Unfortunately, I don’t think better training alone will reduce police brutality. My fellow officers and I took plenty of classes on racial sensitivity and on limiting the use of force.
The problem is that cops aren’t held accountable for their actions, and they know it. These officers violate rights with impunity. They know there’s a different criminal justice system for civilians and police.
Even when officers get caught, they know they’ll be investigated by their friends, and put on paid leave. My colleagues would laughingly refer to this as a free vacation.
Redditt Hudson, a former police officer with the St. Louis Police Department, confirmed what we already know. It is just rare for a police officer to admit it. Unfortunately his suggestions – a “special prosecutor” for police officers, “independent oversight” – fall short of real solutions. We can’t arrive at a full solution if we do not grasp the full extent of the problem.
The fundamental problem is inherent to the very concept of policing itself: the authority of one group to use violence upon groups excluded from the use of violence. A monopoly on violence, in other words. As long as a group of persons is given significant power over others they will abuse it. It is inevitable; history has confirmed it again and again. As the saying goes, if you give a man a hammer every problem seems like a nail.
A special prosecutor will not resolve the issue, nor will any independent body. Instead, this will simply create additional privileged groups. The special prosecutor will attain a position of power and authority over others, as will the independent body in whatever form it takes. From that position we can expect collusion and abuse within the capacity provided by the office.
Don’t forget that we already live in countries (if you’re not living in a dictatorship, if you’re living in a Western nation) with separations of powers, with multiple “checks and balances.” Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom all have three branches of the state designed to check one another. In practice it does not work. Instead of opposition, instead of balance, we see collusion and cronyism between the three branches. Politicians move between the legislative and executive; they appoint their minions into the judicial.
The criminal justice system also exhibits more collusion than opposition, despite attempts at “checks and balances” via its adversarial structure. Prosecutors maintain close relationships with “impartial” judges, defense attorneys maintain close relationships with prosecutors, including engaging in intra-deal bargains, where one client is sacrificed for the sake of a different case, prosecutors and defense manipulate voir dire to select the most biased, least impartial jurors.
In every system, from the highest levels of government to the smallest road violation, we see individuals in positions of power abusing those divested of power. Power corrupts, as it goes, and the nature of power imbalances breeds abuse. “There’s only one fix,” to echo Hudson, but it isn’t increasing hierarchy. It’s the abolition of the social machinery of power, that which always produces abuse as a byproduct.