Frontline on Newark police reforms

The PBS news program Frontline has been examining policing in the US and the efforts at reform. In a new episode released just this week The New Yorker magazine reporter Jelani Cobb goes back to the town of Newark, NJ where he grew up. He had gone there a few years earlier after the Obama administration had placed the city police under a consent decree following widespread abuses and ordered various reforms and appointed a monitor to oversee them.

He visited the city recently to see what had changed since then. He spoke with people like the city’s major Ras Baraka (the son of Amiri Baraka) with whom he had been friends with back in his school days, the city’s public safety commissioner, and the police chief. What he saw gave him some hope that meaningful reform is possible

However, the worst person in the program was the police union chief. Jelani Cobb showed him a video of police giving a horrific beating to a man, even hitting his head on the sidewalk after he had been subdued, and asked him if it was justified. The union chief said that it was.

It is becoming increasingly clear that police unions have become one of the biggest obstacles to police reform. They are some of the most reactionary organizations in the US, going beyond perfectly legitimate activities such as fighting for salaries and benefits for their members to covering up, justifying, and excusing the worst acts of police brutality, and opposing any meaningful attempts at improving things.


  1. says

    Yep. Cop union officials are pretty disgusting in their willingness to approve of beatings and other punishment inflicted before due process (and which would constitute cruel & unusual punishment in any case).

    They have the freedom to hold and communicate atrocious views, but being a police officer is not a right. We’ve created other behavioral standards by which cops are expected to abide or be punished. I don’t see why we shouldn’t create higher standards.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    Here’s a thing I don’t get : by US standards, Europe in general and the UK in particular are havens of progressive civilisation, or filthy commie hotbeds, depending on your persuasion. And here, even at the height of trade union power in the 70s,it was simply accepted as obvious that some jobs just don’t get to have a union. Soldiers, say, or cops. Its a concept so alien as to seem ludicrous.

    Meanwhile, in the country best known for aggressive union hatred, the US, the most powerful union is… The police one.

    Is it just because they have all the guns?

  3. lanir says

    I don’t get who the police unions are working for. It doesn’t help the average officer to keep incompetent lawless assholes employed alongside them. The blue line is just an admission that we have a blue mafia and they’ll do whatever they think they can get away with, legal or not, to continue their corrupt operation. Like a pedophile priest in a church, they’ll hide behind all the people in their organization who aren’t engaged in awful criminal acts while powerful people in the system who should have a vested interest in stopping them instead help them get away with it.

  4. says

    It is becoming increasingly clear that police unions have become one of the biggest obstacles to police reform.

    That’s their raison d’etre! They exist to resist police reform.

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