Let’s use police brutality civil lawsuits to fund police reform

I just found out there is a spreadsheet of the hundreds of videos of police brutality across the country. Activists Create Public Online Spreadsheet of Police Violence Video  It’s horrific. It made me sad and angry. After my outrage I thought “What can we do with this resource to drive change?”

People are already using the videos to change laws and public opinion. That’s a great, but in our country you also need money to fund change and to fight the powerful, well-funded groups who don’t want change.

When I saw the videos I knew they could also be used to get money from civil lawsuits and that money could be used to drive police reform actions.

When I mentioned this idea to people they quickly pointed out that the money doesn’t come out of the police department budget. It’s all covered by the cities’ insurance polices. That’s when I fell into Helpless Defeatist mode. What yanked me out of HD mode was something I learned from listening to Sam Seder talk to trial lawyers like Mike Papantonio on Ring of Fire:

Here is Ring of Fire episode 543: We Know the Police Can do Better;

When trial lawyers win big civil lawsuits the settlements sometimes can change policy for an entire industry. So what if the police are  shielded by the cities’ current insurance polices? Create settlements that involve more that just getting the cities’ money for individuals. Develop settlement agreements that involve putting the money into specific social services or to pay for independent monitoring of the police.

There is probably some Latin legal name for what I’ll call a “Police Brutality Class Action Civil Suit.” Specific victims in the video who were hurt are the lead plaintiffs, but everyone attending the protest is part of the suit.  The proceeds can cover an individual’s specific damages, but a larger amount for the rest of the people can be used to fund specific police reforms. In addition, some money would be use to hire people who will keep fighting for those reforms.  

My Money. My Agenda.

The “Defund the police” conversation has led to, “How can we move money from the police to other services?”

Citizens can re-prioritize where the money goes. They change city budgets. First step is to look at where the money comes from then who controls it and what strings are attached to that money.

How do cities get money? They Issue bonds. Raise taxes. Get federal money. Get private money. Raise fees. Assess penalties. Seize assets. Have the police write tickets for violations of laws (BTW, that was how Ferguson got a lot of their money.) There are always multiple demands on how the money will be used. However, if the source of money is the Police Brutality Class Action Civil Suit, that money can be directed to policing reform.

Police reform is wasted without corresponding accountability

Tuesday on the Rachel Maddow show she talked to Reddit Hudson, the co-founder of the National Coalition of Law Enforcement Officers for Justice.  Hudson talked about their effort for reform that have been put into place, but were not effective. He noted that “any training  or reform that is going to be effective has to come first with real accountability.”

He then described what happened in Saint Louis after Ferguson where a great bill to create an independent panel that would investigate all police-involved shootings was put up by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. The Saint Louis Police officers Association, run by “a buffoon” Jeff Roorda, politically leveraged their influence and the bill wasn’t even brought to the floor for a vote. (She’s now suing the Police union alleging a coordinated, racist conspiracy to drive her from office.)

Hudson said, “This is what all the people you see on the screen should expect as we move forward to do this thing. These police unions, you have to be aggressive and take a stand and push for them to acknowledge the human rights, civil rights and civil liberties of the communities they are sworn to serve.”

Hudson knows that to make police reform happen we need to have a movement that has multiple types of power. The “bad optics” of police beating people is huge, but what happens when the people on the streets are back at work 6 months from now? The police unions will still be there working full time to protect their power.

“What has created the environment in which zero accountability exists and they have expectations that nothing is going to happen is the power and leverage that police unions across the country have enjoyed for generations.”

I’ve learned from battling the NRA that their constant presence in legislative bodies makes a big difference. I never underestimate their ongoing marketing, PR and lobbying efforts. A bunch of volunteers can try to redirect the money to different institutions than the police but they will be up against highly paid, well-connected lobbyists and their army of men who can legally use deadly force.

Remember when the tobacco companies were sued? The state used a lot of that money for health care but also for ads and programs to stop smoking. Let’s do the same. Use “class action” police brutality settlements to fund police reform but also to remind people why it was done, how it’s working and what is different now. Give people metrics, both financial and emotional. “Unlike last year, the city did NOT spend 30 million in police brutality settlements. Also police beatings are down 60% following the new reforms.”

Criminal cases are going to be filed. They won’t all succeed but the civil lawsuits coming out of those might. Those civil cases have a better chance of winning, so let’s be creative NOW about how those cases are used to achieve our goal of police reform and to help the people in the community where the protesters were beaten.

My thoughts on using financial leverage comes from my own methods used on defunding RW media but also from the Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuits where they sued to get the assets of racists and hate groups. If I understand correctly the SPLS doesn’t get the assets for people and then turn around and say, ‘Now give us all the money we won for you.” Those people decide what to do with the assets.

City Governments Ask: Where’s the money for change coming from?
I know people in city government who want police reform. They know their city is going to be hit with massive lawsuits and they can’t pass on the financial pain to the police culprits. This is where smart, successful civil rights lawyers and political policy people can help. Look into methods to fund the fight for reform. Financial gains from civil lawsuits can drive change and be used to counter the powerful police lobby that blocks reform.

Insurance leverage. No compliance. No coverage.

Another way city governments can force police reform is to look closely at their insurance policies. City charters require they carry insurance for their fire, police and city workers. In order to remain covered those groups have to be in compliance. My friends in the insurance industry have pointed out that many police department aren’t in compliance with the terms and conditions of their policies.

If the police see they are out of compliance and aren’t covered that’s a opportunity to take the cost of the settlements out of the police budget. One friend in Colorado suggested the cost should come out of the police pension fund! The police will scream–and start complying.

Hudson points out that the legal and financial systems were set in place by the police lobbyists to protect them from criminal and financial accountability. We can use the money from the Police Brutality Class Action Civil Suits to fund ongoing pressure for change in those system.

Comments are closed.