Sandra Bland, #BernieSoBlack, Police Reform, and My Letter to the Sanders’ Campaign

UPDATE: The Sanders’ Campaign responded and are currently looking into legislation to introduce to Congress in regards to police reform.

While I applaud Mr. Sanders’ response to the #BernieSoBlack backlash, inevitably it will be attacked as clear political pandering. The media and the political establishment in this country can’t fathom the idea of someone like Bernie becoming President. As we’ve seen since the campaign has gained legitimacy, the attacks are coming more frequently and his opponents will not stop until they achieve their desired effect.

Make no bones about it, this will be a hideous election, but fortunately Americans are sick of establishment politics where politicians allow their own greed and narcissism to enable destructive policies and practices.

That said, for Bernie to combat the inevitable attacks regarding the campaign’s response to #BernieSoBlack, he must offer legitimate reforms for law enforcement. It is clear that police culture is depraved and out-of-touch with reality. Even if a cop has never unlawfully arrested or assaulted a person, he is in my eyes complicit if he’s turned a blind eye when a peer has engaged in such behavior.

Two years ago while running a fundraiser for small businesses and local artists, I was beaten unconscious by three New Jersey State Troopers while trying to mediate a dispute in the parking lot. It was a traumatic experience, and one that still bothers me to this day. Not only did the press I receive from it inhibit my ability to find gainful employment, but the legal costs of being innocent and victimized have at the moment been $3,000 with my lawyer asking for another $5,000. Additionally, watching the cops lie and conceal unfavorable evidence showed me how demented our criminal justice system is.

The Trooper, Aaron Coleman, who initiated the conflict, is still employed as a State Trooper. This concerns me greatly for I feel he is a serious threat to public safety. When he became physical, I told him there was no need to be combative and that I was removing the person who was interfering in their investigation. Another trooper acknowledged my intention and gave me permission to bring that person back inside. Trooper Coleman, however, jumped over my back as I was walking the person back to the venue. He then kneed me in the genitals. As I removed myself and attempted to get in front of the cop car to be on camera, he pepper sprayed me. He then, according to a witness, got in front of me as I was blinded and moving towards the cop car. We got tangled up and I fell on top of him. At that moment I put my arms out to my side and began to crawl off of him. I was then slammed into the ground and kicked and punched repeatedly until I was knocked unconscious.

I’m grateful to be alive because I’ve seen how these encounters have gone for others around the country. When unhinged police act with that sense of impunity, people die, and unfortunately it seems that blacks are more likely to be killed by police than whites but we shouldn’t forget Kelly Thomas or others like him. In general, police culture in this society is sick and in need of serious reform.

Nevertheless, after thinking about how we can fix these issues for quite some time, I’ve put together some basic reforms I think are absolutely necessary towards curbing police violence and abuse. You can read them below.

1. Any officer who breaks the law or enforces it unlawfully needs to go to jail. Their punishment should be 2x as harsh as the punishment for a regular citizen. If you take an oath to serve, protect, and uphold the law, then you should be punished more severely for breaking it. This should not only encourage police to have a better understanding of the law but deter them from over-aggressive policing.

2. All settlements from police abuse or misconduct come straight out of that department’s budget. Over time inept or abusive departments will defund themselves. If they bankrupt themselves, the department is shut down. After all, no police department is better than a destructive or dangerous one. Additionally, this will cause the bad cops to be fired at a quicker rate as a result of costing their department money. It will effectively remove the abusive police from the system and serve as a lesson to any of their peers who might find themselves making questionable decisions in the field.

3. All police are to undergo intense psychological evaluations every 6 months. Obviously, their job is complicated and stressful. They deal with mostly negative situations and this can lead to a jaded and adversarial worldview. These evaluations are meant to ensure that overstressed police are given a break from the field in order to recover mentally. They also should attend non-violent conflict resolution training every 6 months, and the book Powerful Peace, written by a Navy SEAL, should be mandatory reading for all LEOs. If a Navy SEAL can go into the worst places in the world and create alliances with people who might have initially hated them, then police can learn to avoid harming people over not putting a cigarette out.

4. If police unlawfully arrest someone, the police department shall be responsible for paying their legal fees once that person is proven innocent in a court of law. As I stated above, it was eye-opening in a truly sickening manner when I learned the cost of innocence and peaceful intentions. Cops are over-protected and cause significant financial and psychological burdens on people because of unlawful actions. Regular citizens, unless rich, do not have the resources necessary to achieve actual justice. Like I said, I was innocent and trying to mediate a situation and I ended up knocked out and in debt. That’s not right, and worse has happened to others in similar situations.

5. Create incentives for police departments who make an effort to improve the community as well as community/police relations. If the above reforms are implemented that will place significant financial strain on departments where one bad apple messes up. To counter the effect of bad cops, these positive policing incentives will give them an opportunity to recover those losses through actions beneficial to their respective communities.

6. We need to reform our laws as well. Cops often use the line, “I’m just doing my job,” to justify their actions. It is a despicable means of justifying behavior that causes years of harm to others, but they’re right in some regard. They have to enforce the laws, and if the laws are predatory or unjust in nature, then the policing will be the same. We must put greater emphasis on enforcing laws that target violent or predatory crime. Victimless/non-violent crimes should be treated with a summons or a ticket rather than an arrest.  Eric Garner would still be alive today if they could’ve just given him a ticket and been on their way.

***The following two ideas are being added thanks to replies to this post.

7. Unless there is clear and direct evidence that a piece of property was used to commit a crime, police officials cannot use Civil Asset Forfeiture to seize and auction the property of a person connected to a crime, whether directly or indirectly. Furthermore, if a person is not convicted of a crime then they should not have their personal property taken from them. It is a truly disturbing practice that has been abused for years. To learn more about Civil Asset Forfeiture click the following link: Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture | CATO Institute

8. All cases of police abuse or misconduct should be investigated by an independent group or organization that has no affiliation to the department in question or police in general. Just Google “police destroy evidence” and you’ll find hundreds if not thousands of cases where police investigators have manipulated or flat-out destroyed evidence. That is simply unacceptable behavior, and if a department is caught engaging in such practices, severe penalties should be imposed.

That’s what I have for now, but I hope you do produce something that offers legitimate ideas about police reform. Sure, a block of nice-sounding text on an image is great, but until the Sanders’ campaign produces legitimate ideas about how to reform police, that will be dissected as nothing more than political pandering, which will undermine the integrity Bernie has spent his whole life cultivating. Like I said, this is going to be an ugly campaign and being proactive is the only way to prevent the establishment clowns from undermining a legitimate effort to get this country on the right track.

All the best,

Joe Dimeck


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