From the Left



What Police Reform Should Look Like

Ted Rall on

Each high-profile killing by police of an unarmed Black citizen -- this week he's Tyre Nichols, 29, of Memphis -- prompts calls to reform the police. But how?

We should begin with two questions:

What is the police for, currently?

What should they be for?

Police currently fulfill two primary roles: generating revenue for local municipalities and terrorizing marginalized people.

If you're white, middle- or upper-class, almost all your interactions with law enforcement will come in the form of a traffic stop, most likely in a small town, rather than in a big city, because big cities enjoy strong tax bases, and even more likely in a cash-strapped municipality.


Tickets for speeding and equipment violations, both of which can generate fines costing hundreds of dollars each, are by far the most common reason for a traffic stop. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis conducted a fascinating study of North Carolina traffic stops that concluded that "significantly more tickets" were issued when localities experienced financial difficulties, suggesting they were "used as a revenue generation tool rather than solely a means to increase public safety." Some towns finance as much as 90% of their annual budgets from traffic tickets.

Defenders of the status quo will argue that the flashing disco lights in your rearview mirror enforce public safety. Indeed, motorists who speed or run red signals are a danger to themselves and others. If safer roads is the goal, however, why fine money for a moving infraction? Adding points to your license for dangerous violations, with suspension of driving privileges over a set sum, serves as ample deterrence to the wealthy and poor alike.

Only 9% of traffic stops involve suspicion of criminal activity, according to a national RAND survey of police officers.

Policing in poor and minority neighborhoods assumes the character of foreign troops patrolling hostile occupied territory. "Jump-out boys" squads like the Scorpion unit that murdered Nichols snatch people on little to no pretext, eager to rack up arrests in order to please police executives who themselves serve "tough on crime" politicians.


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RJ Matson David Fitzsimmons Kevin Siers Walt Handelsman Steve Benson Michael Ramirez