Watch a simple explanation of why it's so hard to improve policing in the U.S.

Reforming our police system seems like a no-brainer. So why does very little usually come of plans to do just that?

With more and more stories of police brutality making their way across the news, you might figure something has to happen eventually. I mean, on a very basic level, the police are meant to serve the public, so there should be some level of accountability ... right?

Yeah. About that:


That's right: Police in 14 states get their own bill of rights separate from the rest of us.

In Louisiana, they even get protection against discrimination despite being a job that people willfully enter into and not a class of people being unfairly punished for their natural-born traits.

But the worst part about it? None of this is new.

Back in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson launched a commission for justice reform that specifically addressed policing in black communities.

There was even a plan in place to weed out cops who were racist or violent. And yet, here we are, 50 years later. Cops who are disciplined for behavior are still formally protected, to the point where they're guaranteed good recommendations at other police departments even after they've been fired for — you guessed it! — racism and violence.

None of this is particularly surprising either, however, when you consider that organized policing at many times throughout history has been used to make sure that slaves, laborers, and the poor all "knew their place." As formal police departments replaced constables, sheriffs, and local militias in the mid-to-late 1800s, their jobs were less focused on merely keeping the peace and reacting to incidents and more on stopping people before they even had a chance to disrupt the proper "order" of things, whatever that might mean.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Police arrest a civil rights protester in Newark, N.J., in 1967. Photo by Evans/Getty Images.

The craziest part about all of these police powers and protections? The police don't necessarily need them.

2015 was the safest year for police in record history. American crime rates are also at a 25-year low. And on the incredibly rare occasion that an offending officer is actually brought before a grand jury? There's still just a slim chance they'll be indicted for a formal trial, thanks in part to their cozy relationships with the district attorney's office.

The streets are generally safer today, and individual officers are pretty much immune to all potential consequences. Yet police departments have spent billions of dollars on armor, guns, and other military equipment — and are still pushing for more. SWAT units in particular have quadrupled in the same period that crime has gone down. That might sound like a correlation worth considering, but statistics from the ACLU suggest that SWAT aren't particularly effective. (Some of them also claim to be immune to public records laws, too.)

When you treat people like they live in a war zone, it makes them feel like they live in a war zone and not a community. That makes things worse for everyone. Photo by Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images.

As John Oliver once said: "The phrase isn't 'It's just a few bad apples; don't worry about it.' The phrase is 'A few bad apples spoil the barrel.'"

There's a cultural impulse in the states to always clarify that most individual officers are well-intentioned, upstanding citizens. That may be true. But that also enables a system that allows corrupt and abusive behaviors to continue. And the fact that we're so afraid to outright criticize the enforcers of the state says a lot about the troubling power dynamics at play.

Fortunately, there are places like Denver, Colorado; like Dallas, Texas; and like Washington state, where law enforcement officers are taking it upon themselves to clean up their acts and make their communities stronger and safer, together.

Let's just hope that other police departments follow suit.

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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One little girl took pictures of her school lunches. The Internet responded — and so did the school.

If you listened to traditional news media (and sometimes social media), you'd begin to think the Internet and technology are bad for kids. Or kids are bad for technology. Here's a fascinating alternative idea.

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Norton

This article originally appeared on 03.31.15

Kids can innovate, create, and imagine in ways that are fresh and inspiring — when we "allow" them to do so, anyway. Despite the tendency for parents to freak out because their kids are spending more and more time with technology in schools, and the tendency for schools themselves to set extremely restrictive limits on the usage of such technology, there's a solid argument for letting them be free to imagine and then make it happen.

It's not a stretch to say the kids in this video are on the cutting edge. Some of the results he talks about in the video at the bottom are quite impressive.

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