During the past several months, the Black Lives Matter movement has brought significant attention to the fact that the lives of minorities are being systematically and intentionally targeted for demise by law enforcement officers on a regular basis. While the primary focus of the movement has been the violent and all-too-often lethal force used by law enforcement officers against minorities, the fact is that the need for reform in the American law enforcement community goes well beyond the extreme examples so often highlighted by the movement.
Restoring the trust that the American public has in the law enforcement community and the criminal justice system is critically important.
Minimizing the Use of Lethal Force by the Law Enforcement Officers
American law enforcement officers have been responsible for the killing of more than 900 people in the United States during 2015, to date. To compare, fewer than half as many American civilians have been killed by terrorists during the entire past decade, combined. Even if one were to begin the casualty count from the start of the millennium, thereby including the 2,996 lives lost on 9/11/2001, police have been responsible for killing roughly four times as many people on American soil than terrorists have.
While arguments can be made that the use of deadly force may have been appropriate in some (if not many) of these lethal actions taken by law enforcement officers, the fact remains that other first world nations don’t have this problem. To compare, in the United Kingdom, it is reported that law enforcement officers have killed no more than 3 persons in 2015, to date.
In light of these facts, it has become clear that significant reforms are needed to curtail the use of extreme force the American law enforcement community. Those police officers that are bad apples need to be weeded out, in the interest of the integrity of the entire law enforcement community, and simultaneously, the American law enforcement community as a whole needs to adopt significant reforms to their protocols about when the use of lethal force can be used.
Gun-Regulations That Make Sense
The reason that lethal conflicts between civilians and police are so commonplace in America, compared to other developed nations, has in large part to do with the prevalence of guns in America, coupled with the lack of common-sense gun regulations. Since our nation’s founding, the Second Amendment has guaranteed American citizens the right to bear arms. The Second Amendment reads as follows:
“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
For a break-down of how the courts have interpreted the scope of the Second Amendment in recent years, click here.
Unfortunately, as the courts have stripped away the ability of the federal and state governments to regulate the purchase or ownership of guns, more and more guns have found their way into the hands of criminals and the mentally disturbed. The tragic consequence of this is that police officers are faced with lethal threats on far too-frequent a basis, and have been trained to respond with lethal force when such situations unfold.
While other developed nations have found that sensible and strict gun regulations can dramatically reduce the number of mass shootings and lethal interactions between citizens and police, the gun manufacturing lobby has effectively blocked the passage of most sensible gun regulations, claiming that almost any regulation designed to restrict gun purchases and gun ownership would only apply to law-abiding citizens, and wouldn’t effect criminals. Consequently, lethal exchanges between civilians and police officers continue to take place on a daily basis.
Ending the War on Drugs
While curtailing the unnecessary use of lethal force by law enforcement officers is critically important to restoring the integrity of the law enforcement community, the fact is that the concerns of the Black Lives Matter movement is only part of the problem. During the past several decades, the collection of policies that have been enacted in connection with the “War on Drugs” have destroyed the trust and respect that the American public have for police, law enforcement, and the criminal justice system as a whole.
Although the “War on Drugs” was begun under President Nixon with the good intention of reducing both drug use and drug abuse, after four decades its become clear that the laws have failed to achieve their intended purpose. The reason for this is that “addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors.”
In other words, the reason that the draconian laws implemented by President Nixon’s “War on Drugs” have failed to achieve any of their intended goals is that such laws treat drug addiction as a choice, rather than a disease and mental health disorder. By recognizing addiction as a mental health disorder and changing our societal approach to drugs from “criminalization” to “treatment and recovery,” we can restore the honest and open relationship that should exist between citizens and law enforcement, and in doing so allow police officers to focus on more important matters such as violent crimes and property theft.