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Bankole: Coronavirus pandemic provides roadmap for police reforms

Bankole Thompson

A sense of urgency like we’ve never seen before gripped the nation at the start of the deadly coronavirus pandemic. Congress mailed checks directly to victims of the pandemic who lost wages and jobs, a move that was once considered unrealistic and politically risky.

Governors and mayors of the earlier affected states and cities moved with all deliberate speed to put a stop to evictions and took other humane measures to protect individuals and families who were most vulnerable during the initial spread of the pandemic.

As the national conversation quickly focused on the well-being of those who are at the lowest rung of the economic ladder, a familiar theme emerged: Blacks in urban settings were dying at disproportionately high rates. 

The response to COVID-19 and the heightened attention on its disproportionate impact on African Americans shows what can happen in politics when we apply determination and concentrated effort in stemming the tide of any crisis.

Legislators should move to reform police departments with the same speed they dealt with the pandemic, Bankole writes.

We should use the same focus and commitment to stamp out police brutality once and for all.

Black people are sick of living in fear, dreading encounters with white officers, even for simple traffic stops. 

Just as the coronavirus pandemic exposed the deep structural inequities in our health care system, police brutality is a deadly pandemic that has also exposed the racial bias in our criminal justice system.

The virus of racial injustice that the nationwide protests are seeking  to spotlight is about public safety and saving the lives of black people who pay white offers to protect them. 

Their tax dollars have been funding police departments that have been reluctant to bend the curve on police violence, and as a result what we are seeing now is pent-up anger that has been simmering for a long time. The protests in the streets have been persistent because nothing consequential has been done to stem the tide against racist and repressive policing tactics. 

But just as political leaders from across the spectrum came together to tackle COVID-19 in a bipartisan fashion, they can do the same with police misconduct and offer serious reforms that will put an end to the human rights abuses. Black people should not have to quarantine themselves at home all day for fear of getting brutalized or killed by trigger-happy cops. 

Inequality remains the cornerstone of the link between the coronavirus and police brutality, and black victims have yet to see any kind of serious government intervention to retool how police forces function. There’s been a lot of happy talk but no real action to affirm that black lives do matter.  

Some have floated the idea of creating a registry for bad cops. That’s a good start. But I also think police officers should be required to have professional liability insurance so taxpayers are not on the hook and officers are held personally accountable. If a particular bad cop has seven settlements against him or her for excessive force, that individual will find it extremely difficult to purchase insurance because the risk rate would be too high. That officer would have no choice but to leave the force.  

Detroit is notorious for paying millions of dollars to settle claims against its police department. For example, from 2015-18, the city paid out $19.1 million to settle claims of police misconduct. That is outrageous, and that money could be used for more beneficial city services.

No more excuses for policing reforms. We should not have to wait until the graves are full with victims of police violence before we push for effective reforms that will allow us to breathe.

bankole@bankolethompson.com

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which broadcasts at 11 a.m. weekdays on 910AM.