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Race, the Police, and Violence: Some Alternative Thoughts

“How do you root out bad cops without changing the behavior of good cops?”

This provocative question begins an opinion piece by Jason L. Riley, a member of The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board, published on June 1 and entitled “Good Policing Saves Black Lives.” The article highlights a forthcoming study by Harvard economist Roland Fryer and co-author Tanaya Devi. Mr. Riley uses study findings and quotes from Mr. Fryer and others to provide a fascinating alternative view of the links connecting police, citizens, race, and violence. Here are my top takeaways.

Yes, as Mr. Riley writes, investigations should be done with, not just to, police. But it’s equally true if not more so that as columnist Eugene Robinson wrote recently, “Policing is something that must be done with and for a community, not to a community.”

Maybe “good policing” means not pulling back after a high-profile negative incident, but stepping up, like family members and good neighbors often do in the face of crisis or grief.

Maybe if the police declared their support of those affected, and not just their commitment to catch and punish perpetrators, citizens would trust and cooperate with them more.

This article recommends focusing more on individual bad actors and less on entire police departments. Similarly, police need to do better at separating legitimate protestors from troublemakers with more divisive agendas, whatever those agendas may be.

None of this is easy. But instead of debating who is to blame, everyone involved, including police, their commanders, their unions, and the citizens they’re sworn to protect, can all take positive steps towards greater cooperation and trust. The alternatives, as current events make clear, are now too painful, damaging, and deadly to contemplate, let alone tolerate or encourage.