Real police reform requires gun control

Hey, Congress, think big; seize the moment and make a grand bargain

Published June 22, 2020 6:30AM (EDT)

Guns stand for sale at a gun show on November 24, 2018 in Naples, Florida. (Getty/Spencer Platt)
Guns stand for sale at a gun show on November 24, 2018 in Naples, Florida. (Getty/Spencer Platt)

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The whole idea of a Congress was a body of citizens could debate and act on issues interfering with our health and welfare. It was a system built on compromise.

For reasons too historic, too complicated and too disgusting, we've lost that. Now we treat Congress like sports teams that win or lose. There is little joy in playing the game.

But now, we've even lost that. Instead — and yes, it is an overstatement — we are getting very little out of Congress altogether. What does emerge — on the whole — seems to benefit wealthy backers of those in Congress, to guarantee that all things stay unchanged except the chance to make more money. And win re-election.

We have some real social problems on the table right now, the kind that only cost money. We're seeing the same players scurry to corners to do the same things, but this time over would-be principle.

Democrats want to respond to the call from the streets for practical and effective restraints on police brutality. Republicans acknowledge that there is a problem, but it is for locals to solve — unlike, say abortion or anti-immigration issues about which they care more. The Republican bill steers away from banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants that Democrats want. The GOP focuses on threats of withholding federal funds from departments that allow such tactics or do not submit reports about them.

As it happens, local governments split by size, location and racial makeup on the degree to which they want to act on addressing police and underlying systemic racism. Cops and police unions seem willing to accept some limits on police procedures with more training, but insist on legal protections for their members, immunity in many cases from outside review.

The president of the United States sees this is a political opportunity, a photo op, to sign an executive order that is wishy-washy in all respects in front of law enforcement officers that sort of suggests that maybe there may be a tiny number of rogue police. He sees no such thing as systemic racism.

Putting congress to work

The question is whether this Congress actually will do anything helpful, practical or effective on any of these very real questions. Are they merely robotic actors for wealthy lobbyists who see no way to turn this into money-making?

By doing nothing, there will be another George Floyd next week or the week after. It is three weeks since the Minneapolis police killing by a cop pushing his weight into Floyd's neck over a routine policing event.

In the great spirit of legislating, what is it that cops want that the legislature could provide?

What is it that might force something akin to compromise here?

Cops want Gun Control. So do Democrats, though Republicans not so much. What Republicans want is calm in the streets – Law & Order as they call it. They want to make it easier to ignore coronavirus again and get down to the important work of pushing the economy along. Donald Trump says he wants that too, and has he reminded you lately that he is the best president this country has ever seen?

So, here it comes: A new grand bargain. Let's get over the fake cover of federal vs. local control debate for a moment and make a new deal — Gun Control for Responsible Policing.

Bar assault-style rifles, sawed-off shotguns and the rest to help police on the streets and make life safer for Americans dying at the misuse of guns.

In return, give support across the aisle for a national database of brutality incidents with race; the abolishment of chokeholds; the elimination of immunity clauses; substantial Justice Department involvement in policing the police.

The bigger agenda

If we're to get out of our centuries of inequality, what I want is a set of working institutions of government intent on doing what it is constitutionally instructed to do . Make freedoms written on paper into real, practical, enforceable policies, all very practical, all very coordinated.

If anyone recognizes that the spate of protesting is about anything specific, it is about trust in government, which has failed to protect minorities in a multi-ethnic country. Yes, you can go back 400 years to the first import of a slave, but you needn't look that far back to recognize racial patterns of inequality in employment health, housing, education, law and a slew of measures of social equality.

The Grand Bargain approach is pretty simple: Want peace in the streets? Address the real needs of a country that is holding onto white privilege in a time when whites themselves are becoming another minority. Face what is real and reset American values to provide equal platforms in social and education programs.

Just last week, it took a Supreme Court ruling to decide that gays and transgender people are people too in the workplace and deserve not to be fired for sexual orientation.

Why isn't Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell standing next to Speaker Nancy Pelosi to say that it is outrageous that black men are being arrested, convicted, imprisoned and killed by police way out of proportion to their numbers, and that we are committed to changing that fact?

By Terry H. Schwadron

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Gun Control Police Reform