WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE?
(IF YOU HAD CRIMINAL & CIVIL JUSTICE)
MODEL LEGISLATIVE AND POLICY REFORMS THAT ARE NEEDED FOR MORE POLICE & PROSECUTORIAL ACCOUNTABILITY.
Michael omo'Oshoosi, Ph.D., J.D.
Registered © Michael Oshoosi, 2015
(Michael F. Wright Ph.D., J.D., 2015)
All Rights Reserved
The aim of this working paper or “brief” is to (1) Identify and enumerate the issues of police account- ability of current concern, (2) to write Model Codes and administrative language that reform current practices and standards, (3) to popularize the issues in pamphlets and teach-ins for dissemination and (4) for the presentation to legislative, judicial, and administrative officials the arguments needed to support radical reform in municipal police operations. These proposals for an Omnibus Bill on Police Accountability are respectfully submitted. These reforms are relevant to all states.
This treatise is in the nature of an advocacy project. It by no means purports to be non-partisan nor "balanced." I am writing today to advocate for the aggrieved; for the victims of police excesses. It is for another paper and another time to explicate issues from the point-of-view of the average peace
officer. There may be, one day, some merit in doing some of that; for society, as the cliche goes, is 'going to hell in a hand-basket'--engendering system-generated social belligerance at high levels
(and this is escalating even without the tender mercies of the police being added to it all). But not now. As for now, there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that the police forces in this country are
not only militarized, but they are infected by right-wing white supremacist gangs. Further, I thnk, that
they are known, tolerated, abetted and defended by various police unions and fraternal organizations
The current wave of police abuse, relative to American history, is so arbitrary and egregious--and por- tends levels of lethality not seen here since the 19th century--that serious counter-measures to "level the playing field," between the police, on the one hand, and the populace, on the other--is quite in
order. Hence, this treatise is a critique of how and for whom they function and not, per se, on what they (the police) are--for better or for worse--in any society .
Local Modeling of National Police Practices Reform Proposals Need Support
Congressman Hank Johnson’s (African-American Dem., Georgia) three bills in Congress.
--“Police Accountability Act,” HR-5831, 113th Congress, 2012-2014
--“Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act,” HR-5478, 113th Congress,
--“Grand Jury Reform Act,” HR-5830, 113th Congress, 2012-2014
Proposed Police Accountability Reforms or Enactments in the Areas of Criminal Law.
Criminal law jurisprudence mainly involves four areas of law: Criminal law, Constitutional law, Criminal Procedure, and the law of Evidence. In addition to local municipal rules and guidelines for police oper- ations (“Policies and Procedures”) these are the areas—among others—in which legal reform is need- ed.
--Grand jury transparency in police misconduct cases should include immed-
iate release of transcripts (with names of jurors redacted). Better yet, enact-
ments of a law that eliminates the use of local district attorneys in Grand Jur-
ies in police excessive use of force cases, in favor of special prosecutors who will
better protect the public. California Rules of Criminal Procedure and California
Penal Code (and California Penal Code, Title IV, Chaps 1-4 and Local Rules of
Court) must be revised accordingly.
--Mandatory special prosecutors starting with or without Grand Jury case
presentations is required.
California law allows them to come from the private bar upon appointment
by the state’s attorney general, and upon the convening of a state-wide
grand jury, by the request of the Court or the county grand jury (with or with-
out the concurrence of a local district attorney); see Cal. Penal Code §§ 914-
924. His or her mandates are to represent the People in investigations of pos-
sible crimes and to present evidence in the pursuit of 'true bill' indictments;
including in police misconduct cases.
The burden of proof shall be on the moving party to show “probable cause”
to indict (more than a reasoned suspicion but not necessarily by a preponder-
ance” of the evidence) in order to return a “true bill” of indictment. Calif-
ornia Rules of Criminal Procedure (Penal Code) enactment is needed to req-
uire this in police misconduct cases.
[Note: an advantage of grand jury use is that testimony of witnesses can be
compelled under oath].
--Evidence Code clarifications are needed that require there be no legal
presumptions of police officer credibility that are higher than other types
of witnesses. The standard must use a “reasonable person” criterion, not
a “reasonable police officer” standard. This is the current law in some re-
pects, but courts have departed from it. Hence, this needs to be spelt out in
the California Evidence Code and in California Jury Instructions (Penal Code).
California Evidence Code and California Penal Code revisions are needed.
--Revision to the law of homicide. Police officers must not use lethal
force in apprehending a possible criminal in any instance where the crime
being stopped or intervened in would not, otherwise, expose the alleged
criminal, if convicted, to a death penalty sentence. The only exception
would be in cases where the officers reasonably perceived and believed
that their lives, or the lives of other persons, were in immediate danger
of extinction. (This would be similar to laws in many cities that now ban
high speed chases in urban areas, regardless of how motivated the police
are to apprehend a suspect). California Penal Code revision to the defen-
se of “justification” is needed.
--Revisions to the laws of assault (on a police officer) and resisting arrest.
Plain clothes officers' limited protections.
While an assault or battery on the person of anyone shall remain unlawful,
there may lie no penal enhancements in sentencing, nor material proferrings
in establishing the proof of facts of any other crime (including "resisting arrest") where, because the police officer was unannounced, as such, and in
plain cloths at the time of the incident, no reasonable person under the cir-
cumstances would have known that said person was a police officer. The right
to fair notice of prohibited behavior, i.e., behavior that is defined as criminal,
is guaranteed under the due process clauses of the 5th and 14th Amendments
to the Constitution of the United States. Corrolary to this, it is necessary to el-
iminate "no knock" police entries in the homes of citizens; these nullify search
and seizure warrants under the U.S. 4th Amendment to the Constitution.
--Revision to the law of trespass. There shall lie no crime of trespass charged
against any individual or group of individuals for entry into, nor protests in,
any public space that is otherwise open to the public at the time (and for the
duration of time) that the protests are occurring. California Penal and Civil
Code revisions are needed.
--Revision to the law of homidice: defenses. There shall, in instances of the
infliction of multiple wounds--lethal or not--upon the person of another, lie
no defense sounding in ambiguous causation because the wounds inflicted by
a party defendant, an accused, were merely but a part of the total number of
injurious or potentially lethal injuries inflicted upon the victim by multiple
parties. (This is important to nullify the police tactics of unloading multiple
rounds by multiple police officers into the body of a putative victim of exces-
sive force on the theory that by so doing they will exonerate any individual
peace officer because there was doubt that his or her particular bullets ac-
tually caused the death of the decedent. It is for this reason--based on the
logic and practice of execution firing squads that include one unknown mem-
ber whose gun was loaded with blanks (thus, preemptively, building in reason-
able "doubt" as to any particular officer)--that police officers "are trained" to
unload their gun magazinesi n unison into a victim that, at once, over-kills that
victim and provides an apriori or "built-in" defense against claims of exces-
sive force or homicide).
--Legislation to track the racial disparities in “prosecutorial discretion.”
This is one of the most egregious areas of criminal law injustice: Prosecutors
are notorious for over-charging African-American suspects of crime with the
aim of raising bail amounts and thus unlawfully forcing defendants into un-
just plea bargains. This must stop. And the way to stop it is to demand semi-
annual audits of racial (and gender) disparities in prosecution discretion in
charging decisions and sentencing recommendations in “racial impact state-
ments.” California Penal and Government Code enactments are needed.
--Change of venue motions: exception in cases alleging police misconduct.
Re-crafting statutes addressing defense motions for changes in trial venue
are needed in cases of official police misconduct. Typically, by statute, adver-
se pre-trial publicity (not citizenry anger) serves as a basis for change of venue
motions by defense attorneys in criminal proceedings. District attorneys and
special prosecutors were not deemed by legislatures as having a valid motive
for so moving.
However, in cases of official police misconduct, the statutes need to be mod-
ified so as to preclude such motions so that “the People” (as in “The People
of the State of….vs. John Doe”) can seek justice in these cases, as a matter
of public interest and policy, and directly hold police officers accountable in
the jurisdictions where said officers are employed by the citizens there and
where they exercise life or death decision-making power over those citizens.
These motions are abused in police misconduct cases where the principle of
avoiding “adverse pre-trial publicity” is wrongfully conflated to tacitly include
a motive of avoiding the angst of the local citizenry. They use a mis-applied
theory in laying claim to the constitutional due process rights of the accused to
a fair and impartial trial, but, precisely in order to evade justice for the victim.
The constitutions of the nation and of the states prescribe no interests in
nor provisions for guarantying a defendant a trial in a venue free of citizen
angst egarding abusive official local police conduct. The concept of “adver-
se (local) publicity” in these cases is often misapplied and are, indeed, an-
achronisms in the age of cable television, the Internet, and ubiquitous soci-
al media that, on a daily basis, now cross international boundaries, let alone
along county lines. California Penal Code §1033 must be re-drafted to re-
flect this needed limitation on defense-initiated change of venue motions.
Police Accountability Reforms or Enactments in the Areas of Civil Law and Constitutional
Rights Violations: Consequences.
Police Accountability Reforms or Enactments in the Areas of Civil Law and Constitutional
Rights Violations: Consequences of Immunities.
--Enforcement of personal liability of police officers and prosecutors in
rights violation cases, at least at the level that now exists in federal law, are
needed in the laws of the states as well. By limiting civil “qualified immunit-
ies" (non-accountability) for the on-the-job conduct of police officers and
district attorneys in the government codes of the several states; especially
in California, when the wrongdoing arguably involves civil and constitutional
rights violations, will further protect the citizenry. Examples of prosecutor-
rial misconduct include sabotaging “Brady” motion compliance (delaying
or ignoring their duties to hand over to defense counsel all prosecutorial
evidence pointing to inculpation and exculpation in a timely way) or “bait
and switch” surveillance applications whereby police and district attorneys
substitute-in the phone numbers of the real target in an application for sur-
veillance that is ostensibly directed at a phony target for whom it might be
easier to claim “search probable cause.” Civil Code, Civil Procedure and Gov-
ernment Code enactments are needed. The "governmental immunity" for
ministerial actions by public employees, especially the police, the common-
law "qualified immunity" doctrine for police misconduct, and "free speech"
immunities for police unions that aide and abet police wrong-doing, must
be repealed (along with police officers' "bill of rights" laws) in the interest
of public safety, enlightened public policy, and international human rights.
--Individual Police must reimburse local municipalities, to a reasonable ex-
tent, by a “means test” for all costs in damages that municipal jurisdictions
pay out to civilian complainants for their individual misconduct when such
conduct was found, in a court of law, to be criminal in nature or implicated
a criminally negligent, reckless or intentional act of wrongdoing on the of-
ficer’s part and from which an unlawful disregard for any fundamental con-
stitutional right of an alleged criminal can be inferred. Competent evidence
shall include or be inferred from statements and the objective conduct of
the officer involved.
Police officers may (or must) privately purchase malpractice insurance pol-
icies, perhaps union-provided and paid for, to indemnify local municipalities
for damages arising from their egregious misconduct that results in the loss
of life or bodily integrity where the wrongful actions implicated violations of
the victim’s fundamental constitutional and civil rights. California Civil, Gov-
ernment and Insurance Code enactments are needed in this area of state law.
--While police have 1st Amendment freedom of speech rights, their public
counter-protests, when carried on in a period when mass protests of civilian
complainants are occurring and in the same jurisdiction, must yield to an
over-riding duty to avoid a chilling effect on the freedom of expression and
association of the citizenry so as to avoid a professional conflict of interest
and impermissible dual relationship with the public. California Government
Code enactment is needed to address this point. (Please see Heffernan v.
City of Paterson, New Jersey, October Term, 2015, for decision validating
police speech rights). Further police organizations and unions that maintain
internet 'bulletin boards' must maintain those boards in perpetuity and prov-
ide public access to them.
--Police officer unions should be held liable for citizen losses (damages)
arising from active, aggressive, or passive-aggressive slow-downs and col-
lusions by their members as a form of police political protest. Civil Code
enactment is needed. Indeed, federal legislation is needed to ban police
unions outright (please see section 5, below).
--Prohibition on sales of toy guns; civil liability. Any manufacturer, market-
ter, distributor, wholesaler, or retailer that has a part in the distribution or
sale of a toy gun or pellet gun that is used in the commission of a crime or
is implicated in the death or injury of any person because of the mistaken
identity of the gun as a real firearm shall be civilly liable for damages aris-
ing from a suit sounding in negligence or wrongful death. Exemplary (punit-
ive) damages shall be available to a prevailing plaintiff in appropriate cir-
cumstances arising from repeated violations these statutes. These toys shall
be regarded as ‘attractive nuisances’ and 'dangerous instrumentalities and
‘dangerous instrumentalities.’ Civil Code, Health & Safety Code, and Commer-
cial Code enactments are needed.
Best Practices: Mandatory Reforms in Police Administrative and Community Policing Should Be Written Into Local and State Law.
--Police Review Commissions are needed in every county that have the
authority to administer oaths, create official records, subpoena witnesses,
and report-out to the public and to the offices of county district attorneys
and the state Attorney General’s office, its findings; unhampered by local
police personnel boards and rules protecting the personnel records of police
officers from disclosures in excessive use of force cases. California Govern-
ment Code revisions are needed.
--All uniformed police must wear name tags, with white printed letters no
smaller than one inch high (if worn on the front) and three inches high (if
worn on the back) that contain at least the first initial and full last name of
the officer. Significant penalties must be exacted on any law enforcement
officer that fails to do so at all times, up to and including job termination.
California Government Code revisions are needed.
--Camera and voice recorder activation—procedures and penalties: All of-
ficers must wear and activate both devices whenever exiting a vehicle in or-
der to approach a suspected wrong-doer or witness to a crime. Significant
penalties must be exacted on any law enforcement officer that fails to do
so at all times, up to and including job termination. Police departments
must keep, in perpetuity, all recordings, unadulterated, that are related to
all police misconduct claims.
Real-time and synched video/voice recordings are important to use in order
to know what police officers actually say to a suspect; like “drop the gun, or
I’ll shoot!” to a suspect that had a gun (or cellphone) attached to his belt.
Compliance with an order like this will likely produce a fatal outcome for
the victim that will be later justified as an ‘impulsive’ response by the police-
man to a (claimed) ‘furtive act’ provocation by the victim when the suspect
tries to comply—to his or her everlasting detriment. Video footage, only af-
ter being lawfully seized and searched (by warrant or subpoena) must be stor-
ed only on the camera (or removable device) and after a copy of it has been
deposited in a police evidence locker. It shall not be uploaded onto any com-
computer server for any wider distribution. Additionally, facial recognition
software, linked to these field cameras, must not be used. California Govern-
ment Code enactment is needed to require voice/visual recordation (with
the same instrument), subject to these limitations, of police field encoun-
--Police department policy must include directives that assert that police
officers have an affirmative duty to avoid civil and constitutional rights
violations, and must refuse to comply with unlawful orders that violate such
rights. Further, they must report their observations or knowledge of such
violations by fellow officers to their Internal Affairs departments and, with-
out retaliation, to the County Civilian Police Review Boards alluded above.
An egregious example of police misconduct that ought to be the subject of
mandated reports lies in “rough ride” transportation of suspects or the place-
ment of them in jail housing units where they know or should know that
they are subject to sexual assaults or the threats thereof. Torture is proh-
ibited by the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Civil Code and Penal
Code (Chap. 6.5, “Internal Investigations”) and local police Policies and proc-
edures revisions are needed.
--Policemen that are sexually abusive or set prisoners up for sexual abuse
must be fired! And direct sexual abuse by police men and women must be ex-
plicitly addressed in the Penal Code and Policies and Procedures. Second to
abuse with the use of firearms, this is the most egregious of police wrong-
The targets are equally women, "LGBTQ" people (especially those of color
and who have a street life-style), and men; the latter being set-up on purp-
ose or through passive-aggressive disregard for their safety in custodial sit-
uations--starting in police paddy-wagons--and continuing in cells, day cells,
and dormitories--where prison rapes are quite common.
--Special police jurisdictions, including, for example, the BART (Transport-
ation Authority) in the case of northern California), must not prevent pro-
tected (protest) speech and demonstrations directed toward them, the
“state (public) actors” that BART officials are, and may only impose “time,
manner, and method” (of protests) restrictions on free speech and protests
and, even then, only in the least restrictive ways.
When police departments of any kind (especially BART police) are them-
selves the target of free speech protests, in fashioning a response to the
protests, they must vigorously seek to enable and protect the expression
of free speech (and the protesters) to every extent possible under the cir-
cumstances and, in any event, must first use graduated interventions des-
igned to apply the least restrictive or constrictive “time, manner and met-
hod” measures possible.
And when it is judged that arrests must be made in response to civil disobed-
ient speech, the arrests must be made by allied police forces, under regional
mutual aid agreements, so as to avoid (1) an institutional conflicts of interest
in the operations of the targeted police station or institution and (2) the im-
position of a chilling effect on 1st Amendment rights (and the U.S. Constitut-
ion’s Preamble that prescribes the right for anyone or any group to petition
governmental authority (public or “state” actors)for redress of the public
grievances of protestors.
Damages shall be available in a suit at law to any victims of the repression
of free speech, except for the least restrictive “time, manner and method.”
This requires enactments and revision of the Government Code and the Ci-
vil Code of the State of California.
--The determination of which geographic, municipal, social areas, venues,
or office buildings (in the case of "white collar" criminals) constitute
"high" crime areas," for the purpose of Terry "stop and frisk" police stops,
must be made by civic committees associated with municipal governments
and not solely by the police departments or a department's individual officers.
(Citizens who are given to running or jogging on the streets--regardless of
their reasons--have constitutionally protected rights of notice and liberty-- that heir mere running in a neighborhood or district might give rise to a pol-
ice "stop and frisk" event if they are in an area that has been officially design-
ated as a "high crime (or school) area." Codes of Criminal Procedure and the
Government Code must reflect this policy.
--Freedom from racial profiling involve rights prescribed under the 1st,
4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, and 14th Amendments to the Constitution of the United
States in respect of criminal law jurisprudence (i.e., “equal treatment un-
der the law”). That is, no intentional “racial profiling” nor unintentional con-
duct that has disproportional racially discriminatory effects or “adverse
impact on a minority group members can be tolerated by these Amend-
ments to the U.S. Constitution). The states have similar constitutional prov-
ions as well.
--Similarly, intentional or passive-aggressive failures to collect, store and
report factual evidence or information relating to crimes, to the detriment
of a minority group members who are victims of crime, must not be toler-
ated). California Civil Code and local Police Policies and Procedures revis-
ions are needed.
--Police department policies must state that each citizen has a right to
physically resist an unlawful arrest by anyone (including police officers)
with a reasonable amount of force and cannot be convicted of any crime,
variously called “resisting arrest” or “interference in a police action,”
where a resisting person’s conduct was based on a good faith and reas-
onable belief that his or her lawful and constitutional rights were being
violated, or was the victim of excessive police violence and force. This
right is enshrined in the 4th and 5th Amendments of the Constitution of
the United States according to courts in various states—including Calif-
ornia--of this country. California Government and Penal Code changes
--Prohibition of perverse Incentives to conduct police programs that tend
to violate the civil and constitutional rights of minorities and other ‘protec-
ted classes’ must be written into law. Perverse Incentives, like bonuses and
promotion advantages to officers who conduct ‘stop and frisk’ operations,
‘broken window policing,’ “zero tolerance” policies and excessive ticketing,
traffic stops, field detentions and arrest quotas in minority communities as
well as other types of programs (like ‘drug sweeps’) on the basis of intention-
al bias or on the basis of an adverse or disproportional impact against the
‘suspect classification’ (protected) groups of ‘race,’’ “alienage,” "religion,"
“gender” or the partially-suspect classification groups that include "LGBTQ"
(homosexual, transgendered) persons; especially those persons of color.
California Government and Penal Code revisions are needed.
--Mandatory data collection and action reviews of statistics on law enfor-
cement patterns are needed on ethnic and gender groups’ rates of stops
and detentions, arrests, and complaints of misconduct must kept for no few-
er than ten years. California Government Code enactments are needed.
--The elimination of local civil procedures that mandate arbitration of
police misconduct claims or time consuming administrative reviews, such as
those contained in ”Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights” laws thus allowing civilian complainants to go into state court directly and more quickly into state court,
and do so aided by quickly and be availed of the more effective discovery,
protective, and evidence preservation orders Calif. Civil, Labor and Govern-
ment Code revisions are needed.
--Explicit prohibition and hefty personal fines for by-stander intimidation
to prevent recordation of police conduct in public or private places where
police stops are occurring so long as the bystander is not, reasonably con-
strued, interfering in a police operation. And, in relation to this, retaliation
against any person who, as a bystander, recorded police activity. All record-
ings must be copied if the police seize the recordings as evidence (after ob-
taining a proper search warrant to seize the potential evidence) and the or-
iginal recordings and recording equipment must be returned to the right
owner within 72 hours. California Government, Penal, Evidence and Civil
Code enactments are needed to dissuade intimidation and provide dam-
ages to victims of retaliation.
Federal Preemption of State Labor Law is Required to De-certify Police Unions
--Police unions should be banned. Police forces do not need unions. Their
due process rights to fair treatment as employees (work conditions and
personnel policies) can be assured by Civil Service governance. And their
rights to collectively bargain pay scales and benefits within a jurisdiction
can be realized through the use of bargaining agents commissioned for
that purpose alone. To date, the police unions have functioned as co-con-
spirators in the enablement, facilitation, abetting, and apologetics for the
abusive attitudes and conduct not only by the perennial ‘few bad apples’
that become notorious (in the instances where they are video-taped) but
also the ubiquitous, routine, and multiple ‘rotten apples’ whose notoriety
lies in their solidarity with those who are known to act-out against the pub-
lic and in the abrogation of the public's interests.
The military does not tolerate unionization of its personnel and neither
should governmental officials tolerate it in respect of the police. Anot-
her reason for decertifying police unions is that they routinely violate
labor solidarity. For example, one cannot find a single example of police
intervening on behalf of union employees who are suffering (sometimes
physical) intimidation in employer ‘lock-outs,’ yet they commonly inter-
vene to protect ‘scabs’ who cross picket-lines. The class–bias of police
unions that, ironically, defend anti-working class actions by business
owners is patently obvious and well-accepted in this country. Federal
legislation that pre-empts state labor laws should be crafted to preclude
the unionization of police forces.
State Legislative Resolutions Are Needed to Reaffirm Constitutional Rights
--Sense of the Legislature/Congress Resolutions to oppose police shows
that glorify police violations of the civil, the constitutional rights and the
ordered liberties enumerated in the U.S. Constitution (like the right in the
Constitutions preamble, not the Bill of Rights, to petition governmental
authority without repression for the redress of public grievances) in all
television programming, movies and gaming videos. State Assembly and
Senate Resolution is needed.
--State legislative policy reforms may also be needed in the areas of police
residency requirements (not to be confused with “community policing” as
a concept) and police demilitarization, as well. (Policy changes in these two
areas are complicated and are presently beyond my brief to make specific
recommendations; because I sense that these two areas are rife with op-
portunities to prescribe "policy" that could produce counter-intuitive results.
The goal in this “brief” has been to educate all persons, especially young activists, on how things-- whatever things they endeavor to change—actually work and maintain themselves; in this case, the laws enabling (or failing to stop) “police abuses.” Flowing in its wake (for activists, hopefully) there will, ideally, obtain a deeper understanding of the political-economic forces that direct police activity, on the one hand, and the specific rules that bear on police conduct and limitations, in their service, on the other. That is, once they comprehend how the legal structure has been “set up” to facilitate the police doing what they so often abusively do they will have a better chance of understanding the met- hods or mechanisms the Establishment uses to effect control. And, from there to, at once, understand who they are and how to connect the bloody dots of racialized capitalism to them.
What Is To Be Done (Now)?
1. Propagate these Legal Reforms as an Omnibus Package to All Who Will
2. Set-up Committees of Lobbyists to Politicians to Demand Their Enactment
3. Make Demands on Corporations (Connected to Police Institutions) to Not Oppose Legislative Reforms.
4. Make These Demands on Police Unions and Associations of Police Chiefs
5. Demand That Police Chief Associations Stop Cooperating With Foreign
State Forces and Trainers in the Areas of Police Policies, Practices,
Tactics, and Public Relations In U.S. Domestic Policing.
A different benefit, hopefully, will accrue for local and regional policy-makers. This brief should alert them to the multifaceted issues they would, of necessity, have to—in concert, if not simultaneously outright—opine and legislate on if they are serious about “leveling the playing field” to any degree between the police, on the one hand, and the citizenry, on the other. A ‘gestalt’ or ‘big picture,’ I think, will be most useful for them. I hope to have provided one in these areas of public concern.
In conclusion, issue-focused “demands” (and all social demands usually are, in their nature, “reform” pro- posals, however radically inspired) must be based on “issues”—especially legal ones. And, as the great Frederick Douglas once asserted, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never did and it nev-er will,’ it is obvious, at least to me, that the “Black Lives Matter” movement (and similar group- ings) must—in the near term—crystallize some concrete issues, especially legal ones, and demands for leg-al enactments (for better or worse) or run an unacceptably grave risk of burning itself out on the thin fuel of “activism” for its own sake. This may sound a little over-stated but it was Fanon, was it not (and for situations just like the ones facing us, no less), who wrote “…Fervor is the preferred weapon of the impotent”? (The Wretched of the Earth, 1961)?
The better view, at this point, is for the movement to formulate specific and radically encompassing legislative and administrative policy “demands” on the system—from which rallying slogans, ‘talking points,’ and indices of discernible success (or failure) in achieving any of them--can obtain.* Activists would be well advised to use informational and protest marches and rallies, involving thousands of people (or their representative groupings), on a sustained basis at the doors of legislative halls, coun- cil meetings--and even police unions in some cases--as well as toward their usual targets of protest.
(I do not recommend the tactic of shutting down freeways, incidently. That kind of grandstanding can
foreseeably result in the deaths or injuries of innocent people and can lead to severe legal problems
for the activists organizing such actions as a result).
Reasonably construed, better rule-making and policy-making would go a long way toward easing the
anxieties (and hostilities and miseries) of huge strata of the exposed populations (and often regard- less of any racial differences being involved), on the one hand, and arguably, also lighten the burdens of urban policing and enhances officer safety, on the other.
For now however, the population is at a decided disadvantaged in any contest of public perception and policy because the police have extraordinary institutional, financial, professional and (frankly)
coercion powers and appear to be engaged in a hardening of attitudes--often aggressive ones, and
a hardening of racially aggressive attitudes, in particular. Additionally, there remains a Hollywood
tradition of glorifying all versions of police misconduct (regardless of its patently obvious unconsit- utionality) that has long operated as a publciity arm of "the Establishment." And finally, they--the police--are too often under-trained attitudinally, are under-screened psychologically for service, and are themselves abused by--not only street "thugs," as they would have it (which has some truth in it) but--on a weekly basis-- by their own command structures and municipal and federal policy-makers
who demand of them aggression in pursuit of too many unimportant "crimes." This exposes all con-
cerned to higher than necessary rates of conflicted contacts.
So given the present trend there is no doubt in my mind that advocacy for the citizenry of the country (all of them) to receive impartial and truly--perhaps for the first time--professionally non-abusive policing is required. And it must be adressed first. Everyone is potentially vulnerable to antagonistic police encounters--though some, alas, "are more equal than others." For example, it is still the case (and going up) that African-American youth are 21-times more likely than their white demographic counterparts to be killed in a police encounter.
* RECENT NOTE (Dec., 2015) To date, only one "Black Lives Matter" front group--called "Campaign Zero"-- has taken me up
on the suggestion to formulate a wide-ranging schedule of policing reform objectives. Its website is very good, but should be
publicized by all local activist groups.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Oshoosi (Michael F. Wright Ph.D.,J.D.) is a life-long socialist activist and theoretician. In addition he is a professional forensic psychopathologist with a forty-year history of consultation to the courts and in the criminal justice mental health system. He does not practice the profession of law and is not a member of the bar of any state. He is also a priest of Oshoosi and Oya in the Cuban Santeria-Lucumi variant of in the Yoruba religion (and is often called “Michael Oshoosi” for that reason). His Ph.D. is from the Wright Institute, Berkeley (1976), and his J.D. is from the Boalt Hall School of Law (U.C. Berkeley), 1981.
His first “Movement” activity was in 1960 when, as a child of 13, he joined picket lines in Harlem, NYC, against Woolworth’s Inc., to support the student sit-ins against racist segregation in Greensboro, NC. From 1965-1969 he worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Alabama, Georgia, and Chicago, Illinois. In 1971 he was on the Board of Dir- ectors (along with others like James Forman, Howard Moore Jr. Esq., Fannie Lou Hamer, and Julian Bond) of the National Black Economic Development Conference which was the first organization to demand reparations from the Establishment (the national churches and synagogues, in that instance) for the perpetration of, collusion in, and profiteering from slavery and “Jim Crow” laws. Since then he has maintained connections to the Movement for socialism and social justice.
His family can be traced directly to the founders of the oldest community of free African-Americans in the United States—Wetipquin, Maryland, (1683), which included his eldest known personal ancestors. These families of Maryland’s “watermen” (including Harriet Tubman) were known for liberating slaves by removing them from the mid-Atlantic “Tide- water” colonies and states by stowage in their boats or by other means. Dr. Oshoosi is born of that tradition. Hence, his
preoccupation with 'liberation theology' as a priest and citizen.