14.07.2020 - Sonderveranstaltung mit Prof. Marie Michelle Strah, Prof. George Andreopoulos (CIHR, NY): Police the Public, or Protect It? Police Violoence and Racism in America and Germany
Today's topic of the presentation is police violence in America. The speakers were Prof. Marie Michelle Strah and Prof. George Andreopoulos. Both are educating at the Center for International Human Rights at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
Police brutality is widely discussed all over social media, especially tackling topics like racism and violence within the police.
It is significant to talk about the victims like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain etc. Therefore, it is important to start a conversation about how to provide justice for them and especially how police officers can be held accountable for their actions.
The nationwide demonstrations demand measures, for example improving the training of the police forces, defunding the police or abolishing the police forces.
Furthermore, it is a central issue in the upcoming campaign of the presidential election.
Taking all this into account America is facing a crisis of law and order.
Prof. Strah gave us an overview of the US criminal Justice system and the police organization. She pointed out that the United States are organized politically as a constitutional democracy however it’s a federal system. This also affects the decentralized organization of the police forces. In addition, she explained legal documents for example the US constitution or the Bill of rights which address due Process, criminal justice and individual rights. Within the American common law system it is a long and slow process of change due to case law.
During her presentation she pointed out some of the main issues that lead to injustice when it comes to arresting potential criminals and during the trial itself.
The first problem she addressed was the militarization of the police forces in the US which not only increases complex and violent crimes but also supports the rise of terrorism, neoliberalism, populist movements and the tea-party movement.
Populists tend to play with fears encouraging the imagination of a “war on crime” shifting its focus onto a “war on drugs” (especially Cannabis) which means as a consequence, that a much harder sentencing for low level crimes is getting established.
Further consequences are a decline in community policing, an increase in low level arrests, over-policing with, due to the lack of forces, mostly badly trained police officers and lastly an unproportionate over-criminalization.
In comparison in Europe the regulations about using force are much stricter than in the USA. Since due to a lack of training and looser regulations more police officers are dying on duty and also on the other hand policemen are killing about a thousand people a year. Hence, these circumstances can easily be called a lethal use of force.
The deployment of special weapons and swat teams increased especially under the Trump administration, albeit the local crime rates remain similar. Hence, the correlation of the increasing use of special forces does not lie in the local crime rate, but rather referring to studies in a correlation between the composition of the community (more black people) and the use of special weapons.
This creates a disproportionate use of special weapons and swat teams which are even already sent out to deliver simple serving arrest warns.
Another main issue can be seen in white supremacy and hate crimes.
Hate crimes in general go against a variety of minorities, especially pointing out black people, racial minorities, Muslims etc. Now especially regarding hate crimes with a racist background the highest number of such crimes does not occur where the discriminated groups are physically most spread.
When taking a look at the racial composition of the police departments two core points seem to be of major importance to state that there is a huge discrepancy of the perception how minorities within the police department are actually treated.
According to surveys 56 percent of the officers say that minorities are treated the same way when it comes to promotions and assignments in the department, whereas 53 percent of black officers state that white officers are treated better than minorities when it comes to promotions and assignments in the department.
The next point Prof. Strah dug deeper into was the bad training of the police officers in the USA. To clarify, the basic police training in the USA takes 21 weeks or 34 weeks if you include some field training. To apply for the police no degree is needed and during training officers are not provided with a proper degree either.
In comparison the basic police training in Germany takes 2 - 2,5 years and you have the opportunity to include a degree, then the training even takes up to 3 years.
The proven consequences of the much shorter training in the USA are less time to learn deescalation techniques, a larger emphasis on survival techniques, means that the police officers are not trained to find peaceful and consensual solutions and the whole training is predominantly arrest and crime oriented.
Not only is wrongdoing by the police in the first place a problem but also after the wrongdoing there is a lack of consequences for the police officers which is another problem leading to more police injustice.
The reasons for such a lack of consequences is mainly the dynamic between the police officers and the prosecutors, because the prosecutors often need the police to testify in order to progress with the investigation. If the police officer now sees himself in the prospect of getting accused himself he probably will refuse to testify.
Therefore, the prosecutors will not prosecute the police, because they need them as witnesses. This creates an inevitable sense of impunity of the police officers that they will not get prosecuted no matter what they are doing.
After Prof. Strah finished her presentation on the main issues Prof. Andreopoulos took over the presentation tackling the question of how much the police action fit into international human rights standards.
In the UN guideline on the use of force the UN has developed four major international principles: the principle of legality, the principle of necessity, the principle of accountability and the principle of proportionality.
In order to ensure that these standards are maintained 20 states in the US were tested by just looking at the regulations and comparing them to the national standards.
As a result, none of the analysed states were able to satisfyingly fulfil all four standards, whereby the lowest score was achieved by Indianapolis.
At the end, Prof. Strah started an open discussion about possible solution approaches to fix the injustice and decrease the wrongdoing by the police.
First of all there has to be a reform in training, for instance mandatory degrees to professionalize the institution as a whole. Further, she suggested demilitarizing the police forces and going more towards some kind of a community police. Her last suggestion was to provide federal police forces with a higher funding level.
Prof. Andreopoulos closed the presentation with the conclusion that the discussion should go beyond civil and political rights, because it is basically about human rights.
In conclusion it was an important and very interesting presentation.