I was initially satisfied to know that the families received some form of justice when a federal jury awarded $31 million in damages to Kobe Bryant’s widow and her co-plaintiff. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s and Fire departments are liable for infringing on their constitutional rights by taking and sharing gruesome photos at the site of the January 2020 helicopter crash that left nine people dead.
After some time to reflect on it, I am frustrated that $31 million was awarded to the plaintiffs. Not because Vanessa Bryant needed the money—she certainly does not—and that money will certainly change the life of Christopher Chester, Mrs. Bryant’s co-plaintiff.
My frustration is that the police and firemen who are guilty of sharing pictures of the remains of Kobe Bryant and the other victims aren’t paying that $31 million; California taxpayers are paying that money. That seems unfair.
More than $1.5 billion has been spent to settle claims of police misconduct involving thousands of officers repeatedly accused of wrongdoing. That number increases when you add up payments over a 10-year span.
The Washington Post documented nearly 40,000 payments involving allegations of police misconduct in 25 departments, totaling over $3 billion. Departments usually deny wrongdoing when resolving claims. Notable cities include Philadelphia ($136 million), Baltimore ($41 million), Washington, D.C. ($91 million), Los Angeles ($215 million), Chicago ($528 million), and New York City ($1.7 billion).
That is all taxpayer money.
Yet all I’ve heard lately is complaints over student loan forgiveness. Sadly, there is no smoke for police misconduct forgiveness. People are concerned about the 40 million people receiving student loan forgiveness, yet blissfully unaware (or unwilling to find out about) the numerous police officers who repeatedly have misconduct forgiven to the tune of millions of dollars.
Like an NYC undercover officer, whose 74 violations resulted in $2.5 million in payments, or a Chicago officer whose 16 violations resulted in $5.2 million in payments, or a Philadelphia police officer whose 143 violations resulted in $5.7 million in payments.
Over 10 years, $215 million, $528 million and $1.7 billon could have helped the people of Los Angeles, Chicago and New York immensely in various ways. That money could have gone to schools (specifically to pay teachers and fund academic and extracurricular activities), to social service organizations for job training and critical health-care services for those who need them.
Those dollars could have helped people in financial trouble during the covid-19 pandemic. Instead, that money went to “rectify” police misconduct.
Doesn’t it make sense to use some of those funds to train police officers on how to interact with the public when doing their jobs and use the rest to bolster agencies that can meet the needs of people that police can’t in moments of distress? That makes sense to me.
What makes even more sense is why advocates call for defunding the police or even abolishing police altogether. Because law enforcement is wasting taxpayer money on misconduct by people who, more than likely, don’t belong in the uniform. Police misconduct—particularly as it relates to police brutality—is a systemic problem tied to a history of racism and anti-Blackness.
But here is the truth. Privilege and exclusivity matter more than ensuring there are resources for all people. Police misconduct is enabled by a system that is both anti-Black and anti-poor.
I suppose passing pictures of a dead celebrity is forgivable also.
Rann Miller is the director of anti-bias and DEI initiatives as well as a high school social studies teacher for a school district located in Southern New Jersey. He’s also a freelance writer and founder of the Urban Education Mixtape, supporting urban educators and parents of students in urban schools. He is the author of the upcoming book, Resistance Stories from Black History for Kids, with an anticipated release date of February 2023. You can follow him on Twitter @UrbanEdDJ .