If You Want to Fix Policing, Listen to the Pragmatists
Nobody likes pragmatists. To the revolutionary, the pragmatist sounds too much like an apologist for the status quo. To those who fear rule by the angry mob, the pragmatist has granted the mob’s premise and is simply bargaining about the timeline.
When absolutely everyone else is screaming, it can be hard to hear the calm, slightly nasal voice of the pragmatist explaining the procedures by which a cause might be realistically advanced. But in the cacophonous summer of 2020, with protesters in the street and a pandemic raging, it looked for a moment like practical policing reform might actually make some headway. Wonky pragmatists from across the spectrum seemed to converge on both the need for and general outlines of reform. National Review published a piece called “Reform Police Training—Why It’s a Conservative Cause.” Mother Jones asked: “‘Qualified Immunity’ Gives Abusive Cops a Free Pass. Will the Supreme Court End It?” The Washington Post reported “Top CEOs Endorse Calls for Police Reform, Another Sign of Momentum on the Issue.” Bills popped up in the House, the Senate, and state legislatures, and governors and mayors announced their intention to make changes.
In that moment of optimism, Reason asked writers who have been on the criminal justice beat for years to lay out serious proposals for reforms with a fighting chance of being implemented in the coming months or years. The result is a robust list that includes calls to abolish qualified immunity (page 18), bust the police unions (page 22), better regulate the use of police force (page 25), rethink crisis response (page 28), end the drug war (page 32), release body cam footage (page 35), stop overpolicing (page 37), and restrict asset forfeiture (page 40). Each article begins with a quote from Reason‘s archives, some from issues dating all the way back to the 1960s. Reason has been carrying this torch for a long time, in preparation for the moment when mainstream political culture and elected officials were ready to hear us out.
This summer, it looked like that moment had come. According to a Cato/YouGov poll conducted in July, 63 percent of Americans favor eliminating qualified immunity for police officers, which would make it easier to hold cops accountable for misbehav
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