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One of my heroes is a brilliant psychologist named Amos Wilson. He passed away many years ago, but one brilliant thing he said all the way back in the 1980s always stuck with me. It’s simple, but profound.

Speaking at a conference, Wilson said “I often get people to ask me why white racism is so prevalent in this nation. Why do they get away with saying and doing so much of what they say and do that causes us harm? How can they lynch us or shoot us or strangle us and get away with it over and over and over again? And my answer to those questions may surprise you. They do all of that…because they can.”

Dr. Wilson no doubt believed in the prevalence of racism and bigotry. Born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1941, he came of age during the height of Jim Crow in a place that was ravaged by it. He was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta during the pinnacle of the Civil Rights Movement. He experienced and observed racism and white supremacy first hand. But it was his belief that power structures and differentials that maintained and protected bigotry were as responsible for the effects as the bigotry itself.

I agree with him.

And that very logic is at the root of why, in spite of thousands of marches and protests, with millions of people around the world, police brutality in this country was continued without interruption year after year. We’re all aware of it. We know more names and stories of police brutality victims today than we ever have in American history, but that awareness has not slowed down the violence.

Police in the United States are consistently brutal and corrupt…because they can be! Our current systems and safety nets protect even their worst behavior from punishment or consequence. Listen – I’ve long since believed that all of our problems in this country are far more complex and layered than our discourse leads on. Solving the crisis of police brutality will take several dozen different solutions and policies to be implemented, but here’s what I do know. Until police are held accountable, it will continue.

That’s why the Baltimore chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police freaked all the way out when they learned that the city had no intention of protecting nine different officers found by a jury to have acted with “actual malice” throughout a series of corrupt arrests in which evidence was planted, false reports filed, people beaten, and ultimately innocent men and women sent to jail and prison for crimes they didn’t commit.

Dozens of lawsuits are expected to be filed because of the horrible actions of the cops on Baltimore’s notorious Gun Trace Task Force. Seeing that coming, city leaders are panicking. Baltimore simply cannot afford these lawsuits. And out of necessity they are doing what should’ve been done decades ago – and starting to hold actual police officers financially accountable for their worst actions.

Across the country, we have over one million law enforcement officers. The message has long since been loud and clear that no matter what they do, city, state, and federal governments will just foot the bill. Even right here in New York, we have hundreds of officers still on the force that have cost this city tens of millions of dollars. It’s outrageous.

Now, Baltimore City Solicitor Andre Davis has gone so far as to say that the city won’t cover any of the costs or damages stemming from the corrupt actions of the cops in the Gun Trace Task Force. That’s going too far. These cops did what they did, under veteran supervision no less, as city employees. The city will have to cover the bulk of the costs of these lawsuits – or else real victims would likely never be compensated for their suffering while individual officers stonewall and fight paying these families what they are owed.

However, the principle of the matter is right – police must contribute financially toward the victims of their own violence and corruption. Right now I can think of several cops who ultimately killed people who might’ve been stopped dead in their tracks years ahead of that fatality had they actually been held responsible financially for other acts of violence.

Will such a policy completely eliminate police brutality and corruption? Of course not. But it’s a culture-changing, life-shifting moment for your paycheck or pension to suddenly be docked by 25%-50% because you caused great harm to someone. Right now, the worst cops among us have very little motivation to think twice before they make horrible decisions. This policy is a significant step in the right direction toward righting that wrong.



More Cities Need To Make Police Officers Pay For Corruption  was originally published on