Practicing in civil rights litigation, we see a lot of police officers abuse their power. Unfortunately, there are many reasons police misconduct usually stays out of the public spotlight. There are myriad systemic barriers to holding bad cops accountable for discrimination, excessive force, illegal search and seizures, unlawful arrests, and more. They include: gutting of civilian review authorities, failed oversight, use of squad and body cameras, non prosecution of officers by prosecutors, the militarization of police, powerful police unions, pocketed arbitrators, institutionalized racism, victims with criminal records, and many others.
The problems are on such a broad scale and are so layered and complicated that piercing through all of them would require a complete overhaul to the way we police our law enforcement and govern ourselves. It seems, however, that such an overhaul will only come if we reach a point where, as a public, we stop forgetting about the problem between events that garner national media attention. We must start regularly and continuously demanding answers and changes from our governments, prosecutors, judges, and politicians.
Although the courtroom is one venue to get justice for those such as Michael Brown (Ferguson, Missouri) and Eric Garner (New York City), we must also focus on prevention. If we truly want to stop these things from happening, we must care enough to do more than have periodic outrage.
The most immediate way to get involved is to get active in city-level politics. Attend board meetings; talk to your city council representative; get involved in the elections of prosecutors and police administrators; inform the media; request data pursuant to Freedom of Information Act; …do what it takes to become knowledgeable and involved.
The events of the past few months–and ones similar to them–are about more than those cops and their victims.They are about who we are as a nation.They’re about who we are as people and how we treat each other. We must acknowledge that we have a national problem. And once we do, we must not knowingly allow those who wear the badges of our governments to inflict injustice. We must get involved.
Joshua Newville is an attorney and mediator based in Minnesota. He litigates employment and civil rights cases, serves as a mediator for civil disputes, and provides employment law advice.