Black Lives Matter takes a huge step forward: two observations

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Black Lives Matter spent several years largely as a diffuse popular movement, and it still has that character. I don’t think I was alone in worrying that this would lead to its petering out or getting diluted demanding huge results without enough specific policy suggestions. Now a group of Black Lives Matter activists have taken a huge step, putting together a list of policy demands (available here).

The broad goals are:

1. End Broken Windows Policing
2. Community Oversight
3. Limit Use of Force
4. Independently Investigate and Prosecute
5. Community Representation
6. Body cams/film the police
7. Training
8. End for-profit policing
9. Demilitarization
10.Fair police union contracts.

All in all, an ambitious and comprehensive list of goals, and one I think most Americans can agree on (far more than can be said for the group that so famously interrupted Bernie Sanders in Seattle). Most of them, however, cannot be accomplished on a national level, but need to be pursued at the state and local level. A few notes on that:

First, while I agree that ‘demilitarization’ of the police force is a popular and wise goal, it has little to nothing to do with civilian deaths or with racial profiling; police killed a lot more (mostly Black) people before they had military equipment (probably because they were also in greater danger), and the disproportion in Black deaths in police custody is more pronounced with handguns than the more ‘military-style’ long guns police have taken to using. However, including it as a goal gives whoever does the negotiating a tremendous source of leverage – carrots and sticks. For the most part it would be unconstitutional or politically impossible to enforce a lot of these initiatives on localities through Federal regulation, but in the last decades we’ve learned that’s not the best way to get states and localities to go along with national priorities. I would argue, and I think Senators Sanders and Rubio should introduce a bill right now stipulating, that continued acquisition of military equipment by local police should be contingent on compliance with a strict list of requirements: accountability, training, use of body cameras, and comprehensive civil rights evaluations.

My second observation is that, while some of these policy solutions are focused on racial profiling against minorities (as well they ought), the focus of the website (even the new name, ‘Campaign Zero’ as opposed to some version of’Black Lives Matter’) is very inclusive: none of the language is specific to African Americans. This is smart; like I said above, most of these policy recomendations will require local action, and many of the states with the highest per capita police killings (such as Oregon and Arizona) do not have large Black communities that can put electoral weight behind these reforms. It’s going to take people of all races realizing that this is an unacceptable state of affairs (for themselves as well as for African Americans) to make a real impact on police killings.

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