homepage logo

‘Police reform’ tip of the criminal justice issue iceberg

By Staff | Feb 3, 2023

To the editor:

The grace and heroism of RowVaughn Wells, interrupting her grief over the murder of her son Tyre Nichols, to urge the people of Memphis to refrain from violence is the courage of patriotism; putting the community ahead of her own pain. Memphis and other cities around the nation were inconvenienced by peaceful mourners in large measure due to decisive leadership of the Chief Davis in firing the five officers and their immediate arrests. It turns out the insurrections that DeSantis failed to quell by draconian attempts at curtailing the First Amendment after the George Floyd murder could be addressed more successfully in a more American fashion. Respecting the rights of others is the American way, including respecting their right to peacefully assemble and swift and effective redress of legitimate grievance.

Congress will now revisit all the same police reform suggestions the failed to pass when Senator Booker and Tim Scott tried to scapegoat the unions and tippytoe around the word “lynch” to describe strangulation. I hope that the Senate will put on their big boy panties this time and protect workers rights AND do something meaningful — like a registry of complaints; frivolous and otherwise, of police candidates. The cities should continue to carry the burden of wrongful death lawsuits AND appropriate vetting of applicants before they take the job. There will be complex questions about troublesome candidates. The time to ask the questions is before the next body drops.

What I would like to add to the discussion is the so-called black box. “Ban-the-box” laws requiring employers to remove criminal-history questions from employment applications have been enacted in 33 states, but it isn’t federal law. Job discrimination by race has been addressed, but employers can still ask that question. A yes answer could mean, yeah I’ll steal from the till or yeah, I met a racist cop once. Florida should take this moment to address this legislation statewide.

One of the “perks” of white privilege is being able to fill out a job application without undue scrutiny. Job applications that ask “Have you ever been arrested?” should remove that question if we are sincere about fighting discrimination in policing. At the risk of stating the obvious: there is a relationship between crime and capitalism.

Police are often accused of being more intrusive toward Black men. More frequent in investigating Black men; who are disproportionately likely to be on parole. Black (young) men are disproportionately represented in the system. Those are two perhaps not unrelated facts. A Black young man is employable to the extent that he is not nor has he ever been “in the system.” The terror of being arrested includes a lifetime of now legitimized discrimination for a Black youth. I hope not to be mistaken for victim blaming in pointing out this obvious factual nexus. The statistics are grim. Men who are arrested lose their jobs, men without jobs become pariah if they can’t get past the black box on the next job application. Unemployed men are disproportionately arrested again and again. Judges are disproportional is sentencing unemployed men. Our prisons are full of men whose trajectory started with some minor infraction. Just maybe, if an honest man with a child to support faces complete economic ruination just for being arrested we should look at eliminating that stigma. An honest man coming home from work is unwilling to be taken into custody, that should not escalate to a violent foot chase. What if it were not a seminal life-threatening event? There should be less state-sponsored terror for Black men in this country, including economic terror.

Ellen Starbird

Cape Coral