The only kind of “police reform” that ultimate matters is fewer laws, fewer arrests, fewer prosecutions, and fewer incarcerations. Once again, libertarians are generally to the “left of the left” on this issue (depending on the flavor of libertarian, of course). Too many proposals for “police reform” amount to mere administrative reforms or procedural reforms rather than substantive reforms.
Five Thirty Eight
In January, Philip McHarris was driving from New Haven to Boston to visit a friend when he saw a familiar sight in his rearview mirror — flashing police lights. It was late at night, and McHarris pulled into a gas station and waited, as he had done many times before, for the state trooper to approach his window. The problem, the trooper said, was the way McHarris had pulled off at an exit. Then he said that the highway where McHarris had been driving was a drug trafficking route, and asked if he could search the car for drugs.
McHarris explained that he was a Ph.D. student in sociology and African American Studies at Yale who had just left campus for the weekend. But while the officer walked away to his car, McHarris quickly took a video of himself and sent it to his mother and sisters. “I said, ‘This cop thinks I’m trafficking drugs,’” McHarris said. “‘I love you and I’m trying my best to navigate this.’”
Eventually, the officer let McHarris go with a warning. It didn’t spiral into one of the deadly encounters that make the front pages of newspapers, where a Black man is killed at the hands of a police officer. The officer had even been relatively courteous, assuring McHarris that the stop wasn’t the result of racial profiling. But that just reinforced for McHarris how poorly the officer understood the racial dynamics of the interaction — much less the fear he felt throughout the encounter, and couldn’t shake even after he drove away. “What good is it if a cop is being nice to me while asking to search the car?” he said. “What I care about is that I got pulled over in the first place, and I’m sitting here thinking maybe this random gas station is the last thing I’ll see.”