Why Is There No Accountability For Police Brutality?
By: Carly Faulkner
When looking at the number of times the media has reported on an unarmed civilian killed or injured by a police officer in the year 2020, you would think that many of these officers will be rightfully convicted for these crimes. The global Black Lives Matter protests shown in a demonstration for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor's deaths have exposed the police to massive public scrutiny and created a worldwide demand for the killers to be convicted. Yet, previous cases of police violence show how slim the chances of police convictions are.
Killers like Daniel Pantaleo, who choked Eric Garner to death, Darren Wilson, who ended the life of Michael Brown, and Timothy Loehmann, who killed 12-year old Tamir Rice, were never found guilty for their crimes. Based on the 6,800 cases from 2013 to 2018 where a police officer intentionally or accidentally killed a civilian, an officer was only charged with a crime in 1.7% of those killings overall (Mapping Police Violence). Based on this statistic, the likelihood of justice for police violence victims in 2020 is looking tragically bleak. So how exactly are so many officers getting away with misconduct and violence? The answer lies mainly in Police Union contracts.
For a large part of American history, unions have served as a tool to protect workers. Yet somewhere in time, police unions' negotiation powers became less about defending an officer's employment rights and more about helping them get away with brutality. These collective bargaining rights helped to obstruct the justice system from properly convicting abusive officers. Due to a police union's extensive control over an officer's discipline, there is no transparency in investigations on police violence. Under the control of police unions, officers can be told days in advance when they are being investigated for misconduct, giving them ample time to get their story straight. An officer's dispute can then be settled privately outside of court by union-hired arbitrators who are more lenient on officers. If found guilty of misconduct, officers can demand to be rehired or reinstated by appealing the chain of command even after being fired by their superior. Lastly, an officer's previous unsustained disciplinary record can get expunged after 2-3 years, meaning police officers can apply to other departments without that department knowing about their past misconduct.
Police officers have gotten away with police violence for too long. If there is any real accountability made in the criminal justice system, the contract bargaining rights of police unions must be changed. There must be more transparency and community representation when it comes to the discipline of abusive and incompetent police officers. To learn more about police violence in your region, visit Mapping Police Violence. This website publishes studies and data on the impacts that police violence has on communities. Secondly, contribute to Campaign Zero's #nix6 project, which has the first published database of police union contracts and is actively working with other organizations to challenge and re-negotiate police contracts.
The justice system has failed so many times by allowing so many violent police officers to walk free of charge. We must demand a change in police union contracts for proper accountability and fewer cases of police brutality in the future.