Presidential Debate

Hillary Talks Police Brutality at Debate, Connects Reform to Black-on-Black Violence

Deploys bromides on police training and techniques, but not accountability or transparency.



Asked at last night's presidential debate what she would do to "heal" the racial divide in the country (this may be as close as the nominees get to being asked about police reform at the debates), Hillary Clinton gave an answer that ended up connecting police brutality to black-on-black violence.

"Race remains a significant challenge in our country," Clinton began. "Unfortunately, race still determines too much, often determines where people live, determines what kind of education in their public schools they can get, and, yes, it determines how they're treated in the criminal justice system," pointing to "tragic examples in both Tulsa and Charlotte."

"We have to restore trust between communities and the police," Clinton insisted. "We have to work to make sure that our police are using the best training, the best techniques, that they're well prepared to use force only when necessary."

Clinton did not explain whether she believed the "best training" and the "best techniques" would be propagated at the federal or local level, nor what those things entailed. More importantly, she did not explain how the unspecified "we" would ensure cops only used force when necessary. Such a proposition is nigh impossible without significant reforms to the collective bargaining that permits police unions to extract contract provisions that protect bad cops from accountability.

While the largest police union in the country, the Fraternal Order of Police, endorsed Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton did not even respond to their questionnaire, she gave no indication she is willing to stand up to police unions that Black Lives Matter activists and others have identified as a contributor to a climate where police violence is pervasive. Trump in comments last week, meanwhile, suggested the Tulsa cop who killed Terence Crutcher had "choked" and that such problematic cops did not belong on the force.

Clinton did refer to her criminal justice platform, which mentions bringing "communities and law enforcement" together to set "national guidelines" for use of force, but not what those are, whether they would be voluntary or imposed as requirements for certain federal funding, nor how such guideline would overcome resistance from police unions and union contract provisions and state laws that protect cops who use excessive force. Her platform also mentions "state-of-the-art law enforcement training at every level on issues like use of force, de-escalation, community policing and problem solving, alternatives to incarceration, crisis intervention, and officer safety and wellness." Clinton's criminal justice platform neither incorporates all of the planks of Black Lives Matter's Campaign Zero, a practical set of policies aimed at reducing police violence, nor mentions any mechanisms for instituting accountability for individual police officers to actually abide by any kind of training or guidelines.

After referring to her platform, Clinton turned to praising cops. "But we also have to recognize, in addition to the challenges that we face with policing, there are so many good, brave police officers who equally want reform," Clinton said, ignoring the plethora of anti-reform comments made by police unions, which represent police officers. "So we have to bring communities together in order to begin working on that was a mutual goal," Clinton continued. "And we've got to get guns out of the hands of people who should not have them. The gun epidemic is the leading cause of death of young African-American men, more than the next nine causes put together."

Pointing to black-on-black violence in response to concerns about police violence is old and tired rhetoric usually deployed by police apologists who are not interested in reform. It presents a false equivalence between private violence, whose perpetrators law enforcement tries to bring to justice, and state violence, with generally goes unpunished, and will continue to do so until the privileges granted to cops by state and federal law and union contracts are rolled back. So far, none of these privileges have been addressed by either of the major party candidates nor by most down-ballot major party candidates either.