Should the LAPD use drones?

As reported by the L.A. Times:

For more than three years, a pair of drones donated to the Los Angeles Police Department was locked away, collecting dust after a public outcry over the idea of police using the controversial technology.

Seattle police saw a similar backlash when they wanted to use the devices, grounding their drone program before it even took off. And recently, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s use of a drone has been criticized by activists as well as civilian oversight commissioners who want the agency to stop.

On Tuesday, the LAPD again waded into the heated debate, saying the department wanted to test the use of drones in a one-year pilot program.

Drones have been hailed by law enforcement across the country as a valuable technology that could help find missing hikers or monitor armed suspects without jeopardizing the safety of officers. But efforts to deploy the unmanned aircraft have frequently drawn fierce criticism from privacy advocates or police critics for whom the devices stir Orwellian visions of inappropriate — or illegal — surveillance and fears of military-grade, weaponized drones patrolling the skies. …

Click here to read the full story

Sacramento and S.F. Push for Police Reform at Local Level

Police tapeSACRAMENTO – The presidential campaign focused some attention on the long-simmering debate over policing and the appropriate uses of force, but as is typical with national campaigns, the nuances got lost amid ideologically charged soundbites such as “law and order” and “Black Lives Matter.”

Some advocates for police reform worry about what a new Trump administration will mean for these discussions given the president-elect’s expectedly different approach toward the matter than President Obama’s Department of Justice. But others argue the election will send reform back to where it really belongs: at the local level.

Two northern California cities, Sacramento and San Francisco, are good examples of the latter. They are currently plowing ahead with major oversight and accountability proposals for their police departments – the result of local policing scandals that have little to do with national political changes. Sacramento takes up the matter at a City Council meeting on Tuesday.

The Sacramento reforms were prompted by a video of two police officers in pursuit of a mentally ill homeless man, Joseph Mann, who was armed with a knife and acting erratically. As the Sacramento Bee reported, the video sequence shows “the officers gunned their vehicle toward Mann, backed up, turned and then drove toward him again, based on dash-cam video released by police. They stopped the car, ran toward Mann on foot and shot him 14 times.” One officer is recorded saying “f— this guy” shortly before they shot him.

The killing raised questions not only about the appropriate use of force in such situations, but about the city’s willingness to provide the public information about what transpired. Top city officials – the police chief, city attorney and city manager – didn’t release the video of the event until after the Bee acquired the footage from a private citizen. The shooting led to community protests and has been a source of strife – and council debate – ever since.

In September, the newspaper’s Editorial Board published this pointed editorial: “The city could have been upfront with Mann’s family about how many times he was shot and how long the investigation into the shooting would take. Instead, his brother, backed by enough activists to fill City Hall, had go before the City Council to beg for information. The city could have been clear about what training officers receive to handle people who are mentally ill. Instead, police still haven’t responded to a Public Records Act request for a copy of the department’s policy.”

Reformers argue that the proposed policy doesn’t go far enough, although backers argue that it is about as far as it can go given state law. Specifically, the measure would transfer power of the civilian oversight committee from the city manager’s office to the mayor and City Council – thus providing a more independent level of oversight given that the city manager also oversees the police department. Council members are at least beholden to voters.

The city’s proposal also does the following: “This resolution requires the city manager to ensure that all police officers of the Sacramento Police Department abide by council specified guidelines with regards to use of force. Key components of the resolution include the timely release of video after an officer involved incident occurs and the immediate notification of family members after an officer involved shooting.” That attempts to deal with the public-records issue.

Civilian-oversight commissions are still limited by the state Supreme Court’s Copley decision. In that 2006 case, the San Diego Union-Tribune tried to gain access to a disciplinary hearing regarding a deputy sheriff who was appealing his termination. As the newspaper reported, “The court ruled that police disciplinary hearings are closed — and the public has no right to learn about allegations of police misconduct, even when they are aired in a civil service commission.” Legislative efforts to roll back parts of the decision have repeatedly been stymied by police union lobbying.

In San Francisco, officials have been reacting to controversy following three officer-involved shootings and a scandal involving racist text messages that were allegedly sent by police officers. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported in April, “The messages are loaded with slurs and ugly stereotypes, and include one from an officer responding to a photo of a blackened Thanksgiving turkey. ‘Is that a Ferguson turkey?’ the officer asks, referring to the city in Missouri that saw widespread protests after police fatally shot an unarmed African American man in 2014.”

National politics plays a bigger role in the San Francisco case. That’s because the federal Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services department published a study last month looking at San Francisco’s police department. The mayor and former police chief had asked the department to review police practices following these scandals.

As the report’s summary explained, “Although the COPS Office found a department that is committed to making changes and working with the community, it also found a department with outdated use of force policies that fail the officers and the community and inadequate data collection that prevents leadership from understanding officer activities and ensure organizational accountability. The department lacked accountability measures to ensure that the department is being open and transparent while holding officers accountable.”

San Francisco officials have vowed to implement the 479 recommendations made in the Justice Department report. “We will continue to implement the recommendations for reform which will be built on the most current policing policies and practices, fostering an environment of trust and strong relationships with our communities,” said acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin.

In Sacramento, Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg, who is inaugurated on Dec. 13, told the Bee “the public certainly has a right to know whether a particular officer who has been accused of misconduct continues to serve in the role of police officer. … There ought to be a clear presumption of openness and the burden ought to be on the city attorney and police to demonstrate in a compelling way why anything is not public.” There’s concern that a federal lawsuit by Mann’s relatives will allow the city to shut down public access to information about the shooting.

This much is clear: Whatever changes a new administration makes at the Department of Justice, local officials throughout California are on the front lines of the police-reform movement.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Competing Death Penalty Measures Revive Emotional Feud

Death PenaltySACRAMENTO – Thirty years ago, California voters did something unprecedented (and not seen since): They bounced Chief Justice Rose Bird from the supreme court. Two other state high-court justices also failed to win reconfirmation to the court, following an intense political battle centering on the justices’ opposition to the death penalty.

It was easy for many people to understand the emotional nature of the issue during mid-1980s. Crime rates had soared by 276 percent over a 20-year period. They had begun to fall again in the late 1980s, but political angst often trails the data. Justice Bird rejected the death penalty in all 64 such cases that came before her and so became a lightning rod for those upset over crime. Crime rates crept up again in the early 1990s, but have been falling precipitously since.

Now, there’s been a recent spike in crime, and a debate over the role some recent incarceration policies have played in that uptick. For instance, some blame Proposition 47, the 2014 voter initiative that reduced some felonies to misdemeanors, and the governor’s realignment policy, which houses some prison inmates in county jails. Others say the data doesn’t back up those claims, and that crime rates ebb and flow for various reasons.

Whatever the case, crime rates remain relatively low – and the crime issue doesn’t come close to generating the emotions it did during the Rose Bird controversy. Nevertheless, voters on Nov. 8 are being asked to revisit the death-penalty issue in two competing initiatives. It’s a crowded ballot, with 17 initiatives overall, which explains in part why these measures have not garnered much attention. But they offer Californians two starkly different choices.

In Proposition 62, voters are being asked whether to repeal the death penalty for those found guilty of murder and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole. In Proposition 66, voters are asked whether to streamline the appeals process to make it easier for the state to execute convicted murderers. When initiatives are contradictory, the one that receives the highest votes prevails. An interesting showdown is in the works.

Ironically, Prop. 62 would put an end to executions that rarely happen anyway. The last execution in California took place a decade ago – all executions have been delayed because of legal challenges to the use of lethal injections. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office puts the numbers in perspective: “As of April 2016, of the 930 individuals who received a death sentence since 1978, 15 have been executed, 103 have died prior to being executed, 64 have had their sentences reduced by the courts, and 748 are in state prison with death sentences.”

Those realities actually bolster the case made by the supporters of both initiatives. Backers of Prop. 62 argue that the state’s death penalty is a failed system because so few people are actually executed. The cost per execution, they argue, is $384 million as they languish on costly death rows. Instead of endless delays, they propose doing away with the penalty – something supporters say will provide “real closure” for families of victims. Instead of fighting in courts, convicted murderers will have a permanent sentence and will never be allowed to go free.

Backers of Prop. 66 say the solution to the lack of executions is to speed up the appeals process. “There are nearly 2,000 murders in California annually,” according to supporters’ official ballot argument. “Only about 15 death penalty sentences are imposed. But when these horrible crimes occur, and a jury unanimously recommends death, the appeals should be heard within five years, and the killer executed.” Both initiatives require these inmates to work.

Opponents of Prop. 66 raise concerns that speeding up the appeals process will cause innocents to potentially be executed, whereas supporters argue that their initiative will allow plenty of time to assure that innocent people aren’t executed. This proposition attempts to speed up the process by requiring “that habeas corpus petitions first be heard in the trial courts,” according to the LAO analysis. It also “places time limits on legal challenges to death sentences” and “changes the process for appointing attorneys to represent condemned inmates.”

The San Francisco Chronicle raises concerns about the attorney appointment process in the initiative: “Condemned inmates often must wait years for representation. The measure attempts to compel attorneys to take up capital appeals by excluding them from certain other defense work. This raises two serious concerns: One is the prospect that attorneys less steeped in the fine points of capital appeals — and it is a specialized part of the law — will be representing inmates with lives on the line. The other is the possibility of attorneys enlisted against their free will in these appeals.”

Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson, writing in the San Jose Mercury News, argued that “Defense attorneys refuse to represent death row inmates in order to thwart the process, so it takes an average of five years before a condemned inmate is even assigned an attorney.”

Proposition 62 is more straightforward than Proposition 66. The former ends the death penalty – even for those currently on death row – and replaces it with “life without parole.” The latter includes a series of complex reforms designed to “mend” the current system. For voters, however, the choice will come down less to the specific details and more to their overall outlook. If they want to end the death penalty, they’ll vote yes on 62. If they want to speed up its use, they’ll back 66.

A recent public-opinion poll from Sacramento State’s Institute for Social Research showed Proposition 62 losing 45-37 and Proposition 66 winning 51 to 20. So while the level of contentiousness over the death penalty is far different now than it was in 1986, it seems that public attitudes about it haven’t changed much in 30 years.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He is based in Sacramento. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

See what California cities pay police, firefighters

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

Average pay for California’s rank-and-file police officers and firefighters continued to rise significantly in 2015, as many cities across the state compete with each other for the best talent.

California police officers made, on average, $111,800 during 2015, according to a Sacramento Bee analysis of new data from the State Controller’s Office. That figure reflects base pay, as well as overtime, incentive pay and payouts upon retirement.

Firefighters and engineers earned, on average, $134,400. Average pay for police lieutenants across the state was $161,400; for fire captains, it was $153,300.

Excluding overtime, vacation payouts and bonuses, average pay for police officers in 2014 was $85,400 and for firefighters was $84,600. …

Click here to read the full article

Bills inspired by Stanford rape case miss big part of the problem

Brock turnerBrock Turner is a free man, and now California’s justice system is on trial.

When the former Stanford student was sentenced in June to only six months in prison for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, a sickening thud landed like a punch to the gut of millions of people who were following the high-profile trial.

Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky could have sentenced Turner to 14 years in prison and prosecutors asked for six. But despite the prosecutors’ recommendation and an impassioned letter from the victim describing her life-destroying ordeal, read aloud in court, the judge sentenced the young man from a wealthy family to just half a year in prison. “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” Persky explained.

In the uproar that followed, Persky moved to civil court and no longer hears criminal cases, a recall effort was launched against him, and the California Legislature sent two bills to the governor’s desk.

AB701 modifies the definition of rape to include selected acts that under current law are charged as “sexual assault” and “forcible sodomy.”

AB2888 ensures that sex crimes against an unconscious or severely intoxicated victim trigger mandatory prison sentences without any argument over whether “force” was used to commit the crime.

Another, SB813, removes the statute of limitations so rapists can be charged no matter how long ago the crime occurred.

Do these laws heighten the risk of wrongful convictions?

Try this test: Instead of thinking about Brock Turner, think about the three Duke lacrosse players who were wrongfully accused of gang rape in 2006. After a year, North Carolina’s attorney general declared the three men innocent. The Durham district attorney was convicted of contempt and disbarred.

The challenge is to get the law right so innocent defendants can clear their names and innocent victims can get justice, sometimes in cases where only two people were present, and one was unconscious or close to it.

Perhaps the law should address what happened to Turner’s victim after the crime.

In her statement to the court, the victim said she originally thought Turner would “formally apologize, and we will both move on.” Instead, “he hired a powerful attorney, expert witnesses, private investigators who were going to try and find details about my personal life to use against me.”

That’s what happens to victims of sexual assault when the perpetrator is wealthy or powerful enough to use character assassination as part of a legal or public relations defense. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Daily News

If Police Unions Were Abolished and Police Associations Were Restored

Police tapeEarlier this month the New York Times ran an editorial entitled “When Police Unions Impede Justice.” They make the point that collective bargaining agreements for police employees often make it very difficult to hold police officers accountable for misconduct. When you have nearly 1 million sworn police officers in the United States, you’re bound to have a few bad apples. According to the NYT, these collective bargaining agreements discourage citizens from lodging misconduct complaints, micromanage investigations, and minimize disciplinary sanctions.

This isn’t news. It’s one of the reasons collective bargaining agreements for police officers are especially problematic. The other big problem with collective bargaining agreements for members of public safety are the often excessive and unaffordable benefit packages they’ve “negotiated” with the politicians whose careers are made or broken by these same unions. So what if police unions were abolished?

One may argue that abolishing police unions in favor of police associations – which could not engage in collective bargaining – would actually benefit all parties. An immediate benefit would be greater accountability for police officers. Why wouldn’t greater individual accountability be supported by the overwhelming majority of police officers who are conscientious, humane, compassionate members of the communities they serve? In turn, why wouldn’t greater police accountability foster rapprochement in neighborhoods where mistrust has developed between citizens and law enforcement?

With respect to pay and benefits for police officers, the risks of abolishing collective bargaining may be overstated. As it is, rates of base pay for police officers are not excessive by market standards. If they were, it would be easier to hire police officers. The primary economic problem with police compensation is retirement benefits, which in California now easily average over $100,000 per year for officers retiring in their 50’s after 25+ years of service. As the unions defend these excessive pensions, younger officers are left with far less generous benefits. The perpetually escalating contributions the pension funds demand – for all public employees – are behind virtually all tax increases being proposed in California. It can’t go on.

So abolishing collective bargaining for police would lead to several benefits (1) more police accountability and improved community relations, (2) minimal impact on base police pay, and (3) quicker resolution of financial challenges facing pensions, which will increase the probability that the defined benefit will be preserved, and will increase the potential retirement benefit available to the incoming generation of new police officers.

Apart from ending collective bargaining agreements, abolishing police unions in no way abolishes the ability of police officers to organize in voluntary associations to pursue common professional and political objectives. Before we had unionized police forces, police associations were very influential in civic affairs and could be again. And there are broader political objectives that may animate these police associations, beyond protecting bad cops and fighting for financially unsustainable retirement benefits. Police and other public safety employees, whether they are part of a union or part of a voluntary association, should think carefully about where the United States is headed. This is especially true in California.

The most dangerous risk of politically active police unions is the fact that whenever government fails, whenever our common culture is undermined, whenever social programs breed more problems than they solve, we need to hire more police officers. And whenever government expands to regulate and manage more aspects of our lives, we need to hire more police officers. Social upheaval and authoritarian government create jobs for police officers. For a police union that wants more members, a failing society and an authoritarian government suits their agenda.

For this reason, police officers have a choice to make. Do they really want to enforce the laws emanating from the climate fascists, the tolerance fascists, the sensitivity fascists, the equality fascists, the multi-cultural fascists – the entire ostensibly anti-fascist fascist gang of elitists who currently control public policy in California? Do they want to deploy drones to monitor whether or not someone got a permit to install a window in their bathroom, or watered their lawn on the wrong day? Do they want to fine or arrest people who aren’t willing to adhere to speech codes, or who refuse to hire less qualified employees in order to fulfill race and gender quotas? Do they want to police a society that has fragmented irretrievably because we continued to import millions of unskilled, destitute individuals from hostile cultures, than indoctrinated their children in union-ran public schools to falsely believe they live in a racist, sexist society?

It’s a tough choice. Will politically active police organizations redirect some of their resources to support policies that might actually reduce the number of police we need? Abolishing collective bargaining may make the right choice easier, because police will then be less immune to the economic and social havoc the elitists are currently imposing on the rest of us.

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

VIDEO: James Lacy on Trump, Crime and Gun Control

Appreciating Police Officers, Challenging Police Unions

Police carIn the wake of tragic and deadly attacks on police officers, those of us who have never wavered in our support for the members of law enforcement, but have questioned the role of police unions and have debated issues of policy surrounding law enforcement have an obligation to restate our position. Civil libertarians and fiscal conservatives have disagreements with police unions which were summed up quite well recently by guest columnist Steve Greenhut, writing in the Orange County Register. Here are some of the principal concerns:

Police unionization protects bad officers and stifles reform. Lack of transparency into investigations of police misconduct aids and abets the worst actors. Police unions often support laws designed to extract increased revenue from citizens in the form of excessive fines. The “war on drugs” and militarization of law enforcement can further increase the tension between police and the populations they serve. And, of course, police unions fight relentlessly for increases to compensation and benefits, especially straining the budgets of cities.

To have a balanced discussion on these topics, however, it is necessary to revisit why police work has become more controversial and more expensive. Here are some of the reasons:

(1)  The value of life has never been higher. A century ago, when the life expectancy for Americans was 49, tragic deaths were commonplace. Compared to Americans in 1916, Americans today on average can expect an additional three decades of productive life, and premature death is proportionately more traumatic. This means the premium that police officers deserve for their service is higher than it’s ever been, and should be.

(2)  The expectations we have for law enforcement have never been higher. Along with longer lives, Americans suffer less crime. For nearly forty years, in nearly all categories, crime has steadily diminished. While there remains enough crime to generate a daily barrage of lurid local news reports, we enjoy more safety and security than at any time in history. We are getting this service thanks to our police forces, and better service deserves better pay.

(3)  The complexity of crime has never been higher. Crime itself has become far more sophisticated and menacing, morphing into areas unimaginable even a generation ago – cybercrime, global terrorism, financial crimes, murderous gangs, international criminal networks, foreign espionage, asymmetric threats – the list is big and gets bigger every year. Countering these threats requires more capable, better compensated personnel.

(4)  The statistical risk to police officers, even in the wake of recent tragedies, may remain low, but that could change in an instant. In the event of severe civil unrest or well coordinated terrorist attacks such as we saw in Sept. 2011, hundreds or even thousands of officers could find themselves on the front lines of a cataclysm. Statistics are not necessarily predictive, and police officers live with this knowledge every day.

So how do civil libertarians and fiscal conservatives manage their debates with police unions while conveying their respect for police officers? First, by acknowledging the complexity of the issues. Police should make more money than ever before – the debate should start there, not end there. Police have to be armed to the teeth, because in a free republic, the citizens themselves are armed to the teeth. That’s the choice we made, and unless we want to disarm the citizenry, we can’t disarm the police. These are fundamentals where there should be agreement.

Beyond that, it is necessary to appeal to the patriotism and decency that animates the vast majority of members of law enforcement, and ask them: Please work with us to curb the inherent excesses of police union power. Of course we have to get bad cops off the street. Of course we have to come up with effective non-lethal uses of force. Of course we have to figure out how to fund police departments without levying excessive fines. And of course we have to face a challenging economic future together, where police are partners with the people they serve, not an economically privileged class. Is this possible? One may hope so.

There’s more. If police unions are going to be intimately involved in the politics of law enforcement and the politics of police compensation, and they are, they may as well start getting involved in other causes where their membership may find common cause with civil libertarians and fiscal conservatives. Police officers see first hand how welfare destroys families and how public schools fail our children. So why aren’t they fighting to replace welfare with workfare and why aren’t they fighting to destroy the teachers union? You can say what you will about police unions, but they did NOT turn this nation into a lawless hellhole, quite the opposite. The teachers union DID destroy public education. So help us reduce their influence.

Similarly, police officers need to decide if they really feel like enforcing the myriad environmental harassment laws that are criminalizing everything from installing a window or water heater without a building permit to watering your lawn on the wrong day. The global environmentalist movement – of which California is ground zero – has become fascism masquerading as anti-fascism. It has become neo-colonialism masquerading as concern for indigenous peoples. It was a previously noble movement that has been hijacked by cynical billionaires, monopolistic corporations, and corrupt financial special interests. In its excess today, it has become a despicable scam. Help us to crush these corrupt opportunists before our freedom and prosperity is obliterated.

These thoughts, perhaps, are challenges that civil libertarians and fiscal conservatives might offer up to the police unions of America.

This piece was originally published by the Flash Report

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Competing death penalty initiatives could spur confusion

There will be a minimum of seventeen measures on the Statewide ballot in November.  San Fran is adding another 39 for their voters—and your city and county may have some as well.  You will be asked to legalize marijuana, repeal the plastic bag ban, vote to take away guns and extend a tax for twelve years, at a cost of $144 billion—transferred from your business and family to the government.

Also, on the ballot are two measures dealing with the death penalty.  One would outlaw the death penalty.  The other making it faster and less complex to complete the death sentence.  There are over 700 people on California’s death row.  Last week a prisoner filed to be let at of prison, because of the cruel and unusual punishment—he had been on death row for more than 30 years (he forgot to mention that is because of all the appeals he filed).  It is time to make a decision—do we support the criminals or the victims?

“One – Proposition 66 – would preserve the death penalty for the most heinous criminals by enacting critically needed reforms to the system.

The other – Proposition 62 – would scrap the death penalty, allowing criminals who kill cops or rape and murder children to live out their lives in the relative comfort of prison.

I cannot overstate the importance of supporting Prop. 66, and doing everything we can – no matter how small – to educate others about it. If Prop. 66 fails, and California scraps the death penalty, the kind of brutal criminals who ambushed and slaughtered five police officers in Dallas Thursday night would only face life in prison if they committed those crimes here.”

Death Penalty

Competing death penalty initiatives could spur confusion

Prop. 66 will preserve and reform the death penalty system 

 

By Michele Hanisee, Association of Deputy District Attorneys,  7/19/16

 

This November, California voters will be presented with two of the most important ballot initiatives in state history.

One – Proposition 66 – would preserve the death penalty for the most heinous criminals by enacting critically needed reforms to the system.

The other – Proposition 62 – would scrap the death penalty, allowing criminals who kill cops or rape and murder children to live out their lives in the relative comfort of prison.

I cannot overstate the importance of supporting Prop. 66, and doing everything we can – no matter how small – to educate others about it. If Prop. 66 fails, and California scraps the death penalty, the kind of brutal criminals who ambushed and slaughtered five police officers in Dallas Thursday night would only face life in prison if they committed those crimes here.

To be sure, the problems with California’s current death penalty system are by no means new, and they have literally transformed a death sentence into life without parole. Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the state has executed only 13 inmates. A quarter of the 700-plus inmates on California’s death row have been there for more than 25 years. The average death-row inmate has spent 16 years with a death sentence.

One of the primary problems is the endless inmate appeal process of their death sentences. Prop. 66 would fix this problem, and many more.

Among other things, it would require that a defendant who is sentenced to death be appointed a lawyer at the time of sentence, meaning the defendant’s appeal will be heard sooner. It would also allow the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to reduce the cost of housing death-row inmates, and make it easier for the department to enact an execution protocol.

As we said in earlier posts, failure to pass this initiative is not an option; not only would Prop. 62 eliminate the death penalty going forward, but it would apply retroactively to people already sentenced to death.

You can sign up for campaign email updates, and volunteer for and donate to the campaign, by visiting the Californians for Death Penalty Reform and Savings website and clicking on the links on the right side of the home page.

 

Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys. The Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA) is the collective bargaining agent and represents nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. To contact a Board Member, click here.

Black Lives Matter — 3 Things We’ve Learned; and 1 Thing We Still Don’t Know

0811-riotThe Black Lives Matter movement has raged for nearly two years. In its better moments, it has provoked soul-searching by sincere Americans who want to understand each other, and who want the law to be enforced fairly as well as effectively.

In its worst moments — such as the one we are enduring now — Black Lives Matter has inspired violence, terrorized police, driven up crime and divided Americans.

Overall, the experience has produced three basic lessons — and raised one lingering question.

1. Lesson 1: Race does not actually matter in police shootings. A black Harvard economics professor has published a new study that reveals that there is no evidence of racial bias when police use deadly force. “On the most extreme use of force – officer-involved shootings — we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account,” the study concludes.

The study also reports that blacks and Hispanics are 50% more likely to experience somekind of force in their interactions with police (see below). But the claim that the police are killing black people has no basis in fact.

There is anecdotal evidence to support the Harvard study’s hard numbers. Fresno police recently shot and killed an unarmed white teenager, Dylan Noble. The police “body cam” videos of the shooting are painful to watch. It is not clear that they had to use deadly force against him. But it is also likely that they had some reason to, after he appeared to be holding a long object in one of his hands; seemed to reach behind his back, or to his waist; and walked towards officers who already had their guns drawn.

The common denominator in most of these sad events is not race, but often the unpredictable behavior of the victims.

2. Lesson 2: Racism is still a part of black Americans’ everyday experience. Though there is no racial bias in shootings, minorities do experience different treatment by police.

On Wednesday, Sen. Tim Scott (R-NC), a Tea Party conservative and the first black Senator from the South since Reconstruction, gave eloquent voice to that sentiment, describing how he had once been stopped by Capitol police. They did not believe the black man standing at the entrance to the building was a U.S. Senator.

“[T]he officer looked at me, a little attitude and said, ‘The pin, I know. You, I don’t. Show me your ID’,” he recalled.

That is not to say that black people are the only people who experience racism. Nor does it mean that America’s institutions are fundamentally corrupt. The idea of “systemic racism,” which has become a Hillary Clinton talking point, is an absurd contrivance that presumes all white people to be guilty, and is used to bully people — including liberals — into conformity with the radical left.

But as even former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani noted, as he called Black Lives Matter “inherently racist,” the perception of racism creates its own reality. And there is a basis for that perception, as the Harvard study notes.

3. Lesson 3: Police, like most people, want to do the right thing. One of the striking, but overlooked, common features of the Alton Sterling shooting in Baton Rouge, the Philando Castile shooting in Minnesota, and the Dylan Noble shooting in Fresno is that the police showed a genuine concern for the people they had shot, once the confrontations were over.

Police called paramedics right away, for example, after Sterling had been shot. And in the body cam video of the Noble shooting, one officer is heard literally pleading with the young man to raise his hands so he would not have to shoot again.

There are rare exceptions, of course. In the Tamir Rice shooting in 2014, where a police officer shot and killed a boy in a park armed with a toy gun, officers struggled to provide first aid.

There are some bad cops, and terrible mistakes by good cops. But police want to solve the problem — without placing public safety at risk.

The point is there is room for debate about how to improve police tactics, and rebuild trust. Airbnb founder Joe Gebbia recently noted that strangers who normally might not trust each other change their minds with just a little more information. As Giuliani sad, we “have to try to understand each other.”

Question: Do black people realize that white people have the same problems? It can be humiliating to be “profiled,” but police make snap judgments about people all the time. In some situations, they have to do so. And sometimes, the decisions are unjust and unfair.

But it is not a uniquely black experience. Breitbart News’ Lee Stranahan was arrested last weekend while covering Black Lives Matter protests, and wrote: “I did nothing to break the law. I was not obstructing traffic … the police came directly at me. I do not know why I was targeted.” Once arrested, he made an effort to be cooperative, and observed that despite being one of the only white detainees, he was treated equally, “no better or worse than any other polite prisoner.”

There has been so much rhetoric lately about “systemic racism,” after years of Occupy-inspired agitprop about inequality, that black people could be forgiven for ascribing the ordinary mishaps and challenges of life, wrongly, to racism.

Do enough black people know that most white people — even among the “wealthy” — struggle to pay the bills, wrestle with addiction, and have run-ins with the cops?

We have let our leaders politicize the everyday. We should try talking to each other, without them.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, will be published by Regnery on July 25 and is available for pre-order through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

This piece was originally published by Breitbart California