The deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, and the subsequent protests around their cases have illuminated the fractured relationship between communities of color and law enforcement, and have triggered a national discussion about the current state of policing in America.
In advance of the release of the Justice Department’s report on the Ferguson Police Department, Brookings’s Governance Studies program convened a panel of experts to help answer the question, what can we do to improve the relationship between minorities and the police? Here’s what they had to say:
1. Limit arrests by addressing our bloated criminal code
Naomi Murakawa, an Associate Professor at the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University, suggests looking beyond recent White House proposals and “polite policing.” Instead, she proposes focusing on reforms that don’t just address how police are arresting, but rather how much they’re actually arresting—which she believe will help prevent violent incidents:
“About 80% of state court case loads are filled with non-traffic misdemeanor cases… we have a bloated criminal code that we then put on police’s doorstep and ask them to enforce all of it. There’s nothing in taskforce commission that says limit the number of arrests, or stop arresting for misdemeanor offenses.”
2. Hire fewer police
“It’s a question we never really ask: How many police do we really need? We only ask how many police we can afford,” added Jeffery Fagan, a Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. His solution to problems with policing in America? Hire fewer cops:
“My proposal would simply be to really re-think the police in terms of a smaller number of very highly paid professional and seriously well-trained and regulated police officers. Some people who are very different than the past obsession with drugs and guns and gangs. We license barbers, and we should be licensing police.”
3. Change perspectives on both sides of the issue
Beyond new proposals, D.C. Police Union Chairman Delroy Burton insists that when it comes to addressing race and policing issues in America, perspective is key. As he put it:
“[The police] need to change the way we view people, our tactics, the way we evolve…But the community also needs to change, particularly my community, the black community’s view of the police.
If we don’t get that from each other, we’re going to be here again…when the next situation happens. So I think that the key to moving forward is that we need to see each other, we need to understand each other, we need to carefully view the other person’s perspective and don’t dismiss it like I’ve seen people do on both sides of this issue.”
Watch the full event video here.