We Need Another Wickersham Commission

A decade ago, I was in college studying criminal justice, because I wanted to be an attorney. Also, last year, when I was in college, I wanted to write my first sci-fi book, which ended up directly bringing me to where I am now.

At the time, I didn’t know that I would quit the criminal justice track and never look back, and in retrospect, in light of now, especially, with police officers declaring open season on black men – seriously: two back-to-back shootings and a lynching in GA on top of that is little else, and no, I will not stop calling things what they are – I am glad beyond belief that I left that track of my life.

Criminal justice, for those who don’t know, is a blend of history, psychology, law, management structure, and legal procedure study. It’s perfect if one is determined to become a prosecutor, a judge, or a cop. The four tracks that go from that particular field is 1. Academia, 2. Psychology, 3. Law, or 4. Public service.

Here’s the other thing for those of you who aren’t familiar with it: “broken windows” policing is basically the primary thing foisted into those who go into this field of study. There’s a brief methodic on how proactive and preventive policing is more effective than reactive policing (which is the primary practice today), but the broken windows thing is shoved onto people from the beginning. Even if you will know, from experience, that “broken windows” is BS, and this approach to any police department does more harm than good, guess what: it’s still the first thing you learn in crim-j classes. And in the police academy, too.

Real world living made me see that it is BS. Seeing a disproportionate slant against people of color by the NYPD, the “stop and frisk” which rarely, if ever, targeted anyone white, seeing the incidents of police killing unarmed black individuals steadily rise not just in NY but in the general world, and seeing cops in my own neighborhood harass high-school kids and threaten them with arrest – high-school kids! who were doing no more than what any high-school kid did 15 years ago! – more and more cured me of any thought that the criminal justice system was equal and equally applied. To even think that right now, after seeing what the world became is almost laughable in its idealism. 

But here’s one nugget of history that did stay with me since college, one that should stand out for you, because it exposed a lot about police departments of 1929: The Wickersham Commission.

Short version: we all know what the Prohibition was. Alcohol was illegal, and then the stock market completely collapsed not long after this commission’s report was released, which was when the world needed a nice strong drink. But digressing, and back to the point: enforcing the law of the Prohibition was next to impossible. The average Americans had nothing but contempt for the Prohibition, and the Commission was formed to investigate the lapses in law enforcement.

The report was damning. Police corruption was exposed left and right, police technology was woefully outdated in too many respects, and the report exposed mob ties as well.

What, you ask, does this all have to do with the current state of affairs? What does a commission on exposing corruption in the 1920s could have possibly anything to do with the police lynchings going on today?

Because it’s ripe time to clean house with the police departments again, and we need another Wickersham Commission-type investigation to expose what’s going on behind the scenes. From training to handling complaints against officers. All of it. 

Already, we know that the cop who shot Alton Sterling had multiple investigations for excessive force. Why was he allowed to stay on the job? Again: if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s sure as hell not a goose. Someone with multiple excessive force complaints should not be out in the field – period. I don’t give a damn if he’s cleared: if more than three people who aren’t related or connected all say the exact same thing, there’s a very high chance that they’re telling the truth. Balance of probability/law of averages.

Already, we had a warning from the FBI about white supremacists infiltrating the police departments. We ignored it. This is the direct result. Why are police academy and applicants not screened for ties to white supremacist groups? It’s as easy as a Facebook search. Anonymous, the hacktivist group, already exposed multiple KKK members in the country’s police departments. Do they still have jobs? If so, then why do they?

We see police officers who are involved with these shootings all pull out the trope of “I was afraid for my life” – even with 12-year-old Tamir Rice. They back up their completely irrational fear with the same racist tropes against black men that have been perpetrated since the post-Civil War era. If they’re that afraid for their lives and hold these views, then perhaps they should find a different job. If a twelve-year-old boy with a BB gun scares them to where they have to shoot to kill, then they need to not interact with the public. If they are former military and still think their everyday lives are a war zone, the last thing they need is a job where they are carrying guns. 

We know broken windows policing doesn’t work. Why is this the first thing that is being taught in criminal justice classes? Is it also part of Academy training?  What are these police cadets learning? Why is this not audited? 
What we need is to, once again, collectively, expose and clean house when it comes to police departments, and we need to do so in a thorough a manner as possible. If it means that the UN will spearhead this commission – please! Go ahead. Because at this point, I truly cannot trust, especially with the GOP holding court until this year’s elections, that such a commission will bring forth any sort of results if it’s headed by US citizens or residents. Why? GOP.

While it’s never a good idea to assume, I nearly always make the assumption that if someone is an elected official in the GOP today, they’re likely a racist. Yes, I’m aware that not every Republican is a racist, but every racist is a Republican. And right now, they’re bought, paid for, and armed by the NRA, and they’re in the majority in both parts of Congress. This makes it imperative that a commission to investigate the US police departments is comprised of people who are not part of the US body of government or leadership.

This is why I want an outside agency to spearhead this sort of an investigation in the country’s police departments. Because, obviously, the US has failed, on a very basic, fundamental level, if this is what we’re seeing. It failed on a human level. It failed on a life level, because in this country, people are still not allowed to ask the police to stop killing them without the police continuing to do exactly that, or the “all lives matter” crowd to yeah-but their arguments.

This is why I say: re-establish a Wickersham Commission 2.0 to target racism, white supremacy, and corruption within every police department in the country.

Yes, I know how expensive an undertaking like this is. But tell me: how expensive are human lives? What’s the monetary value of somebody’s father? Son? Brother? Husband? Wife, mother, daughter, sister? A friend? And tell me now that the cost of establishing an auditing commission is somehow more important than saving lives. 

I’m white, and it astounds me that more white people don’t have a huge problem with the way that the police has been treating the black population. Do they not realize that their children are every bit as likely to be targeted? All it takes is the wrong cop, all it takes is one wrong word before bullets fly, lives are gone, and someone has to arrange a funeral. And there are way too many wrong cops, who don’t like their authority questioned, and to them it doesn’t matter who their target is. White people, know this: you have twice the onus to speak against the systemic racism in this country. If you are not protesting this, speaking against it, you’re as good as complicit.

And one more thing: time to criminalize white supremacy groups. It’s a hundred years past time to make the KKK, etc. a bad memory. Don’t even begin to trot out “freedom of speech” – at no point is speech supposed to put lives in danger, and at no point is propagation of your views supposed to come at the expense of others. Hate should never be protected or tolerated.

How did Germany make amends post-Nazism and Holocaust? They banned and criminalized all associations with Nazism. The swastika in Germany is a symbol of hate and grounds for immediate arrest. The shame in Germany’s history runs deep for ever having allowed the Holocaust to happen. Where is such shame in the US for slavery and the Civil War? It doesn’t exist. Some people in this country still, to this day, delusionally believe that the Confederate flag is a symbol of “heritage” and conveniently  divorce the heritage from the ugliness that that heritage actually carries. There was an actual fight to keep a Confederate flag flying. The KKK was an organization directly rooted from the remnants of the Confederacy that were not okay with losing the Civil War and never got over the fact that they could no longer own people with dark skin. This is the “heritage” that the Confederates created, and this is what some people in this country are actually proud of.

I think that, like Germany, the US can do with criminalizing white supremacy groups. Instead of allowing people to be proud of being racists, it should shame them. It should shame them into the ground and ensure they never get back up again. It should make membership in the KKK an imprisonable offense. It should enforce the laws that require any symbol of the Confederacy to be treated as treason. And maybe, maybe then, it can see better days. 

Maybe. 

My faith in humanity is quite low today. 

K.G. 

 

 

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