Don’t Just Hire ‘Better Cops.’ Punish the Bad Ones.
“I don’t know that there’s any law that can stop that evil that we saw,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R–Ohio) on NBC’s Meet the Press, shortly after video was released of five Memphis police officers brutally beating Tyre Nichols during a traffic stop.
Jordan took a lot of abuse for his remark, which was generally interpreted as boobish and nihilistic. But while Jordan has said many boobish things over many years, he is very nearly correct about this one. Congressmen know better than most that the mere act of passing a law guarantees nothing, and that making something illegal is not the same thing as eliminating it.
Three years after the death of George Floyd—and two years after the death of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed the House in 2021 but stalled in the Senate—many of the same policing reform proposals are still being endlessly debated. Some states and cities implemented new use-of-force guidelines with similar language, along with other piecemeal reforms. The results are mixed. Even if the federal bill’s ban on chokeholds had been passed and universally honored, for example, it wouldn’t have saved Nichols, who died three days after being subject to nearly every assault imaginable other than choking. Memphis is in the middle of several other reforms, including efforts to diversify its police force. But all the officers charged in Nichols’ beating were black.
Defunding the police—the rallying cry of the angry summer of 2020—proved an unpopular idea. Most people don’t want to abolish the police; they just wish they could trust officers in their neighborhoods to do the right thing when they are needed.
Congressional micromanagement of the rules of engagement between cops and citizens isn’t the only way forward, and it’s probably not the best one. Instead of focusing primarily on prevention, the best way to prevent future abuses may counterintuitively be to consistently and publicly punish law enforcement officers who have stepped over the line after the fact.
There is a technocratic temptation to think that the problem of police brutality can be solved by making or attracting better cops. Proposals range from requiring a college education for police officers to simply increasing the
Article from Reason.com