Recent events relating to controversial deaths and senseless murder of public servants is rocking our nation. In the midst of emotion, little will be done to effectively move us past these incidents, to a more united society. There is no panacea that can cure all our social ills, but small steps that make life better. In the case of our criminal justice system, bringing more fairness and equity to all could go far. In addition, there needs to be social changes that reduce violations of law, potentially saving lives and increasing employability.
REFORMING THE SYSTEM
The bravery and service demonstrated by our men and women in blue should not be forgotten, despite recent events. The clear majority of police officers appropriately serve communities without incident. But there is room for improvement to ensure protection of due process, equal justice for all, and effective policing. The criminal justice system needs the ability to enforce laws and distribute justice without cloud of inequity.
Our founding fathers laid the foundation for justice in America, providing the principle of due process, establishing the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and laying out a system to adjudicate those in violations of laws. In our system, police officers serve as the gateway, charged with identifying infractions of our social rules. Then, prosecutors build a case based on the evidence, competing with defense attorney, protecting the rights of the accused. At the end, judges ensure adherence to process and administer justice following the ruling of a jury of peers.
In contrast to other nations, the defendant is presumed innocence until the jury says otherwise. No matter the appearance of guilt, the defendant is supposed to be given the benefit of doubt, providing the opportunity to demonstrate reasonable doubt. Additionally, our system is supposed to be blind to irrelevant characteristics, such as status, popularity, race, religion, or gender. Ideally, a Democratic frontrunner married to a former president should not receive special treatment compared to an impoverished minority needing to feed their family. But, reality is different than society’s best intentions.
In going forward, great focus needs to be in removing bias and increasing objectivity. In a generation of big data and 24 hour cable news, one can see how bias creeps into society, but does not excuse it. While crime statistics and daily news broadcasts create biases in the mind of the public, it should not overshadow the presumption of innocence due to all Americans. No American should be unfairly impacted by the system. In ensuring fair play, body cameras is a sensible solution, protecting both the public and the officers, as they will be able to provide a visual account of behaviors of the accused.
Another aspect to consider is how well communities recruit and training those charged with such a difficult task. In many cities responding to the influx of funding for new officers, recruitment standards were lowered to quickly fill open positions. As a result, one can expect training to be impact, creating more opportunities for individuals to be in situations without the skills and abilities to properly handle them. For instance, a study, published months back, showed that better educated officers are less likely to be involved in such tragedies. Combining with better recruitment standards, procedural changes that demonstrate effectiveness in diffusing situations should be implemented.
Should intent matter in our criminal justice system? That is a question that does not appear to be asked enough. Removing subjectivity in penal codes and the process itself would do much to eliminate biases that exists. Frequency and impact would be much more objective measures. Therefore, penalties issued would more likely to be equal, regardless of race, gender, or being a Democratic frontrunner.
The men and women of our law enforcement community do a great job of protecting and serving our communities. While emotionally charged incidents shaken our conscious, society should not overreact and paint labels with such broad strokes. The majority of law enforcement are not the problem.
The deterioration of values across our nation is major issue that impacts our economy, social behaviors, and criminal justice system. Throughout many communities, especially our cities, people see justice as successfully avoiding penalties for behaviors, not necessarily in appropriate punishment for behavior. As a society, we need to stop self-rationalizing, excusing bad behavior because emotion, and start making better choices.
Many of the tragic incidents that occur is based on the emotionally charged atmosphere. While the officers in many cases may not handle the situations appropriately, many situations involve the accused not acting right either. In spite of the anger associated, arguing with law enforcement is never going to end positively or without some penalty, whether arrest or increased violations. Negotiating and professionalism can go a lot further than arguing, and is much safer.
Furthermore, greater focus should be on shifting values, attitudes, and behaviors to reduce interactions with law enforcement, making communities safer and retaining employability. Though many abandon personal responsibility and accountability, people should consciously be aware of negative impacts their actions have on their community and situations. There is no small crime and no excuse for self-entitlement at the expense of others. Being able to be accountable for ones actions can go far in reducing the violence seen daily in our lives.
While not every infraction leads to incarceration, the ones that do make a permanent impact on one’s life and future. Many communities struggle to deal with the growing population of former convicts that burden social programs, as they are not employable. A temporary momentary lapse in judgment can negatively impact personal finance situations and our economy. Being a law abiding citizen and demonstrating self-control for a moment can help prevent years of begging society for a second chance.
In closing, the path forward needs to focus on removing biases, adhering to process, and becoming better human beings. No matter one’s race, gender, religion, or other demographic, their life matters. No one is above the law nor should any one be unfairly exposed to the system. At some point, we as a whole need to do the hardest thing in our nation, forgive. Then move forward with sincere efforts to unite.