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Professional athletes have an extraordinary platform for public action and they are using it. They can command media time, get their calls returned by leading politicians, have access to financial resources, and can encourage broad segments of society to respond in certain ways, like voting. At a time of persistent police brutality and racist behavior, we should not be surprised that athletes and coaches are protesting and speaking out about the police violence against George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, and many others who never get a trending hashtag.
Yet, the goal of these athletes is not just to express their outrage but to drive meaningful social change and racial equity. Beyond condemning police brutality, there are a number of specific actions that would make a dramatic difference. Adoption of these items would go a long way towards reducing police use of force and preventing future police shootings.
1. Demand that tax monies not be used to pay for legal settlements in cases of officer misconduct and that police departments pay for malpractice insurance out of their own budgets.
In most areas, taxpayer money is used to pay civil settlements for police misconduct cases. So, the millions of dollars in taxes that players from teams like the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, Washington Mystics, Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Sounders, Pittsburgh Penguins, and New York Yankees pay in taxes go to civilian payouts for police misconduct. More insult to injury, these payouts do not come out of police department budgets. They come from general funds, which is money that could go to improving schools and providing work infrastructure.
New York City paid $230 million in one year for police misconduct settlements and Chicago has spent over $650 million over the past two decades.
An alternative is for police departments to have their own insurance policies to cover police misconduct settlements. While the policy will be covered by the municipality, this important change will shift accountability and financial liability away from taxpayers to police departments by including a clause that the policy is paid from the police department budget. In a market-driven approach, police chiefs can now see how much each officer is costing them due to misconduct. It will justify removing “bad apples” who are often allowed to further rotten the trees of policing. This is important because in many cities everyone one out of three tax dollars are spent on police departments. Players might also advocate for police officers carrying their own malpractice insurance. This is important too, but it is vital that police departments as a whole are on the hook for the role they play in shaping policy and practice. This is similar to the doctor-hospital model.
2. Dismantle qualified immunity
Players can also demand for absolving qualified immunity. Qualified immunity is the legislation that often prevents officers from facing civil culpability. Players simply need to advocate for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed the House of Representatives on what would have been Tamir Rice’s 18th birthday. The Senate has failed to introduce the bill for formal discussion. Players could demand this happens. The bill also aims to demilitarize police, ban no-knock warrants, and create a federal database of police shootings and officers fired for misconduct.
3. Improve transparency in cases of police misconduct
Players can demand transparency. First, they can demand that body-worn camera video evidence be released immediately. Second, they can demand that officers’ history with use of force be released. Third, they can demand that police departments release quarterly lists of misconduct allegations. This means demanding that all officers have body-worn cameras. Kenosha officers do not. But they are not alone. From Kenosha to Prince George’s County, Maryland, all officers still do not have cameras. Finally, athletes can demand that the community have representation on internal police department misconduct boards, like Nashville is doing.
Imagine if we didn’t have video footage from everyday Americans who heroically filmed injustices when police officers did not stand up? Without video evidence, we should ask ourselves if we would even know about George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, or Marlene Pinnock—a great-grandmother who was beaten by California highway patrolmen and received a $1.5 million settlement. The officer resigned and would be on the federal list from the George Floyd Justice on Policing Act. This would ensure that the officer could not work in another department, as would have been the case for the officers who killed 12-year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland and 17-year Antwon Rose in Pittsburgh. As Will Smith said, “Racism isn’t getting worse. It is getting filmed.”
4. Fund research to improve police-community relations
There are many outstanding organizations focusing on police reform, but the research and policy component is key. At Brookin