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In St. Louis, Missouri, thousands of people gathered Aug. 25 for the funeral service for Michael Brown. He was fatally shot by a police officer earlier this month. His death is being investigated by a St. Louis grand jury and also by the Justice Department. Police use of deadly force is, unfortunately, not uncommon, but some say the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, and police reaction to subsequent protests may lead to a far broader examination of police policy, community relations, politics and race. Join us to discuss the new questions following the death of Michael Brown.
- Fredrick Harris Professor of political science, director, Center on African American Politics and Society, Columbia University
- William Yeomans Fellow, law and government, American University's Washington College of Law
- Tracie Keesee Co-founder,Center for Policing Equity 25 year police veteran
- Bill Lewinski Behavioral scientist specializing in law enforcement related issues executive director, Force Science Institute
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A funeral for Michael Brown was held yesterday in St. Louis. He was killed by a police officer earlier this month. Although police use of deadly force is not unusual, some say this case will prompt new questions about police practices, race and the criminal justice system.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about the case and its possible national ramifications, William Yeomans of American University's Washington College of Law. On the phone from New York, Fredrick Harris, professor of political science at Columbia University and from a studio at KUVO in Denver, Colorado, Tracie Keesee of the Center on Policing Equity and a 25-year police veteran.
MS. DIANE REHMI'll look forward to hearing your questions, comments throughout the hour. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Thank you all for being with us.
MR. WILLIAM YEOMANSIt's a pleasure to be here, Diane.
MR. FREDRICK HARRISIt's great being here.
MS. TRACIE KEESEEThank you for the invitation.
REHMIndeed. Bill Yeomans, let me start with you. Do we have any idea how many civilians in this country are killed by police each year?
YEOMANSWell, we have some idea. We don't have good data.
YEOMANSWell, the data that we have depends on voluntary reporting from jurisdictions. There is not, for instance, federal mandate that jurisdictions report the use of deadly force to any central body so we have partial data and we have estimates, but we know that the numbers are in the hundreds. The last estimate I saw was over 400 in a year. That's use of deadly force.
YEOMANSNow, much of that, of course, is clearly justified, but out of those several hundred uses of force, it's noteworthy that there are very few criminal prosecutions and convictions of police officers.
REHMThat's interesting. What about statistics by race?
YEOMANSThe statistics, again, are not good by race. But, you know, what we do know is that minority communities are subject to a disproportionate share of criminal enforcement and I think that's generally true of the use of force across the board and the use of deadly force. We know that minorities who come into contact with the criminal justice system are far more likely to end up being arrested.
YEOMANSThey are more likely to be subject to more severe penalties for whatever crimes they may have been involved in.
REHMAnd what about geographic area?
YEOMANSWell, a lot of the instances of use of force, of course, come from major metropolitan areas where, obviously, there are more people and there are more instance where law enforcement comes into contact with the community, but this is a nationwide issue. There is no question about it. It effects every part of the country.
REHMAnd to you, Tracie Keesee, as a veteran police officer, what are the circumstances that you believe justify the use of deadly force?
KEESEEWell, the law justifies use of deadly force when that officer, and again, it's from the perception of that officer, who believes that his life or the life of a citizen is in danger and it warrants that level of force. And that can change. It depends on the dynamics of the contact with the individual and it just -- it's really the perception of the police officer and that's one of things that we're dealing with and that I know that a lot of times the community itself has a really hard time understanding once they see a tape or something else post-shooting.
REHMNow, as a 25-year veteran of the police and as an African-American woman, how often have you had to encounter a situation where you have been forced to use deadly force?
KEESEEI haven't been forced to use deadly force. I've certainly been in numerous occasions where I've had to draw my weapon. And, again, it is on that individual officer to determine what the level of force is necessary. You know, for me, as an African-American and specifically as a woman, you know, one of the things that I always consider is the type of communication/relationship I have depending on where I'm working.
KEESEEAnd on the streets, that's why it's key to make sure you have those relationships. But I'm, you know, very rarely do you have officers use deadly force. I'm not saying that those occasions don't happen, but they do. But a lot of times, it really depends on how the interaction is controlled and what's going on between the officer and the citizen.
REHMAnd to you, Fredrick Harris, certainly the case of Michael Brown has received national attention. Why do you believe that this case is so particular and different?
HARRISWell, Diane, as you know, there have been a spate of these incidents in the past few months and I really do think it's the cumulative effects of people just having the sense that enough is enough. We, just last fall, saw the case of Jonathan Ferrell in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he was -- appeared to have been seeking help. He was shot numerous times. He was unarmed. He had been in an accident.
HARRISAnd so that's one case. Another case is the case of Eric Garner that just happened several weeks ago, the case of chokehold, which is, from my understanding, an illegal practice by policemen in New York, was killed to death in Staten Island, screaming, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe." There have been numerous other cases, people who were mentally ill in the case of Ezell Ford in L.A. who had an encounter with police.
HARRISSo I really do think it is the cumulative effects of these incidents. And there have been others where there's cases of police brutality where people have just said that enough is enough.
REHMTracie Keesee, you've said there are always lessons to be learned, people continue to learn. What would you regard some of the immediate lessons of Michael Brown's death?
KEESEESome of the immediate lessons, of course, are the ongoing need to have a good understanding of your community and a good relationship of who you serve. And I think that we have forgotten that we serve the community. Another part, I think another lesson learned is, you know, pretty short term, but was a surprise, I guess, to me that it was a surprise to everybody else, is the militarization, is the weaponry, is how those things are deployed and when they're deployed and making sure there's policies and understanding and training on if and when that's even appropriate.
KEESEESo I can tell you, you know, those of us that are law enforcement, I was really surprised that everybody was shocked that this was going on. I mean, this has been going on for decades. So for me, those are short term lessons that are learned and there's definitely going to be a lot of long term lessons.
YEOMANSWell, I just wanted to go back to the point that we do, periodically, have these incidents and we've had them throughout our history. And frequently, what happens is sort of the first stage of what we've gone through in Ferguson, which is there is an intense focus on trying to determine whether the officer should be held criminally responsible for the shooting and that's important.
YEOMANSObviously, we need a thorough, fair investigation to determine whether there's criminal liability. But as was mentioned, it's a difficult standard sometimes when you're prosecuting police, both under state law and under federal law. Under federal law, the federal government has to show that the officer acted with the specific intent to use more force than was reasonably necessary. That's a very difficult standard to satisfy.
YEOMANSBut the investigation is important. But what's happened in the past is that too often it stopped there and what we really need to think about is where we go beyond trying to impose criminal responsibility on police officers. And just looking at Ferguson, there are a number of options going forward so the Justice Department and the attorney general, of course, was in Ferguson, but the Justice Department now has authority to go into Ferguson and to conduct an investigation under its authority to sue, civilly, for a pattern of practice of violations of rights by the Ferguson police department.
YEOMANSAnd that can result in broad reforms in the way Ferguson goes about policing.
REHMAnd that takes us, Fred, to the title of your piece in The Washington Post, "When Does a Moment Become a Movement." Do you think we have a movement beginning here?
HARRISYes. I really do and I really hope so. But I really do want to take it back for a moment because as just was mentioned these incidents have happened before and there has been a great degree of civil unrest that have occurred after these incidents. And as I say in that piece, they almost come in 10 to 12 year intervals. I don't know if you remember the case of Arthur McDuffie in Miami in 1980, of '79 and '80, a Marine, a former Marine who was being chased on his motorcycle and beaten down by police.
HARRISAnd police actually thought that -- or people actually thought that -- or the police reported, rather, that he had -- his injuries had occurred because of the motorcycle incident, but, in fact, he had been beaten down by the police and they were police who were involved in the incident who pretty much reported what had happened, but the police still got off. There were no convictions. We also had the case of Rodney King in '91 and then Timothy Thomas in Cincinnati so these incidents have occurred.
REHMFredrick Harris, he's professor of political science, director of the Center on African-American Politics and Society at Columbia University. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd we're joined now by Bill Lewinski. He's a behavioral scientist specializing in law enforcement-related issues. He's the executive director of the Force Science Institute. Bill, I gather you help train police officers on ways to avoid using deadly force. Tell us how and what you try to teach.
MR. BILL LEWINSKII think as we study the police use of force, particularly deadly force, we see, as Tracie was saying, that it fits within a context of what we would call clinical skills. Relationship with community, communication, the ability to establish contact, build rapport, influence or persuade and all of those are skills -- particularly how it fits within a community relationship issue, all of those are skills an officer could and should be able to use.
MR. BILL LEWINSKIAnd then within that an officer may have to make a deadly force decision. And so we're focused on the fundamental skills of an officer's use of the tool plus the judgment issues that the officer is trained in. And within our experience it appears that we could use both, both the technical skills training as well as the context and decision-making issues. Both could be increased within the police profession if we're looking at increasing the performance of officers within threatening situations.
REHMSo to what extent do you believe that carrying weapons and heavy equipment affect a policeman's decision to use deadly force?
LEWINSKIWell, there's certainly been a considerable talk, particularly recently, about the militarization of the police. But if we look at those, the vast majority of tools that the officer has acquired are basically -- from the military are basically tools that officers normally would acquire, for instance, handguns, patrol rifles. Certainly there's armaments or apparent armaments such as military vehicles but are mostly -- those are mostly personnel carriers.
LEWINSKISo if we look at the equipment that police have actually got from the military that they may consider for use in the street, the vast majority are tools that the officer normally would carry. And then we're looking at whether or not the officer has the availability of a particular tool for the appropriate task -- appropriate tool for the appropriate task. And officers encounter a variety of tasks that they have to do, a variety of threats that they have to face. And subsequently they require a variety of tools from communication to long-barreled weapons that help them deal with a threat at some distance.
REHMSo you don't think that any of the excess military equipment that's shown up on the streets in Ferguson has had anything to do with, you know, inflaming the population itself.
LEWINSKIWell, that's a different question. You see, the issue how police respond to social conflict is another issue than the tools that they have to use in a deadly force encounter or an officer-involved shooting encounter. And certainly, as you point out, a police response can have an action or an effect that could inflame a community. So whether it's a use of simply having police officers on the street and how they deal with the public could inflame an incident and so could, as you point out, perhaps some of the tools that are being used by them.
REHMTracie, I wonder if you agree with Bill Lewinski on that?
KEESEEI absolutely agree with Bill. And what we mentioned earlier is, you know, that's a show of force. My physical presence as a police officer is a show of force. And whether it's just me or whether it's multiple. And it goes back to the deployment and when is it appropriate to use those types of tools that we have? I mean, that's one of the things that we are taught in the academy.
KEESEEBut one of the things though I think that, you know, we don't talk enough about is how those decisions are made. Now those decisions to deploy equipment are not made by the officers on the street. I mean, there's multiple levels and multiple discussions going on. But, you know, I absolutely agree with Bill. There's a difference between tool availability and then when you deploy those tools. And I think that is, you know, the question. And that's another lesson that'll be learned, not just when do you deploy or if you need to deploy, but whether or not you face enough of that type of situation, that you even need to have them in your possession.
REHMAnd finally, Bill Lewinski, why would an officer not shoot to wound rather than to kill?
LEWINSKIWell, when we look at the accuracy of police shooting, and we have just completed a study on that, the accuracy of police shooting out to a variety of distances, we find that shooting accurately given the level of training that's provided is certainly a challenging task. And so officers, for the most part, shoot to stop and they shoot to stop by shooting to the largest target that they can hit, particularly if it's a dynamic movement.
LEWINSKIIt's very, very difficult to shoot accurately and particularly to shoot accurately in a dynamic shooting situation. So therefore, officers are taught to shoot to the center part of the body, which is most likely to stop somebody. A hand, for instance, can move from the -- from upward above the head to down by the side in fourteen one-hundredths of a second. That is like almost three times faster than an eye blink. And so there's no way you can possibly sight, target, shoot accurately within that instant. And you need to account for rounds and you need to be able to make sure that no one else is injured except the person you're shooting at.
LEWINSKISo it's truly a challenging task. And shooting to wound might be something that Hollywood likes to depict, but for the most part is -- the average officer on the street is not capable of doing that, particularly if the situation evolves rapidly as complex and dynamic. If it's slower -- and I've seen it happen where situations evolve much slower and the threat exists for a longer period of time, so the officer can sight. It's not so dynamic. Then it becomes possible. But it entirely is relevant to the situation what the officer can do and is able to do.
REHMBill Lewinski. He's a behavioral scientist specializing in law enforcement-related issues. Thanks for joining us, Bill.
REHMAnd now turning to you, Bill Yeomans, what's your reaction?
YEOMANSWell, I just wanted to go back to the militarization issue. And I think we saw that it clearly inflamed the situation in Ferguson, the arrival of real heavy-duty military style equipment for crowd control purposes. And some of that equipment may be useful. It may be important. It does have to be used properly. And the problem is, I think, that when we too readily give our police departments that style of equipment, they will use it. So we're giving them a hammer and then they see problems as nails. So there needs to be careful control on what they're given and careful training on how it's used.
REHMIndeed. And Bill, there are now two investigations underway in the case of Michael Brown. What's the process going forward?
KEESEEWell, there is an investigation under state law and an investigation under federal law. And the state investigation, the county attorney Robert McCulloch has already opened a grand jury and has started to present evidence. That process will certainly take a couple more months. The federal investigation is underway. The FBI has been interviewing witnesses. The federal government ordered its own autopsy, which is a somewhat unusual step. And eventually the federal government will make a decision whether or not to open its own grand jury investigation and start presenting evidence to a federal grand jury. That could take many more months.
REHMBut Tracie, I gather the benefit of the doubt is almost always given to the police officer.
KEESEEYou know, and it seems that way. And I know that historically with the events that we've had going on, you know, very rarely do you see it happen. And again, it's the perspective of that officer at the time, you know, the situation was going on.
KEESEEAnd I can tell you one of the things that, you know, concerns me is that when you talk about community not clearly understanding what police officers do and what the roles are, to me that is one of the crux of community policing and how you begin to contain these relationships is understanding what you want your police to do and what type of service do you want from them. And that's missing. And that is probably one of my biggest concerns and one of the reasons why we created the center, to assist those chiefs on how do you do policy that is community and culturally centric to what you're trying to do.
REHMAnd of course, Fred Harris, you write that if justice is narrowly confined to seeking relief for Brown and his family, what happened in Ferguson may not become transformative nationally. What has to happen in your mind?
HARRISAbsolutely. Diane, what I think really has to happen is that we have to -- people who are concerned about this issue have to connect with what's happened in Ferguson to a national level. And that means that there's going to have to be systemic policy changes not only on the local level but also on the state, as well as the national level. Things like requiring police to have body cameras, for instance, or repealing stand-your-ground laws, that's law in many states.
HARRISAnd dealing with this idea of this problem with militarization of police, and as some politicians have promised in the past, including President Obama, there needs to be a comprehensive federal racial profiling act, an act that at least at the beginning will begin to collect some of the statistics that we see lacking when it comes to race and policing.
REHMYou know, it's interesting, this morning on Morning Edition there was talk about the fact that only 12 percent of the population in Ferguson went to the polls in the last election. So that even though there is a majority of African Americans in Ferguson, the Mayor is white, the police population is majority white with only three or even four members of the African American community on that police force. It does go back to strengthening your voice through the political process, does it not, Fred Harris?
HARRISYes, yes. I think that's a part of it. Voting and having people in office who represent your interests is very important. But you also have to keep in mind that these incidents have also occurred in places, in cities where you've had black mayors or black representatives on the city council. So that's part of it.
HARRISBut also you have to keep in mind that people who are very marginalized, who don't really see that they have a stake in the political system, has sort of this redoubling or feedback effect that, you know, these people don't represent me, they don't hear about me and therefore why should I bother? And so we talk about sort of the tactical tools of police. You know, press communities also have various tools. And those tools include protests. They include rioting and they also include voting.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And Tracie, there's quite a difference sometimes between what's reported in the media and what actually happened.
KEESEEYeah, and the problem with that is that you have to wait until you get all of the evidence in and the statement from the officer that was involved. And what we do is -- you know, of course the media is -- like most media now it's 24/7 so you take these pieces of what's going on around the event. And everyone is kind of projecting what they believe may or may not have happened.
KEESEEBut until we actually hear from the officer that was involved, you know, a lot of it is conjecture. We have, you know, some evidence that's come in and some things that have been shared but there's going to be discrepancies. And there's also going to be things that are probably going to be said or discovered, they're not going to sit well with a lot of folks. And so, you know, as an officer I have to tell you, one of the things that is the most stressful is waiting, you know, to say what you want to say. And that's probably the difficult part on the community piece too is this delay of the story, of what happened. Why did we get to where we are today?
REHMAnd William Yeomans, that takes us to our first tweet and a huge part of this problem, "Police body cams should be mandatory" as our tweeter writes, "as well as real consequences for rogue cops. Impunity must end. Enough abuse of police power." Let's just take those body cams first.
YEOMANSYeah, I think it's impossible to underestimate the importance of video in these kinds of situations. Going back to the Rodney King case in 1991 in Los Angeles, which was eventually prosecuted at the federal level, it would not have been prosecuted without the video tape. And the video, which was taken by a civilian, was able to show that a few of the blows that were inflicted on Rodney King happened after he was subdued. So there was this intentional infliction of force.
REHMSo even though there were numerous eyewitnesses, you're saying a prosecution would not have happened.
YEOMANSIt would be unlikely. And the problem of course is that the eyewitness testimony in these cases is very hard to rely on because these are chaotic circumstances. It happens very suddenly. And we've already seen in Ferguson that there was a conflict between the initial statement of Michael Brown's companion at the time who said that he was shot while he was running away and the autopsy which clearly seems to show that all of the bullets entered the front of his body. So these are just -- these are situations that are very hard for people to recollect after the fact.
REHMSo if you've got this difference between what the police are reporting and no actual video of what happened, how is this going to go forward?
YEOMANSWell, there are a lot of investigative steps that can be taken. Obviously there may be other witnesses. You will collect all of the eyewitness statements and try to come up with a consensus believable view. But there's also the forensic evidence. So there's dispute about whether there was a shot fired while Officer Wilson was still in the car. That can probably be resolved through the forensic evidence, finding shell casings or evidence in the car that a gun went off.
YEOMANSWe'll be able to determine the distance probably from which Michael Brown was shot, the angle of the bullets coming in and in some ways be able to reconstruct the actual physical movements that were occurring at the time.
REHMAnd do you agree with the fact that the police officer has not yet made any kind of public statement?
YEOMANSWell, I think in his situation it's very difficult for him to make a public statement. I don't expect that he will anytime soon. While he's under investigation I think that we will probably not hear from him.
REHMWilliam Yeomans. He's a fellow in law and government at American University's Washington College of Law. Short break here. Your calls, your email when we come back.
REHMAnd here's our first email, from Marilyn, in Arvada, Colo. She says, "When we hear minorities are more likely to be arrested, most Americans believe this is due to their committing more crime. We need a baseline comparison. We need better recordkeeping." Bill?
LEWINSKIWe do need more data. There's no question about it. And going back, again, to the Rodney King incident, after that incident Congress did two things. It authorized the Department of Justice to collect data on the use of force by police officers, but didn't provide the appropriate resources to do so. And it also gave the Justice Department the civil authority to sue police departments. So there was a sort of spasm of activity after Rodney King, which faded.
REHMFrederick, do you want to comment?
HARRISAbsolutely. And this is why it's not surprising. And that this is why pressure, sustained pressure needs to be put on local, state and national governments to really address this problem. Because, again, I fear -- as I say in a Washington Post piece, these types of uprest -- unrest, as a result of perceived police brutality has occurred in almost 10 to 12 intervals. 1980, 1991, 2001 in Cincinnati.
HARRISAnd so they are very much localized. Right? And not connected to what's happening across the country. And so, again, I fear that this will be a moment and not a movement if we just focus exclusively on what's happened in Ferguson.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Miami, Fla. Bobby, you're on the air.
BOBBYYes, good morning.
BOBBYI just wanted to say something. I'm just kind of shocked and amazed at this one-sided hypocrisy that's going on. How is it that when -- or why is that when officers and whites kill blacks, the country and in the black community, they seem to come together and galvanize together and say no justice, no peace. But two years ago in Chicago 500 murders, 500.
BOBBYThe majority of blacks are killed by other blacks. And I'm kind of concerned at the fact that we have this kind of one-sided justice or one-sided concern and focus, when it comes to other people killing us, rather than saying what is wrong with the value system that's going on in the inner cities. Why are these individuals choosing corners and dope and AK-47s and AR-15s over black lives in the inner city? Could somebody answer that for me? Thank you.
KEESEEI mean, absolutely. I absolute agree. And part of that issue really relates to what's going on with this conversation in Ferguson. There seems to be -- when we talk about community relationships and the relationship between the police and communities of color, you know, there is always this debate about making sure that the organizations reflect the communities in which they serve, which I whole heartedly agree.
KEESEEBut part of the problems that black officers -- and not all, but, you know, a large majority run into, is when they are actually policing in their neighborhood, that there is somehow this agreement that we will turn our heads when something goes wrong. You know, putting our jobs in jeopardy. There needs to be honest conversation within our own community about what we're doing and what we're doing to each other. And then, you know, how healthy is this?
KEESEEAnd then we're asking folks to help us solve this situation. Some of these things have to be put back on our own community, that we have to begin to take care of ourselves. I absolutely agree.
HARRISCan I weigh in on this for a moment?
REHMSure. Of course.
HARRISBecause this is a reoccurring question. One thing that I don't think people are paying enough attention to is things like gun control and efforts to address issues of gun control, particularly in inner city communities. And the Supreme Court pushed back on that in a decision it made several years ago. And also, I think there's a lack of attention to what are the conditions that are leading to the level of violence in those communities.
HARRISIssues like poverty, which have not been on the agenda or the failing schools in those communities. And so I think that we're just looking at a -- from it -- from a one-sided perspective. And that poverty and issues with gun control, I think, in that situation needs to be addressed.
REHMAll right. To Mehmet, in Arlington, Va. You're on the air.
MEHMET(unintelligible) Diane, how are you?
REHMI'm fine, thank you.
MEHMETI'll be quick. I'll be quick. I've been on hold for quite a while, but I'll be quick. To bring police accountability, there's also this organization -- it's a decentralized organization that individuals on their own terms voluntarily take part in. And they record police activity in their neighborhood, bringing accountability on both sides, both the public and the police.
MEHMETTheir website is copblock.org. And it's all voluntarily done. I just wanted to bring that up. And instead of going through the long route of legislation, electing officials that will supposedly represent us, it is in our own hands with a few hundred dollars' worth of camera.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Tracie?
KEESEEYou know, we have similar organizations, you know, in Denver as well. But, you know, that really goes back to the question of technology and body cameras. And what was, you know, spoken to earlier. But here's the reality. We work with lots of, you know, teachers throughout the United States. The reality is technology is expensive. It costs money. And that means that counties and cities and states, if this is something they want to do, are going to have to put their money where their mouth is.
KEESEEAnd those budgets for the sustainment of evidence from the tapes from those cameras is expensive to do. Policies -- there's lots of model policies that are going on throughout the United States because you do have some departments that are using them. But when you're talking about outfitting -- let's say, for example, an NYPD, you're talking about 45,000 police officers. And so there has to be some reality about what we're requesting and what can be done and sustained.
KEESEEAnd I think that, you know, again, to the gentleman that was on the line, you know, there's lots of, you know, public organizations or on-the-ground street folks that do that. But if the idea is to -- what you need is video evidence, the officer carrying that and getting real time is probably, to me, the best way to go, but that is expensive. There's a cost to it. And we have to determine what is that cost. Is it worth saving lives?
YEOMANSWell, I think that goes back to the political commitment that we want to make to solving this problem. And certainly if we decide that it is important to resolve, then we can do this. And it goes back to the previous discussion about the role of political activity, political activism in bringing about change here. If people put enough pressure on local governments this will become a priority and they will find the money where necessary.
REHMIs it, in your mind, Fred, is it that we have not put the money into this because we have assumed up to now that the people who were victims of police brutality, with the exceptions of those you mentioned, were somehow deserving?
HARRISYeah, I think that's a part of the discourse. I think what people have been discussing of what I've written about is this politics of respectability that because there are these situations of poverty within these communities, that people have to be super human. They can't make mistakes. They're not allowed the same leeway as other Americans who make mistakes. And so because of that people see, you know, the situation or the people who are affected by this as unworthy and undeserving of protection.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Julie, in Carmel, Ind. You're on the air.
JULIEThank you for taking my call.
JULIEFirst, I wanted to thank you for helping keep the conversation I think where it needs to be, on police powers and abuse of them. I do think there is a racial aspect to this. And I, you know, I think that needs to be addressed also, but it's bigger than that. I live in a very, you know, non-crime community. We were voted number one city to live in last year on Money magazine. And yet, the kids around here and young adults are stopped constantly just walking down the street.
JULIEI had a young boy work with me who said, three nights in a row, when I picked him last week, he was stopped each night going up to the store for cigarettes or pop. And one time he was frisked. And they weren't looking for a criminal, they weren't doing anything. It's just their routine. And real quickly, the other evidence I have of that is -- I don't watch it, but the show "Cops" is on a lot of times in my house.
JULIEAnd every time it's on, I see them not following the law. They're not reading people their rights. They're, you know, breaking and entering. They're -- and I think that culture is there that young people really expect that. And they think they have to go along with this. And I appreciate your helping to keep this conversation going.
REHMThank you. Bill?
LEWINSKIYeah, I think that's a very important point.
LEWINSKII think popular culture has played a role in legitimizing police misconduct that is not legitimate under the law. So we see people not read their rights. We see people's homes invaded. We see the ready use of force. So I do think that that's an important point to take note of. And clearly, this problem transcends racial lines. Controlling police conduct is an important thing for all communities to be concerned about.
LEWINSKIBut I think in Ferguson we have seen the particular problem where the interactions between a minority community and a police department surface long-simmering racial tensions. And I think that that's a separate problem and an important one.
REHMTracie, what are the first steps you believe that Ferguson police commissioner could do to help make some kind of difference in the relationship between the community and the police force?
KEESEEWell, I'm hoping that it's already started. And that starts with an honest conversation about the relationship that has been created over the past several decades. And what are the steps they're going to take together to make sure that we change this, not just because of post-Ferguson, but this is something that's going to endure, you know, long after, you know, that chief or that commissioner retires, that it becomes part of that police culture.
KEESEEAnd I have to go back to the question about pop culture legitimizing, you know, unlawful behavior in law enforcement. You know, and I have to disagree with that. If you have that type of behavior going on in law enforcement, then you have an organizational management issue, you have folks internally that are not paying attention to what needs to be done to bring about discipline or subsequently terminating those officers.
KEESEESo, I mean, you can watch "Cops," you know -- and I don't watch that. But, you know, this is about basic human treatment and managing police officers. That's what this comes down to.
HARRISYeah, yeah, absolutely. I try not to watch too much television. So -- but I do really think it comes down to questions about humanity and treating people equally. And I also would like to say that, yes, it is something that affect all Americans. But it really does disproportionately affect the poor, as well as African Americans.
HARRISAnd these communities really are canaries in the mine. Right? They are warning systems, in fact, carrying this message that if these set of Americans' civil liberties can be violated, so can yours.
REHMDo you agree with that Bill Yeomans?
YEOMANSI do. I think that's a very important point. And just to go back to the pop culture, I certainly didn't mean to suggest that it legitimizes police misconduct. But it desensitizes, I think, the population to it. And makes people less concerned when problems arise and they become more accepting of these kinds of issues.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Cape Girardeau, Mo. Denzel, you're on the air.
DENZELYes, ma'am. I love your show.
DENZELAnd I also wanted to say that when people say, okay, there are lots of people -- there are a lot of blacks killing other blacks, two things about that. There are two differences. One is that's crime on crime. And no one -- none of us in the black community will get up and uphold that. Okay? We're against crime, period. And those people go to jail when they kill other black people. But when police officers do it everyone on the other side, they'll find reasons and what they'll do is basically say, just be quiet because you guys kill each other all the time.
DENZELWhen you bring that up, that's exactly what they're saying. And that's why we feel like no one really cares. Now, people should evaluate what they're saying when they bring that point up because it has nothing to do with apples and oranges.
KEESEEYeah, neutralizing the conversation is one way of kind of diverting the focus. And I think one of the other callers said earlier, you know, what we're talking about in Ferguson, and what you're talking about across the United States is police accountability. And how do you serve the public and how do you do that in an equitable way? And how do you do that, you know, as fair as possible? And that is something that, you know, the chiefs that we work with have been, you know, trying to do, some for decades, some are extremely progressive.
KEESEEBut you can't discount the organization as a whole. And how do you change that culture? And culture is very difficult to change. It can't be done overnight. It has to be something that's consistent and ongoing and it has to be understood by every one of what your role is in the community and what that mandate is and how you carry it out. I always say, you know, officers are like independent contractors.
KEESEEYou go out with your mandate from your chief, you have the discretion to do that however you want to do that, but in the end, is there a way to come back and make sure that we are all doing that in a fair and equitable manner. And I think that's really what we're talking about here.
HARRISYes. Absolutely. Again, it's my hope that there's going to be systemic change and a policy reaction to all of this. Because I think that's very crucial. We…
REHMWhat would you see as one step that could be taken, Frederick, which would indicate the beginnings of systemic change?
HARRISWell, from a policy perspective, you know, not just one -- I have dozens, but really I think there should be this idea of a comprehensive federal racial profiling act that would actually collect data on -- because we really do need this baseline. And from there I think we could more -- really could target the problem much more effectively.
REHMAnd that comes back to the Congress, Bill Yeomans.
YEOMANSIt does. And while I certainly think Congress should take up the issue of racial profiling. I think it's enormously important. The Justice Department has grappled with it for decades. And it's an issue that runs throughout law enforcement. But turning to Congress for legislation on this problem at this point is a difficult proposition.
REHMProblematic, to say the least.
YEOMANSYes. Congress is not eager to pass any legislation, much less legislation that I'm afraid would be controversial here because it raises all kinds of issues about race and police that trouble people deeply.
REHMAnd yet we've got to do something to get a handle on this. Thank you all so much for joining me. Tracie Keesee, she's co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity. She's a 25-year police veteran. Frederick Harris, professor of political science and director of the Center on African American Politics and Society, at Columbia University and William Yeomans. He's a fellow in law and government at American University's Washington College of Law. And thank you all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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