Episode 14: How to Make Police Brutality Illegal – Part 3

Transcript, Web links and Credits below.


It’s Wednesday, April 17th and if you are listening to this without listening to episodes 12 & 13, where I break down two Supreme Court cases – Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Connor – I would strongly encourage you to go back and listen to each of those two episodes first.

Because today is final part of a three part series where I am explaining why the most brutal, most egregious police officers continue to get away with their brutality. And in order for the solutions I propose in today’s episode to really hit home, I need you to learn the lessons from the past two episodes first, OK? So if you haven’t heard them, stop now, and go back. This episode will be right here waiting for you.

For those of you who heard the episodes on Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Connor, let’s continue. Today I am going to propose some deep systemic solutions to our audience. That’s why you’re here, right? And that’s why started The North Star – we’re not just here to change the news – we’re here to change the world.

This is Shaun King and you are listening to (THE BREAKDOWN)


Over the past 5 years, I’ve spent thousands of hours studying the crisis of police violence in the United States, I’ve written hundreds and hundreds of articles about it, I’ve traveled all over the country to speak about it, and I’ve helped to organize thousands of people and hundreds of families directly impacted by it. And after spending thousands and thousands of hours on this issue, I have many conclusions, but one primary conclusions drives them all.

Police violence, even in its most egregious forms, is legal. And as long as it’s legal, it will continue. Protests energize us. Sit ins and demonstrations and marches raise awareness. Hashtags and trending topics play a role. And I believe all of those things are necessary – all of them. I do. But I have come to believe what police themselves believe – and that’s they are brutal, they shoot first and ask questions later, because they are permitted to do so under the law. And as long as the law protects them, they are going to train themselves, and shape their systems around the law. And what Tennessee v. Garner teaches police is that if they say they believed they were in danger or the community was in danger, they can beat any case. And what Graham v. Connor teaches police is that they can’t be held responsible for what they say they didn’t know – which fundamentally means that when a police officer uses lethal force, it will be better for them to have done so before they truly assess and understand the risks because you can only be held responsible for what you know. And if you shoot and kill someone before finding out for sure that they were unarmed, you can’t be held responsible for not knowing it.

Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Connor provide the modern philosophies and framework for the justification and legal protection of violent police. Police academies across the country teach the laws, and the applications and limitations of these laws to their recruits. Departments bring in experts to train and re-train their own departments on these laws. Books and magazines and journals for law enforcement officers teach these laws. Conferences and workshops do too. They run drills on them. They do virtual reality simulations around these laws.

And if the laws change, everything else will have to change as well. Now that’s an oversimplification, but the laws set the standard on this issue. So today I am announcing a new initiative that we are going to build and launch as a part of the advocacy arm of The North Star. I say it all of the time, but The North Star is not just here to change the news, we are here to change the world. When Frederick Douglass & Martin Delany first launched The North Star in 1847, its unapologetic goal was the abolition of slavery. And our goal today remains abolition and freedom and liberation.

Now we’re in the very early stages of building and forming our advocacy work, but the success of this work is going to absolutely rely on your support.

Let me tell you now about 3 aspects of our work. Let me start big.


First, we must fight to challenge and change Tennessee v. Garner & Graham v. Connor. I don’t want to announce our entire strategy here, but each of those cases have several constitutional weaknesses that I think have been badly interpreted by the law enforcement community across the years. Not only that, but a lot has changed in the 30 years since these rulings were first issued and I think it’s time for several aspects of these laws that are simply outdated to be challenged.

The thing is, law enforcement has put tens of millions of dollars into bending these laws in their own favor and it will take an equal amount of work and resources for us to either bend them back or have them struck down altogether. Typically the cost of one single successful Supreme Court case starts at around $750,000. It’s no wonder, then, these cases have been challenged so few times across the years. The costs of successfully building and fighting the cases, which will take years, are steep, but the truth is that the costs of not fighting these cases is even steeper. We will need to take the time to build our team and build our own case to fight back.

And here’s why this work is different. So often, and this is out of necessity, our organizing work moves from crisis to crisis, conflict to conflict, emergency to emergency. And here’s the thing – some of our work just has to be that way. While we are working through one horrible issue, something else horrible happens, and that’s never going to change, but a group of us have to break away from the daily emergencies so that we can work on the deeper systemic shifts – addressing case laws and policies all the way up to the Supreme Court.

(A break of some kind)

Secondly, we are going to advocate for serious shifts in the use of force policies state by state, county by county, city by city, and even campus police department by campus police department. Let me tell what I mean – Tennessee v. Garner & Graham v. Connor may be the law of the land, but colleges, universities, towns, cities, counties, and states are fully able to make their own use of force policies. What that means is that while it may be remain legal for police to use force in the most heinous ways as long as Tennessee v. Garner & Graham v. Connor are still in effect, new policies can be made that make new use of force rules required if you want to actually keep your job in law enforcement. Right now, several local initiatives like this are already underway across the country and we’d love to help add some support to them, but we also want to do this work in your zip code, with your own local systems, and we’ll need your help to make that happen.

(A break of some kind)

And let me close with one last aspect of the work we’re going to do to help bring about deep systemic shifts in America’s justice systems. Team work makes the dreams work. I know that’s a cheesy rhyme, but dammit, it’s true. That’s why we’re in some beautiful discussions about forming very meaningful partnerships with some of the best institutes, think tanks, and law schools in the country. And I think we are going to be able to announce our first partnerships this summer. The truth is that it’s going to take some brand new coalitions and teams and partnerships for us to achieve the type of changes we’re talking and dreaming about. I’ve seen smart coalitions help pass amazing new laws that lone rangers could’ve never gotten done on their own. And this summer we hope to announce some smart partnerships and coalitions that we think are going to be required to shift systems the ways they need to be shifted. And if you think you know some organizations or groups or schools that we should partner with, or you help lead one, let us know, ok? Email partnerships@thenorthstar.com – again – that’s partnerships@thenorthstar.com to introduce yourself.


Thank you all for making it all the way through this episode of The Breakdown! I hope that you listened to all three parts of this series on how we can shift the systems on police brutality in the United States. Tomorrow we’ll be right back here on our daily news grind.

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Take care everybody.



Produced by Willis Polk II

Additional Production by Christian Idris "Idrys" Shannon

Additional Instrumentation by: Christian Idris “Idrys” Shannon & Lance "Lance Fury" Powlis

Additional Engineering by Amond “AJ” Jackson for Salem Psalms Library

Additional Vocals by Garnett “Natti” Bush

Scratches by Kenny “DJ FlipFlop” Vanderberg