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To End Police Brutality End Trump’s Presidency 1

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74% of Americans believe the death of George Floyd is a sign of a broader problem.  Americans have become more aware of the harsh and unfair treatment of  people of color at the hands of the police.  The indefensible murder of George Floyd was a flash point that exposed police brutality in the most clear and shocking way.  White Americans now understand that police are more likely to use harsh tactics with black people and that Ferguson and the death of Eric Garner were not isolated incidents.

This growing condemnation of harsh policing, especially when it comes to black Americans, is partly the result of more people of all backgrounds and skin colors collaborating with each other at work, in casual social situations, in the military, in colleges and universities. We also have a celebrity culture that reveres athletes, actors, and actresses of all backgrounds and skin color. It matters that we had a black president who ran the country extremely well, especially in contrast to the abysmal job Donald Trump is doing. Our global world has brought us closer together, interacting with multicultural colleagues with a wide variety of skin tones. And, equally important, cell phone video content taken at the time of any incident supplies evidence to the world at large making it impossible to cover up or hide what really happened as was frequently done in the past.

Anyone who has had multicultural interactions and experiences in life understands that skin color is just that- skin color. It should have nothing whatsoever to do with how you are treated as a human being. But in this country for far too long, it has been dangerous to be black while driving, black while jogging, black while bird watching, black when encountering police in any context.  This baked in prejudice has been our shameful legacy for 400 years.  It was totally unacceptable before but now we are at a tipping point. The difference is that white Americans and Americans of all ages have joined Americans of color across this country to rise up and get into the streets for peaceful protests against police brutality. This weekend protests are going on even in small cities across America. When our friends and family are treated unfairly by people in authority, it’s personal, no longer abstract.

Our Broken Policing System

As a prosecutor in state court in Philadelphia in the 1970’s and in Chicago in the 1980’s I witnessed a broken judicial system that had an authoritarian mindset.

As a former social worker turned prosecutor (an unusual background for a prosecutor) I had a different sensibility compared to many other prosecutors.  I had come from a world of social service workers who cared about nurturing, supporting, being empathetic and helping many of the very same people that the criminal justice system vilified, put down and disrespected.

I quickly learned that many policemen I prepped as witnesses for preliminary hearings and trials had become very cynical and cruel over the years after seeing so much on the streets that they told me had damaged their faith in human beings. Many of the police I worked with had become tough and mean. Some of them came to the job of policing with a chip on their shoulders, probably from being mistreated themselves by abusive parents.

All too often police were certain that a defendant of color should be punished even they were not sure they had arrested the right offender. I would hear rationalizations from the police: “Look, even if this mope didn’t do it this time, he probably did a lot of bad stuff before.”  Extensive rap sheets for petty crimes added to that belief that this person deserved to be punished whether or not he committed THIS crime.

It was obvious the system was broken.  Many defense attorneys had developed cozy relationships with the judges they appeared before. At first, I was shocked that state court judges would hand out lighter sentences based on whether a private defense attorney represented the defendant. Time and again private counsel (as opposed to public defenders) were able to get their clients lighter sentences or probation given the same evidence. It had to be clear to anyone working in the system that it was rigged to keep already disadvantaged defendants at a greater disadvantage in life.

It was demoralizing to be part of a system that was so clearly unfair and had so few alternatives to prison as a solution.  Almost everyone participating in the justice system was damaged by it from the victims of the crime (usually other members of the community where the defendant lived), to the defendants, to the police, the courtroom personnel, to the irritable, ornery judges. Everyone was caught up in a hopeless, dysfunctional morass that was into demeaning, further damaging and punishing people instead of helping them to change their lives for the better, treating them with fairness and investing in their potential for a future that would be far better not only for the defendant but for the community at large.  I thought then and still think that the police should be trained as social workers. Our authoritarian approach to policing promotes brutality.  Trump has an authoritarian mindset. As long as he is in power, authoritarian policing will continue.


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