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Codes of conduct for police


To the editor:

The brutal beating death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of six police officers reminds us how broken our law enforcement system remains. From Eric Garner to George Floyd, as well as those before, in-between and since, the conversation around police brutality shifts and pivots, but never results in meaningful reforms.  

When Garner was killed, unapologetic police supporters blamed a failure to “comply.” That defense was repeated with ensuing deaths until overwhelming video evidence emerged demonstrating that even the compliant fall victim to police brutality.

This required a new narrative — the “bad apple” theory — which holds that the problem isn’t systemic, but rather the actions of a few rogue cops.  This past weekend, Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan excused Congressional inaction saying, “I don’t know that there’s anything you can do to stop the kind of evil we saw.” In short, he seemed to be saying “nothing I can do, let localities deal with the ‘bad apples’ as needed.”

I do agree with Jordan’s assertion that training will not end the brutality. As a former city employee, I took mandatory sexual harassment and equal employment opportunity training. The problem is this once-a-year training is no match for daily locker room exchanges. 

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis described Nichols’ murder as “a failing of basic humanity.” That is the heart of the matter. One way to address this issue is for police departments to set strict codes of conduct, on and off the job, which make it clear that using dehumanizing language — in locker rooms, over the radio, on social media, etc. — will not be tolerated. Under the code, use of terms like dirt bag, lowlife and such would result in charges with repeat offenders terminated. 

The reason is self-evident; when you refer to someone as vermin, extermination seems logical. It might help our politics, if members of Congress had to follow a similar code.

Joseph Cannisi


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