Rethinking the police: no traffic stops, no-knock warrants

Justice for Breonna isn’t enough.

To stop the unjust, unnecessary killings of Black Americans, what is needed is fundamental change in the powers and responsibilities of police, as well as our expectations of them. Simply, state and local police should no longer have the authority to engage civilians.

What does that mean? Just keep the peace.

No more traffic stops. Only in cases when a driver is a threat to themself or others — reckless driving or driving under the influence, for example. Speeding and other minor traffic violations can be enforced electronically.

No more broken taillights, expired tags or “wide” turns. No more “pretextual stops.” No more drug dogs and car searches. No more stop and frisk. No more temporary detainment for perceived suspicious activities.

At most, police should be allowed to cite someone who’s publicly intoxicated and make sure they have a ride home.

Police should be allowed to engage people only when there is imminent danger or an emergency or they are called. For instance, domestic disturbances or violence in the home; break-ins; a fight breaks out; a car is stranded and so on.

And they won’t need to wear a utility belt for their weapons. Guns stay in the station and come out for emergencies, while the Taser, club, flashlight and everything else remains in the car.

Just keep the peace.

In turn, we won’t expect them to execute no-knock warrants. We won’t put them in dangerous, complex situations or ask them to fight an unwinnable drug war. Going after drug dealers, killers and violent criminals will be handled by only a specific unit, trained for — and limited to — those situations. And, when possible, cases go to the FBI, DEA and U.S. Marshals.

That may not be the perfect solution, but here is why is this important:

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Local law enforcement has proven itself incapable of handling more complex situations.
LMPD officers clearly aren’t equipped to handle a drug investigation without killing an innocent Black woman in her own home.
LMPD officers, Kentucky State Police and the National Guard clearly can’t disperse a crowd eating barbecue past curfew in The West End without killing a restaurant owner.
Minneapolis police clearly aren’t capable of questioning an unarmed Black man without two officers holding his body down, while another kneels on his neck and another ensures nobody interferes with the slow, torturous murder.

I heard author, activist and co-host of “Pod Save The People” DeRay Mckesson say this morning that for the last 20 years, according to the FBI, only 5% of arrests in America have been for violent crimes. Meanwhile, police are staffed as though 50% of arrests are for violent crimes. “We don’t need someone with a gun to go intervene in cases when there’s a mental health crisis. We don’t need someone with a gun to be at car accidents. We don’t need someone with a gun to find missing kids. We need to take all those responsibilities, shift those to experts and make sure that the resources shift to those experts, too … We have to shrink the role of the policing apparatus wholly.”

Police would still patrol neighborhoods, but since they wouldn’t be out to find trouble, residents would know that they aren’t being targeted. To the contrary, the police would be there only to help in times of need.

Perhaps, after they’ve regained the community’s trust, exceptions can be made for those police who just feel like helping out. What a novel idea — a public force out to help people in need! 

And, if there is a protest going on, the police can protect the protesters. This may sound crazy to the many craven, militarized police forces around the country, but look elsewhere. 

Look at the Lexington police who kneeled before hundreds of protesters. 

Look at the Flint, Michigan sheriff who removed his helmet, said, “I want to make this a parade, not a protest,” and marched with protesters. And look at the multitude of other police kneeling, praying and embracing protesters around the nation.

These heartwarming scenes are proof that police can be a positive influence in their communities. Unfortunately, history has also proven that there aren’t enough of those heroes to stop the injustice. 

Too many police will abuse their power and authority to terrorize and tear apart Black communities. Changing policies and protocols won’t lead to change on the streets. Even being caught on camera won’t stop cops from killing innocent, unarmed Black people.

They don’t deserve the power we’ve allowed them to usurp. We have to take away the guns, the badges and their position of power. All they have to do is just keep the peace.

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