Californians Want Law and Order But They Also Want Orderly Law

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

Police tactics are once again under the microscope in California and around the nation as violent clashes between those who wear the blue uniform and lawless rioters is resulting in predictable calls for sweeping police reforms.

“Black Lives Matter” has been followed by “Defund the Police!”

Over the years California has seen its fair share of incidents involving police misconduct and outright brutality. The victims were not all black though in cases involving African-Americans prejudice is likely to have played a role.

George Floyd’s brutal death at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers seen by millions on video has ignited a debate and unleashed fury over treatment of blacks, whites and people of every hue that carried over to numerous California cities.

Los Angeles, Santa Monica, San Diego, Oakland, San Francisco and Sacramento all experienced looting and vandalism. The police took decisive action to stem the violence which only seemed to intensify.

In the aftermath we are now grappling with an issue that has bedeviled communities for decades—-how law enforcers can carry out their functions by lawful means. 

It pits the state’s and nation’s strict law and order advocates who favor tough police responses against those who believe that extreme measures may actually incite greater violence.

Scenes of cops and militarized state Guardsmen tear-gassing and baton-whipping peaceful demonstrators in the nation’s Capital with a military helicopter hovering menacingly overhead has not helped law enforcement imagery. 

Gen. Mark A. Milley, the top military official in the United States, has now apologized for his role in President Trump’s walk across Lafayette Square for his now famous bible-waving photo-op before St. John’s Church.  “It was a mistake and I regret having been there,” said Milley.

Dispatching California armed troops to trouble centers for the ostensible purpose of clearing streets and enforcing curfews had the opposite effect. In some places order was not restored until they departed.

President Trump, who luxuriates in the image of the strongman that will brook no defiance of his orders to the delight of his followers appears determined to add only more fuel to the fire. 

Upon seeing a harmless 75-year old white Buffalo protestor shoved to the ground by the police with head bleeding after hitting a rock causing him to be hospitalized, Trump tweeted an absurd conspiracy theory: 

“Could be an ANTIFA provocateur” who “was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment.” 

True, California has not built a reputation as an especially tough law and order state despite its early history glamorized in Westerns when John Wayne would ride into town guns ablaze and macho sheriffs staged impressive shoot-outs with renegades at high noon. 

Today the majority of criminals are generally apprehended in more mannerly fashion. Their legal rights are typically read to them before they are properly handcuffed, expeditiously whisked off to jail and brought promptly before judges to hear formal charges.

Floyd had a different experience crying out for help to his dead mother as he took his last breaths with an officer’s knee pressed firmly to his neck for over 8 minutes.  Three accomplices looked on obediently.

Nearly a week elapsed before all four were finally arrested and charged with crimes ranging from 2nd degree murder to manslaughter—long enough to further inflame a disbelieving nation.

Chokeholds so far as we know are not prohibited in police manuals and were considered legitimate when extreme force is demanded—–at least until now! Floyd was barely moving throughout his lethal ordeal. 

The “Justice in Policing Act” introduced jointly by Sen. Corey Booker of New Jersey and California’s junior Senator, Kamala Harris, who earned her spurs as a no-nonsense San Francisco prosecutor and former state Attorney General, is now in search of bi-partisan Senate support. 

Trump might still veto the bill if he thinks it could alienate his political base. 

With a big push from Rep. Karen Bass, (D-L.A.) Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, the legislation would outlaw deadly force except as a last resort only if de-escalation measures failed.

It would also make it easier to prosecute misbehaving cops who now enjoy “qualified immunity” and calls for creation of a national registry for police found using excessive force.

Also, now all federal officers would be required to wear body cameras. Floyd’s assaulters were either not wearing them or failed to turn them on. Without the video from an accidental bystander they might still be free today.

The bill has no provision calling for defunding or dismantling police departments contrary to the message posted by California’s GOP House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) who said flatly “Democrats want to defund you, but Republicans will never turn our backs on you.”

 Pres. Trump chimed in unhelpfully, “Now the Radical Left Democrats want to Defund and Abandon our Police.” 

Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, a city quite familiar with police brutality, proposed with backing from his new Police Commissioner that $150 million of police funding be reallocated to improve community relations and youth programs targeted to minority neighborhoods. 

San Jose, Sacramento and other riot-familiar cities are taking similar steps with emphasis on better police training, tougher disciplinary rules and more rapid firing of officers prone to serious misconduct.

Garcetti had previously proposed a 7% spending increase for the LAPD, including agreed upon raises and bonuses for rank-and-file officers. 

Labor unions long resistant to such cuts are putting up obstacles.  Minneapolis’s black Police Chief under pressure to summarily dismantle his department entirely has instead terminated all contract negotiations with its police union—a courageous move.  

Californians certainly demand law and order but the majority if polled would also come down squarely on the side of orderly law. 

The police cannot be expected to solve all our social problems nor should they be allowed to add to them. 

Decent, honest hard-working cops are paying the price for the bad actors who are quite comfortable with the status quo and will resist strong reforms. 

More political hand-wringing and go-nowhere congressional investigations into the underlying causes of these ills will not cut it any longer. We know the problems and they need to be fixed now.

Millions of outraged Californians and citizens everywhere are saying loudly, we’ve had enough!

 Floyd’s death seems to have galvanized a nation ready for dramatic changes despite a president increasingly out of touch with the desires of an overwhelming majority of Americans.

Whether this discontent carries over to the November election remains to be seen but it has gone well beyond debate over police reform. 

There is growing and serious talk in many quarters of the potential need for a military escort to remove the current occupant from the Oval Office if he were to lose and fail to concede. 

That discussion as far as we know was never had during any prior presidency.

 

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