Make the police, justice system less racist

There is so much to say. Too much for this column. But there is no time to waste.

I’ve been writing columns for a long time. Usually, I try not to write something that others have written. Today, I realize that in some situations, that’s not the right attitude. Some points have to be made over and over again, because America is hardheaded. 

Although most Americans are not racists, we have a racist country. We have to change or — pay attention — we will not have a country, or at least not a country worth living in.

About one in six Americans wake up every morning wondering whether they will be killed that day. In Louisville, it’s more like one in four. How can any of us feel comfortable in a community where that is a fact of life? This week we have maybe found out that we can’t, or at least we don’t like it. 

My job is a frustrating but rewarding one. The only tools I have are my voice, my vote and my time. I don’t run a police force, and I don’t want to, but you don’t have to be in my position to know there is a lot wrong with our police forces. They aren’t always honest. They’re not always fair. They don’t always administer justice equally. When they fail, it is almost always Black people who pay the price. 

Breonna Taylor paid with her life. George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and many others paid with theirs. Very few of their killers have been held accountable. 

We all must take responsibility for a system that sacrifices so many of our fellow citizens to injustice, whether it’s simple harassment, disproportionate incarceration, or in George Floyd’s case, cold-blooded murder. We should demand something very different, as the many valiant protesters in Louisville and across the country are doing. 

I’ve always tried to stay in my lane in relation to state and local policies. However, watching and listening to my constituents has convinced me of a few policies that need changing. 

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We need to stop “broken mirror” policing. That means police don’t waste time stopping citizens for minor transgressions such as loitering or having a broken mirror on their car. White people don’t get hassled nearly as much as Black people do, and too many of these encounters turn violent. 

Police shouldn’t stop any car unless it is endangering people. If there is a violation, take down the license plate and send the owner of the car a citation. In Washington, D.C., even speeders are cited by mail. We know that Black people, even community leaders such as the Rev. Kevin Cosby, get stopped only because they are Black. 

I know we have a civilian review board, but we need a full-time review capability — something like an independent inspector general — that can continuously monitor police actions to make sure that policing is random and not targeted. 

There is an organization called Campaign Zero that has put forth an entire agenda of policies to make police forces less racist. Mayor Greg Fischer and the Metro Council should seriously consider them. 

Finally, we as a community and a country must keep the pressure on our entire justice system to level its racial tilt. I have been uplifted by the age and diversity of protesters here and around the country. It’s a positive sign that so many younger citizens, white, Black and brown are in the streets pushing for a more just nation. They should keep the heat on me and every other public official to honor our oaths to protect and defend the lives and liberties of every citizen. 

And that is only a start.

We have a country that has never lived up to the promise that all people are created equal. I have a 10-month-old grandson. If you put him next to a Black child born on the same day and were asked which one you would bet would have a better life, you’d surely bet on my guy. He will never be hungry, or homeless, or inadequately educated. He also will probably never be killed by police. So, as we make sure the Black child is as safe from the police as my grandson, which is today’s crisis, let’s also work on making that bet a more even proposition. More on that to come.

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, founder of LEO, has represented Kentucky’s 3rd Congressional District since 2007 and is now chairman of the House Budget Committee.

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