This shit is a big controversial mess. I just don’t see why we cling to this stupid idea of armed police. Police should not be armed. Putting weapons in the hands of untrustworthy people just causes more gun violence, not less.
And no, you can’t make them more trustworthy, especially in a big city. It hasn’t been done yet since local police were formed originally to catch escaped slaves. It has never been done. I believe that if you can’t be a good police without a gun, then you need to go home.
The Riders case illustrates both the extent of police abuse and the failures of elected and appointed city officials to comply with court-ordered reforms of the OPD. In January 2003, Oakland agreed to settle a lawsuit (Allen, et al. v. City of Oakland) which was based on allegations that a group of officers in West Oakland (the “Riders”) had engaged in a campaign to harass, beat, falsely accuse, plant drugs on, and rob African Americans they portrayed as drug dealers. (A similar case involving Oakland Housing Authority police arose in the early 1990s.) The Negotiated Settlement Agreement in the Allen case required the City to reform its policies and to demonstrate compliance with its new policies to protect residents from police abuse. The 51 specific requirements were to be accomplished in no longer than seven years under monitors chosen by the city but reporting to the United States District Court.
The federal court should take control of the OPD.
In perhaps the most stunning demonstration of contempt for the court’s proceedings and the welfare of Oakland’s residents, in June 2012 the City Council voted 5-3 to voluntarily pay $40,000 in punitive damages awarded against Officer Ingo Mayer for violating the civil rights of two men he pulled over for an alleged traffic violation and then forced to pull down their pants in front of a crowd of people on Martin Luther King Boulevard. The federal court’s judgment in that case had already cost Oakland over $1.0 million, plus its own legal costs. But as the Council signaled, “Do what you want boys. We have your back.”
Can the police be reformed?
The question we face is whether police departments can be reformed. Many believe that they cannot. Their role as agents of social control under the existing order is fixed and permanent. That perspective may be correct.
But just as models for running successful public schools in the nation’s big cities exist but are not implemented for political reasons, it seems at least possible to develop a model for community safety that fulfills people’s legitimate need for safe and secure neighborhoods without the endemic police abuse that exists under the present system. In other words, under the existing system of power relationships in U.S. society, can we invent a new system to protect public safety that does not perpetuate ongoing violations of people’s rights?
We do not pretend to have the answers to these issues. Whether we have a chance of success depends in large part on our ability to build a mass movement that unites the Black and Brown communities, working people, and progressive activists.
To begin, I would like to pose some questions and promote a dialogue to answer them:
1. What sort of organization should be developed to secure public safety in urban communities like Oakland?
2. Who should be employed and entrusted to perform public safety functions?
3. How should public safety workers be trained?
4. How should they be armed?
5. What strategies should be employed to promote public safety?
6. How should we deal with people who harm their neighbors and resist efforts to convince them to act safely and peacefully?