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There those radical leftists go again, making a case for police reform.
Oh wait, this time it was conservative televangelist and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson.
“You know, I am pro-police, folks. I think we need the police, we need their service, and they do a good job, but if they don’t stop this onslaught, they cannot do this,” Robertson said last week on his TV talk show in response to now-former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter shooting and killing 20-year-old Daunte Wright, with Potter reportedly mistaking her gun for her Taser.
Robertson called it “crazy” for someone not to be able to tell the difference between a gun and Taser. He emphasized his support for police generally, and also called for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer currently on trial for the death of George Floyd, to face harsh consequences.
“It’s just terrible what’s happening,” Robertson said. “And the police, why don’t they open their eyes to what the public relations are? They’ve got to stop this stuff.”
Too often, the police reform debate is framed in “sides” and mired in generalizations and false equivalences: you’re either pro-police or anti-police, some police officers are racist so all police officers are racist, some protesters become violent so the entire racial justice movement is violent, police also kill unarmed White people so what’s the big deal about police killing unarmed Black people, and so on.
We’ve noticed a particularly twisted type of arithmetic, where people try to compare the number of police officers killed in the line of duty to those killed by police officers as if it’s some sort of zero-sum game where a death on one side of the matrix justifies or outweighs a death on the other. Or where people try to use the research showing that a majority of the roughly 1,000 people shot to death by police each year in the U.S. are White in an attempt to invalidate the co-occurring finding that Black people are roughly twice as likely to be killed by police.
As Northeastern University professor Matt Miller said last year, the reason that more White people are killed by police than Black people is “only because there are so many more white people than there are Black people in our country.”
We hope everyone can recognize the clear racial disparity here, and we hope that everyone wants to understand the causes and work toward reducing the number of people of all races killed by police.
“If you think it’s a problem that police are shooting and killing people — whether they are White or Black — then you want to understand why it is happening, because that is the first step in trying to prevent it,” said Miller, who researches injury and violence prevention.
America needs to reform policing in this country, and Americans also need to reform how they approach this debate. When it comes to preventing needless deaths and requiring law enforcement officers to be better, all while recognizing the dangers inherent in their profession, we’re not convinced there should be any sides at all.
If we have to pick a side, we’re on the side of people not getting shot, whether they’re Black or White, police officers or members of the general public. And we’re on the side that recognizes the ways that disparities in policing continue to impact Americans of color. This should be a universally popular starting point in the policy debate around police reform; it shouldn’t even be a side.
Now, reasonable people can have different ideas about where to go from there. But the need for legislative action is as clear as the pain in minority communities that continue to bear a disproportionate brunt of police violence and attention in interactions like traffic stops.
Election year politics consumed last year’s debate about police reform in Congress. That does not have to happen again. It must not happen again.
Rep. Karen Bass, a Democrat from California who is the lead sponsor on the police reform bill that has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives, offered a hopeful perspective on informal bipartisan negotiations that include Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey. The goal is to reach agreement on something that can pass in the narrowly-divided Senate as well. She cited the need to ban chokeholds, ban no-knock warrants and to create a registry of problem officers.
“I am hopeful, because the group of people where we have been having just informal discussions are very sincere, and it’s a bipartisan group,” Bass recently told CNN. “And I believe that we want to make something happen.”
We hope lawmakers and the general public can think about racial justice and policing less in terms of opposing sides, and think more about being on the side of equality, the side of compassion, the side of data-driven policy making, and the side of responsive and trustworthy public safety. As Pat Robertson’s surprising comments spoke to last week, these don’t have to be opposing sides.