There are four things we could do right now to reform the systemic problems with our law enforcement/criminal justice system:
1. End qualified immunity immediately.
Currently law enforcement officers are immune from civil liability for almost anything they do. This fosters a culture of impunity and invincibility. Law enforcement officers are people, and should be subject to the same standards as everyone else. If they act unreasonably or use excessive force, they should be held personally liable.
2. Require all law enforcement officers to be personally insured for liability resulting from their actions on the job.
Currently the taxpayers foot the bill for the actions of bad cops, if there is any liability at all (see qualified immunity above). With the elimination of qualified immunity, each cop should have to procure insurance. Too many bad acts and a person becomes uninsurable. No insurance, no job. Simple as that. Lawyers and doctors are required to have malpractice insurance. Why not law enforcement officers.
3. Remove cannabis from Schedule 1.
Despite the recent liberalization of drug laws in some states, including ours, cannabis is still categorized as a Schedule 1 narcotic by the federal government. The war on drugs is still ongoing and has led to such atrocities as “no knock warrants” and operations targeting minorities. The war on drugs is a war on Americans, and its time for it to end.
4. End civil asset forfeiture.
Currently, law enforcement agencies have a financial incentive for aggressively pursuing unjust drug laws. These laws are disproportionately used against people of color. Ending civil forfeiture, which is itself a violation of the 4th amendment, eliminates the financial incentive to aggressively pursue non-violent drug users.
If we make these four concrete changes, which can be done immediately, we would go a long way toward rectifying the institutional problems with law enforcement in our country.
This is a racial problem, but it is also a power problem. When we build a culture of power and authority with impunity, when we arm our police departments like military organizations, when we make ordinary, decent people criminals through unjust laws, and when we authorize the theft of civil asset forfeiture, we are all complicit in upholding a system that is corrupt and tends toward the abuse of power.
Its long past time for this to change.