The issue of young men of color dying in police custody has been dominating the national news of late and rightfully so. Millions of Americans in many cities — mostly people of color — live in fear and/or distrust of the police in their communities and this is not a recipe for a healthy society. Concerted action — protests, demands, and action by community leaders and elected officials — are all necessary if we are are going to tackle this unacceptable situation.
Dana Millbank of the Washington Post was right recently when he wrote that President Obama would do well to seize the moment surrounding the outrage that’s occurred across the political spectrum in the Eric Garner case out of New York (tragically pictured above) in which a young man was killed by a police choke hold. As Millbank noted, the Garner tragedy offers some glimmers of hope in that the killing is actually drawing harsh assessments from white commentators on the right who rushed to the defense of the police officer in the Ferguson, Missouri case.
What to really DO about the situation, however, is less clear. Millbank says President Obama should look at creating alternatives the grand juries for investigating police deaths. Others are pushing the idea of police body cameras. Those are both promising ideas as far as they go.
The real solution that no one really seems to want to talk about, however, is this: higher taxes on the wealthy. As with public education where we have sacrificed our public schools on the altar of America’s obsession with low taxes, the simple truth when it comes to raising the quality of law enforcement is that we need to spend significantly more money on hiring and employing smarter, significantly better educated and trained and more numerous police officers.
This won’t solve the problem by itself — new tactics, ending racial profiling and more diverse police forces are essential in many areas as well. But when you get down to brass tacks of the incredibly difficult, scary and complicated business of being a police officer, the best way to attract and keep good, educated, honest, well-trained and caring officers is to pay them much more than we do now. This is no different than it is the world of public education — another area in which we hire kids to do absurdly difficult work and pay them peanuts.
If, as Millbank opines, the outrageous Eric Garner tragedy provides an opportunity for one of those rare moments in which people of widely different views come together for a common purpose, it would be especially helpful if part of that common ground discussion could focus on our society’s unhealthy obsession with underfunding essential public services and structures and unrealistically low taxes — especially on those with the ability to pay.