stocks, bonds, and real estate that progressively socializes productive wealth and shares its net income across the population.
- Democratic Economic Planning of public sector enterprises to ensure a decent standard of living for all within the boundaries of environmental sustainability.
Pending this kind of social transformation to a democratic society where people are substantively as well as formally equal, and thus the need for policing will be greatly reduced, community control of the police is an immediate reform we must demand to bring abusive police to justice and to institute proper policing that serves and protects our communities.