We Don’t Need Better, More Accountable Policing. We Need De-Policing

By Audrey Bomse, NLG South Florida Chapter

A North Miami cop was just charged in the shooting of Charles Kinsey, an unarmed therapist who was trying to coax his severely autistic patient back home. Cell phone video captured Kinsey, lying on his back, on the ground, arms raised, pleading with the cops not to shoot. Just one more in a long list of questionable police shootings of unarmed Black and Brown people which have led to Black Lives Matter protests across the country. Luckily, this time the victim survived.

Although charged with attempted manslaughter, Officer Aledda remains suspended with pay.

This is the first time an on-duty cop has been charged for a shooting by Miami-Dade prosecutors since 1993. Aledda was one of several cops responding to a 911 call of a disturbed individual, possibly armed with a gun – which turned out to be a toy train. He was 152 feet away, armed with an M4 carbine, without a scope, when he shot the therapist. Two other officers, who were only 20 feet away, didn’t feel threatened and were about to approach and handcuff the autistic man when Aledda fired.

Miami-Dade police union chief John Rivera claims: “They’re never going to be able to prove that this guy acted maliciously or recklessly in any way.” And Rivera is probably right.

Indictments, no less convictions, of police for shooting or even killing unarmed people of color are rare. The last police officer to be convicted in Miami-Dade was William Lozano, who killed an unarmed Black motorcyclist in 1989. A jury convicted Lozano of manslaughter – but the conviction was overturned on appeal. A second jury acquitted him.

More recently, the trial of Michael Slager, the North Carolina cop whose videotaped killing of an unarmed fleeing black man shocked the nation, ended in a mistrial in December 2016. Slager, a traffic cop who had stopped Walter Scott for a broken tail-light, fired 8 shots from a distance of 17 feet. The jury of 11 whites and 1 Black juror was 1 vote short of a guilty verdict.

Despite decades of study and efforts to reform the police, and billions of dollars spent on the latest technology to help them do a better job, little progress has been made.  What has changed is that cellphone videos keep showing us images of cops shooting and otherwise abusing unarmed people of color.

Though it’s claimed that police are there to “serve and protect,” historical and contemporary realities remind us that the police function is to contain and control poor and Black and Brown communities.

Two years ago, the NLG passed a resolution calling for eventual dismantling and abolition of prisons and “all aspects of systems and institutions that support, condone, create, fill or protect prisons”.  It was based on the understanding that police and prisons are tools of state coercion that serve to maintain existing economic and racial inequality. We now need to start offering a different concept of policing: de-policing.

We know that “stop and frisk” tactics and armed cops stopping motorists for minor traffic issues, like broken taillights, enable racist state violence. Why not limit police to investigating major crimes and have other service providers —social workers, ministers, mental health experts—be first responders to most 911 calls? Since we already have lost most of our privacy, why not have cameras record traffic offenses, with summonses mailed to people’s homes? Let’s get cops out of our schools and stop criminalization, especially of poor Black and Latinx youth. And let’s stop being a country where the solution to just about every social problem is to create a law against it, send armed cops to enforce it and punish people who break it. Policing doesn’t need to be reformed.

We need to de-police.