Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Rural lawyer, 50 years on, offers ideas on police reform

Larry Webster
After 50 years of working as a criminal-law attorney in far Eastern Kentucky, Lexington Herald-Leader columnist Larry Webster offers insight on rural law enforcement and suggestions for what must change, in light of the thousands of recent demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism.

Some of the best people he's ever known are police officers, but he's also known a few bad eggs, including one officer "who was hell-bent on killing somebody someday, and one day did," Webster writes. "Everybody knew he would kill, but how do you get rid of such a person? I have presented cases to juries of handcuffed old men being beaten in public by uniformed officers, of shootings without cause done by law officers, and have yet to get a single vote from one of those jurors against the police. This enables the occasional policeman who would cross the line. The fact that juries are afraid of the police also means that a very few horrible cops can embarrass the rest by public murder."

Webster suggests two fundamental changes to law enforcement, but warns that they're not quick fixes. "First, police must quit honoring their unwritten code of silence by which it assumed that one policeman will not tell on another. That is dishonorable and should be taught as such. That code instantly makes any bystanding cop an accomplice to a crime being committed by another policeperson," Webster writes. "Secondly, they have got to quit arresting people for piddly stuff."

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