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Police and Excessive Force - Who is to blame?

Updated on September 4, 2020

Straight Talk About Police, Excessive Force, and Accountability

Police and Excessive Force - Who is to blame?


Since the Covid pandemic struck in the spring, the country has seen a series of incidents in which African-Americans have sustained injuries and death during arrest by local police. This has touched off protests and, regrettably violence, in response. In this highly charged Presidential year. Some have sought partisan advantage by blaming the the opposition. In particular, the Democrats have promoted the narrative that President Trump’s words and deeds have emboldened local police officers to use excessive force in dealing with African-Americans.


This narrative over-simplifies the reality of how local policing operates in our federal system. Local police are hired, trained, and supervised by state or local officials answerable directly to the people. Local, and to some extent state, governments, set the guidelines and procedures for use of force. By electing mayors and city councils Americans entrust to these officials the important responsibility of assuring the police receive proper training and faithfully follow proper and approved procedures for use of excessive force. Those at the local level have the mandate of the people of their communities to insure that force is applied only as necessary and in a race-neutral manner. Simply put, neither the President or Congress set the tone here. No officer in the field ask the question “what would the President do” before he or she acts. But in their heads the larger and perhaps sole question is “will the Chief, the Mayor, and Council have my back on this one?”


With this in mind, and taking as a given “Black Lives Matter,” the logical conclusion follows that the best practices for use of excessive force should exist in communities with Democratic mayors and minority police chiefs. Given the current rhetoric, we must assume that these mayors and chiefs are not merely paying lip service to BLM and then looking the other way.


Among the model communities for proper use of excessive force should be Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, and Chicago. Here is the case for each of these communities.


Minneapolis. In this community, George Floyd died in the course of an arrest that universally has been condemned as excessive force. At the time of Floyd’s death, and currently, the Police Chief was and is Medaria Arradondo, an African-American. He has held that position since 2017. The Mayor is and was Jacob Frey, a Democrat with solid progressive credentials. Certainly Arradondo and Frey should have prevented the Floyd tragedy.


Portland. In this now besieged community, a woman, Jami Resch was Police Chief at the time of George Floyd’s death. In the aftermath that brought violence and looting to the Rose City, she has resigned, replaced by Chuck Lovell, an African-American. Here too the Mayor is a progressive Democrat, Ted Wheeler, with a track record as an unswerving supporter of abortion and LGTB rights. Despite the friendly liberal/progressive environment in Portland, Resch, Wheeler, and now Lovell have failed to quiet the violence in this community.


Seattle. Seattle is another unlikely city to suffer violence and destruction in the wake of Floyd’s death. This is the City that for years has proudly displayed a statue of Soviet icon Vladimir Lenin. In these times when statues of historical figures such as Columbus, Washington, Grant, and McKinley have fallen or suffered defacement without government intervention, the Lenin statue has remained undisturbed and beyond criticism. (Perhaps Lenin’s government did not use excessive force on the Russian population.). And at the time of the Floyd’s tragedy, Seattle had, and still has, a progressive Democratic mayor, Jenny Durkan, and an African-American Police Chief, Carman Best. Like her counterpart in Portland, Best has since resigned after Council voted to decrease police funding. Durkan too has suffered the wrath of the radical faction of Seattle’s population as recall petitions have been filed after she undertook measures to curb the violence. Bottom line, Durkan and Best, despite their progressive and minority credentials, apparently failed to get it right.


Chicago. Dyed-in-the-wool progressive and liberal, Chicago should be the “shining City on the hill” when it comes to eliminating excessive force. Her honor, Lori Lightfoot, has impressive credentials. Before becoming mayor she served as the chief administrator of the Chicago Police Department Office of Professional Standards and as President of the Chicago Police Board and Police Accountability Task Force. And the City has an African-American Police Chief, David Brown, who replaced another African-American, Eddie Johnson, who Lightfoot had fired. But despite the Mayor and her Chiefs, Chicago is under a siege of violence and looting.


In light of the above, how can radicals argue that President Trump has responsibility for the use of excessive force, or more pointedly that police across the country believe that the President has given them a blank check to use excessive force against members of the African-American community?


But to understand the respective roles of the President and local mayors, councils, and police chiefs in this excessive force conversation, one must understand the legal underpinnings for the protection against excessive force. The prohibition against state or local government use of excessive force arises out of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of life and liberty, which may not be taken or abridged without due process of law. The legal test for excessive force is whether police actions were objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting the police officers, without regard to underlying intent or motivation. This analysis considers not only the officer’s actions themselves but also the effects of those actions.


Given this broad standard, police training cannot cover every scenario that may potentially occur on the street. But the governmental entity conducting the training must provide sufficient Instruction that will prepare the “cop on the beat” to reasonably access the danger and to make a reasoned judgment as to the response.


When a victim sues for damages caused by an exercise of force, the court, and in many cases a jury, will determine if the force was excessive. The officer involved will be responsible to pay the damages awarded by the court. In most cases there is little or no insurance to cover that payment, and in many states the law prevents the employer municipality from paying the damages.


But the story does not end there. The victim may sue the municipality for inadequate training or for creating or maintaining a culture among the police that permits or encourages the use of excessive force. If the victim proves this inadequate training or impermissible culture claim, the municipality has full responsibility to pay the damages. In some instances this requires a tax levy to raise the money.


Against this backdrop is any rage against the federal government, and specifically the President, justified.? Start with Minneapolis. The primary culprits are Chief Arradondo and Mayor Frey. With proper training and diligent oversight of the Police Department’s culture, Derek Chauvin would have been weeded out before the confrontation, and George Floyd would be alive and with his family today. Counsel for the Floyd family will develop this in court. There will be no evidence, however, that Chauvin thought he had the blessing of President Trump in killing Floyd.


And why has violence and looting spread to cities like Chicago, New York, Seattle, and Portland? Would this have occurred if each of these cities is a poster child for proper police deportment? Chicago’s situation is particularly deplorable given Lori Lightfoot’s extensive experience with police oversight before becoming mayor.


All lives matter, and that includes black lives. The radical left in an effort to advance its agenda has politicized George Floyd’s tragic and unnecessary death by trying to convince Americans that Mr. Floyd’s death was caused by President Trump’s bigotry. Review the facts and apply the law. The responsible parties reside in the city halls of municipalities from sea to shining sea.


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