The Overview - August 07, 2020
The Overview is a weekly roundup of eclectic content in-between essay newsletters & "Conversations" podcast episodes to scratch your brain's curiosity itch.
|Nicholas McCay||Aug 7|
Hello Eclectic Spacewalkers,
I wish that you and your family are safe and healthy wherever you are in the world. :)
Check out the last The Overview themed around “Anti-Racism”: HERE
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Below are some eclectic links for the week of August 5th, 2020.
This weeks theme is “Law Enforcement & Policing in the United States”
Enjoy, share, and subscribe!
Table of Contents:
Articles via LA Times, CNN, LilSis.org, OneZero, NBC News, Commonweal Magazine, The New Republic, TIME Magazine, Foreign Affairs, Axios, ProPublica, Public Discourse, Vanity Fair, The Guardian, FiveThirtyEight, TruthOut, The Nation, DISSENT Magazine, NY Mag, VICE News, The Intercept, Vulture, and Midwest Socialist
Books - The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander; Are Prisons Obsolete by Angela Davis; When Police Kill by Franklin E. Zimring; The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale; Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement by Ejeris Dixon (Editor) and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (Editor); The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes and Racism in America's Law Enforcement and the Search for Change by Matthew Horace
Courses - Policing Through History via HarvardX
Comic Strip - L.A. TACO & Local LA Artist
Discussions - 5 Rules for Recording Police: Steve Silverman via FlexYourRights.org; Armed in America: Police & Guns Town Hall event via PBS
Documentaries - Do Not Resist via Vanish Films; Policing The Police via FRONTLINE; Once Upon A Crime: U.S. Police Brutality via RT Documentary; Deadly Force: Arming America’s Police | FaultLines via Al Jazeera English
Lectures - Don’t Talk to the Police via Regent University School of Law; Never talk to the police - an Idaho Attorney’s Perspective; Steve Silverman - What To Do When Stopped By A Cop; “You Have the Right to Remain Innocent” via The Cato Institute
Papers - Police Killings in the U.S. - Inequalities in Race/Ethnicity and Socioeconomic Position; Can You Build a Better Cop?: Experimental Evidence on Supervision, Training, and Policing in the Community; Militarization fails to enhance police safety or reduce crime but may harm police reputation; The Mass Criminalization of Black Americans: A Historical Overview; Police Are Our Government: Politics, Political Science, and the Policing of Race–Class Subjugated Communities
Podcast Series - Running from COPS via Headlong; Shots Fired via Radiolab; The Untold Story: Policing via Lemonada Media
Podcast Episodes - The death of George Floyd: will anything change? via Guardian Podcasts; Justice in America Episode 21: Police Accountability; American Police via NPR; Blame via Radiolab; Mr. Graham and the Reasonable Man via Radiolab
Short Films - How America Turned Its Police into an Army via New Economic Thinking; The Police Trainer Who Teaches Cops to Kill via The New Yorker; Policing the Police: The Copwatch Movement via VICE News; The Racial History of Policing in America via BK Live; The History of Policing in America via The Real News Network
TED Talks - Policing in America needs to change. Trust me, I’m a cop: Renee Mitchell at TEDxOxbridge; Policing in America: The Road to Reconciliation | Danielle Outlaw | TEDxPortland; How The Warrior Mindset Shapes Law Enforcement | Dean Crisp | TEDxTryon; Problem-Oriented Policing: Where Social Work Meets Law Enforcement | Derrick Jackson | TEDxYDL; Mending broken trust: Police and the communities they serve | Charles Ramsey | TEDxPhiladelphia
Twittersphere - Police Brutality MEGA-THREAD via @greg_doucette; 1 Riot Gear Load Can Buy 55 Front Line Care Workers Full PPE via @markerslinger ; “Did Iraq & Afghanistan Wars contribute to the militarization of US police departments? Data are pretty clear. Surplus military equipment transferred to local law enforcement (via 1033 program) steadily rose starting in mid-00s, followed by spikes after 2010.” via @ProfPaulPoast
Of the nearly 18 million calls logged by the LAPD since 2010, about 1.4 million of them, or less than 8%, were reports of violent crimes, which The Times defined as homicides, assaults with deadly weapons, robberies, batteries, shots fired and rape. By contrast, police responded to a greater number of traffic accidents and calls recorded as “minor disturbances,” The Times found.
By far, the most common types of police work recorded by the LAPD were stops of drivers and pedestrians that officers elected to make on their own for perceived violations. Each year over the past decade, Los Angeles police have made between 550,000 and 950,000 such stops, according to The Times’ review.
These stops have contributed heavily to the distrust and anger Black Americans feel toward police as studies have found repeatedly that police target Black people for stops at disproportionately high rates compared to other races and ethnicities.
Last year, for example, a Times investigation found that a special unit of LAPD officers stopped Black drivers at a rate more than five times their share of the city’s population.
Dramatically scaling back the frequency of these stops could lead to a meaningful change, McHarris said.
Matrofski and others said cities will need to improve their collection and use of data, such as the history of calls at a particular address, to minimize the chance of mistakes.
Some categories of calls appear less complicated. Nearly 66,000 times last year, police were called on to respond to minor disturbances, which included complaints of fireworks, loud music and car alarms. And thousands of times each year police are summoned to referee squabbles between family members, tenants and landlords and others.
These types of quality of life issues could be handled by something along the lines of the unarmed, uniformed “police support officers” used in the United Kingdom, said Alex Vitale, a sociologist at Brooklyn College who has argued for the need to dramatically scale back police responsibilities.
“Police are not social workers, they are violence workers — they are authorized to use violence in a way no other person is allowed and their authority is derived from this power,” Vitale said. “We’ve turned over all these problems to police because there was no one else left, but we need to open our minds to other options.”
CHANGE IS POSSIBLE
This town of 170,000 replaced some cops with medics and mental health workers. It's worked for over 30 years via CNN
“Around 30 years ago, a town in Oregon retrofitted an old van, staffed it with young medics and mental health counselors and sent them out to respond to the kinds of 911 calls that wouldn't necessarily require police intervention.
In the town of 172,000, they were the first responders for mental health crises, homelessness, substance abuse, threats of suicide -- the problems for which there are no easy fixes. The problems that, in the hands of police, have often turned violent.
Today, the program, called CAHOOTS, has three vans, more than double the number of staffers and the attention of a country in crisis.
CAHOOTS is already doing what police reform advocates say is necessary to fundamentally change the US criminal justice system -- pass off some responsibilities to unarmed civilians.
Cities much larger and more diverse than Eugene have asked CAHOOTS staff to help them build their own version of the program. CAHOOTS wouldn't work everywhere, at least not in the form it exists in in Eugene.
But it's a template for what it's like to live in a city with limited police.”
“As calls to defund the police gain traction, bloated police budgets are coming under scrutiny for siphoning public resources away from black and brown communities. While police budgets are typically public documents that must be approved by elected officials, there are other institutions in place with the sole purpose of funneling even more resources toward law enforcement.
Police foundations across the country are partnering with corporations to raise money to supplement police budgets by funding programs and purchasing tech and weaponry for law enforcement with little public oversight. Annual fundraising events and parties like the St. Paul Police Foundation’s “Blue Nite Gala” and the Chicago Police Foundation’s “True Blue” event are huge moneymakers. The NYC Police Foundation reported that it raised $5.5 million from its annual benefit in 2019.
If police departments already have massive budgets – averaging 20% to 45% of a municipal budget – why do these organizations exist? Police foundations offer a few unique benefits to law enforcement.”
Microsoft, Amazon, and PayPal Executives All Have Seats on the Boards of Police Foundations via OneZero
“New research shows tech companies’ police involvement goes way beyond their products
Technology companies make substantial donations to police organizations. On Thursday, corporate watchdog group LittleSis revealed a list of private-sector donors to police foundations across the country. Those donors include Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Motorola, and Viacom.
Police foundations are nonprofit organizations that are often privately run and exist to support police departments through fundraising and advocacy efforts. They also provide a controversial loophole when it comes to purchasing equipment for local law enforcement, as nonprofits aren’t accountable to the same transparency rules as public agencies. In the past, police foundations have donated thousands of surveillance cameras, spy technology such as Palantir, “Stingray” phone tracker devices, and license plate readers to police departments with little to no public knowledge. Some have even used their influence to coordinate deals between technology companies and police departments.
These same foundations have surprisingly close ties to tech companies. In Seattle, for instance, the Seattle Police Foundation cemented its relationship with Microsoft two years ago by welcoming Microsoft’s director of worldwide public safety, Kirk Arthur, onto its board of directors. While Arthur’s stated mission at Microsoft is to enhance public safety and justice, the exact nature of Arthur’s duties at the foundation are unknown. Microsoft declined to comment on the matter, and the Seattle Police Foundation did not respond to OneZero’s questions about Arthur’s role at the nonprofit.”
DISABILITIES & MENTAL HEALTH
“Almost half of the people who die at the hands of police have some kind of disability, according to a new report, as officers are often drawn into emergencies where urgent care may be more appropriate than lethal force.
The report, published by the Ruderman Family Foundation, a disability organization, proposes that while police interactions with minorities draw increasing scrutiny, disability and health considerations are still neglected in media coverage and law enforcement policy.
"Police have become the default responders to mental health calls," write the authors, historian David Perry and disability expert Lawrence Carter-Long, who analyzed incidents from 2013 to 2015. They propose that "people with psychiatric disabilities" are presumed to be "dangerous to themselves and others" in police interactions.”
“Our Society Has Become Too Reliant on Police
Important as such reforms are, we must also increase funding to social services that can reduce the number of interactions with armed officers and provide the resources without which people are more likely to turn to crime. Every state and municipality will have to consider its particular circumstances—a town of ten thousand people will have needs different from New York City. But in many cases it will make sense to shift certain responsibilities from the police to other agencies and groups, reducing police-department budgets and reinvesting in services that help the most vulnerable. “Care, not cops” has emerged as a slogan of the Black Lives Matter movement; it’s a call to prevent crime by meeting urgent social needs instead of reflexively resorting to arrest, prosecution, and punishment. What could such a society of care look like? Each of us can begin to answer that for ourselves and our communities. The spectacular cases of police misconduct are what make national headlines—and rightly so—but the discussions occurring every day in city-council sessions, meetings of local civic groups, and places of worship are the first critical steps in bringing about the change that’s needed.”
“Law enforcement agencies have become the standing armies that the Founders feared.
What are Americans getting out of this bargain? Not as much as they might think. Though police departments’ mandate is to investigate crimes, they often aren’t very good at it. In 2018, The Washington Post released “Murder With Impunity,” a major project looking into homicide clearance rates in major cities across the country. It found that in most of the country’s largest cities, police departments struggle to solve many of the homicides that they investigate, particularly in overpoliced communities. What’s more, the Post found that 68 percent of big-city departments have actually seen their clearance rates decline over the past decade, even though homicides across much of the country have dropped to their lowest level in decades. In other words, the police are getting worse at solving murders, even though there are fewer of them to solve.
At the same time, departments often find themselves pursuing far more trivial offenses. Perhaps the most egregious examples were documented in the Ferguson Report in 2015. Compiled by the Justice Department, it found that the Missouri police department’s practices were “shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than public-safety needs.” It cataloged dozens of instances where cops acted like petty despots who fined members of the community for petty and trumped-up offenses, then jailed them when they often couldn’t pay. This “policing” strategy by a mostly white police department fell upon Ferguson’s African American residents. The Justice Department found stark racial disparities almost everywhere it looked: For a two-year period leading up to Michael Brown’s death, for example, every defendant charged with “resisting arrest” was black.
The result is a severe social, economic, and physical toll on certain American communities, particularly among predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods. At the same time, modern policing also exacts a profound toll on its agents. In 2019, 228 active or former police officers died by suicide, more than four times the number of officers who died in the line of duty that year. Officers who repeatedly deal with traumatic situations are also more vulnerable to developing a range of mental-health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The effects can spread far beyond the affected officers themselves. Researchers have found that domestic violence rates are substantially higher for law enforcement families than for other families.
There are some instances where troubled police departments have taken serious steps toward reform, including in places like Newark. But events over the past week have shown that there are far more departments that may be beyond saving. Exactly what should replace them would be up to their respective communities. Perhaps smaller, detective-heavy police departments that focus on homicides, white-collar offenses, and other major crimes would be a healthier alternative. Perhaps shifting the bulk of police budgets into housing, mental health care, and other social services would be a better long-term investment. Whatever the alternative to armed paramilitary forces on American streets may be, we should not hesitate to find it.”
“In cities, increasing urbanization rendered the night-watch system completely useless as communities got too big. The first publicly funded, organized police force with officers on duty full-time was created in Boston in 1838. Boston was a large shipping commercial center, and businesses had been hiring people to protect their property and safeguard the transport of goods from the port of Boston to other places, says Potter. These merchants came up with a way to save money by transferring to the cost of maintaining a police force to citizens by arguing that it was for the “collective good.””
In the South, however, the economics that drove the creation of police forces were centered not on the protection of shipping interests but on the preservation of the slavery system. Some of the primary policing institutions there were the slave patrols tasked with chasing down runaways and preventing slave revolts, Potter says; the first formal slave patrol had been created in the Carolina colonies in 1704. During the Civil War, the military became the primary form of law enforcement in the South, but during Reconstruction, many local sheriffs functioned in a way analogous to the earlier slave patrols, enforcing segregation and the disenfranchisement of freed slaves.
In general, throughout the 19th century and beyond, the definition of public order — that which the police officer was charged with maintaining — depended whom was asked.
The drive to professionalize the police followed, which means that the concept of a career cop as we’d recognize it today is less than a century old.
Further campaigns for police professionalism were promoted as the 20th century progressed, but crime historian Samuel Walker’s The Police in America: An Introduction argues that the move toward professionalism wasn’t all good: that movement, he argues, promoted the creation of police departments that were “inward-looking” and “isolated from the public,” and crime-control tactics that ended up exacerbating tensions between police and the communities they watch over. And so, more than a half-century after Kennedy’s 1963 proclamation, the improvement and modernization of America’s surprisingly young police force continues to this day.”
“Demilitarization Will Require Decolonization
Protests for racial justice surged in the streets of American cities this June, only to meet a police response that looked startlingly like warfare: police used tear gas on protesters, donned Kevlar helmets, and brandished weapons appropriate to the battlefield. Critics objected that police in the United States were no longer the “civil” force they claimed to be so much as an “occupying army” that had turned American cities into war zones.
Today the demand to demilitarize the U.S. police is widespread. Last month, Rand Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky, and Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii called to end the 1033 Program, by which police have been able to secure billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment. And while the outcry may have grown louder, the concern it expresses is hardly new. In 2014, citizens of Concord, New Hampshire, learned that the city’s police department was going to receive new military equipment, including a tank. Protesters descended upon the town hall with signs reading, “More Mayberry, Less Fallujah!” “
“The bars in this graph show the range of estimated homicides if the correlation for the US sources were like the ranges we’ve found in the countries listed in the left-hand column. If the US correlation were like the correlations among sources in Kosovo, the estimate would be a bit more than 10,000 US police homicides. If the US correlation were like the correlations among sources in Colombia, the estimate would be a bit less than 10,000. And so forth.
To understand the impact of the correlation between one list organized by the police – like the Supplementary Homicide Report – and another list organized from media sources – like the Arrest-Related Deaths database – it’s most useful to compare them to other cases where we have similar kinds of lists, that is, police and media lists. And the range of correlations that are most informative for our investigation are those in Colombia, where there is a very effective police reporting database, and good databases maintained by human rights groups of homicides reported in the press.
Using the correlations from these lists, we conclude that for the eight-year period included in the study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, it is likely that there were approximately 10,000 homicides committed by the police, that is, about 1,250 per year. Keep in mind that the Bureau of Justice Statistics report itself excludes many jurisdictions in the United States that openly refuse to share any data with the FBI. The true number of homicides committed by police is therefore even higher. Though not a true estimate, my best guess of the number of police homicides in the United States is about 1,500 per year.
As I said at the beginning of this article, the estimate of 1,500 police homicides per year would mean that eight to ten per cent of all American homicide victims are killed by the police. Of all American homicide victims killed by people they don’t know, approximately one-third of them are victims of the police.
America is a land ruled by fear. We fear that our children will be abducted by strangers, that crazed gunmen will perpetrate mass killings in our schools and theaters, that terrorists will gun us down or blow up our buildings, and that serial killers will stalk us on dark streets. All of these risks are real, but they are minuscule in probability: taken together, these threats constitute less than three per cent of total annual homicides in the US. The numerically greater threat to our safety, and the largest single category of strangers who threaten us, are the people we have empowered to use deadly force to protect us from these less probable threats. The question for Americans is whether we will continue to tolerate police violence at this scale in return for protection against the quantitatively less likely threats.”
“1,004 people were shot and killed by police last year in the United States, according to the Washington Post’s database.
Breaking it down: That’s not the highest rate in the world. Authorities in Brazil, the Philippines and Venezuela, for example, kill significantly more people as a proportion of their populations. But America’s rate is far higher than those of most other wealthy countries.
By the numbers: In England and Wales, three people were shot and killed by police last year. Roughly as many (22) were killed over the past decade there as are killed by police in the U.S. in an average week (19).
* The U.K. is not an exception. Police in Australia shot and killed between 1 and 11 people each year from 1991 to 2017, according to a government report.
* Killings by police in Japan are exceptionally rare (two were recorded in 2018), and many smaller European countries like Denmark can go years without a single such incident.
* America also sees more police officers shot and killed in the line of duty (44 in 2019) than most other countries.
One differentiating factor is that in the U.S., most police officers and many civilians carry guns. Tactics also differ widely.
* Flashback: In 2015, the NY Times documented a visit of U.S. police leaders to Scotland, where just 2% of officers carry guns, to be trained to defuse situations without weapons.
* The officers were astonished to hear that not only had Scottish police only shot two civilians in the previous decade, no officers had been killed in the line of duty since 1994. Go deeper”
“Police killing is not the work of vigilant warriors defending society at great personal cost, and sometimes going too far. It is the day-in, day-out petty tyranny of a taxpayer-funded bureaucratic lobby group. The difference is that, unlike other public sector unions, police unions have military-grade equipment they can use to violently crush protests against their abuses, and they are legally immune from most consequences. They’re teachers’ unions, but with tanks and endless get-out-of-jail-free cards.
Police officers kill about 1,700 Americans every year. In other words, police killings have made up about one out of every twelve violent deaths of Americans between 2010 and 2018. That’s including American military deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere during that window. Indeed, more Americans died at the hands of police officers during that period (about 14,400) than died while on active military duty (about 9,400).
Police violence in America is extraordinary in its intensity. It is disproportionate to the actual threats facing police officers, and it has risen significantly in recent years without apparent justification. Its effects are felt across all racial groups, with non-Hispanic whites making up half of all people killed by police officers, even as African Americans are killed at disproportionately high rates compared to any reasonable baseline.”
“We asked experts to watch videos showing officers using tear gas, pepper balls and explosives on protesters. Police actions often escalated confrontations.
As protests denouncing police brutality against unarmed Black people spread to thousands of cities, it was videos of police violence — this time, directed at protesters — that went viral. Clips showed officers launching tear gas canisters at protesters’ heads, shooting pepper spray from moving vehicles and firing foam bullets into crowds.
ProPublica looked at nearly 400 social media posts showing police responses to protesters and found troubling conduct by officers in at least 184 of them. In 59 videos, pepper spray and tear gas were used improperly; in a dozen others, officers used batons to strike noncombative demonstrators; and in 87 videos, officers punched, pushed and kicked retreating protesters, including a few instances in which they used an arm or knee to exert pressure on a protester’s neck.
While the weapons, tactics and circumstances varied from city to city, what we saw in one instance after another was a willingness by police to escalate confrontations.
To better understand the dynamics at play, ProPublica spoke to several experts on policing and enlisted two of them to review a selection of eight representative videos in which ProPublica could clearly identify problematic conduct by the police. We break down four of those videos below, accompanied by the experts’ assessment of the police tactics displayed.
The videos have forced the public to confront the reality of dangerously excessive responses by officers against protesters, but will that reckoning be short lived?”
Two Months Ago, Congress Had a Chance to Help Prevent the Escalating Militarization of Police via Vanity Fair
“All of this provides a windfall for both security and arms companies and police departments, who are often enormous spenders against reforms that would curtail the militarization of public safety. Hoyer is one of the two members who have received thousands of dollars from the National Fraternal Order of Police (F.O.P.) in this campaign cycle. As tensions continued to mount in Ferguson, F.O.P.’s executive director Jim Pasco defended the militarization of police officers. “All police are doing is taking advantage of the advances of technology in terms of surveillance, in terms of communication and in terms of protective equipment that are available to criminals on the street,” Pasco told The Hill on Thursday.
And the newest frontier in this fight will be in the skies. This past summer, I was part of a group advising the New York State Senate on regulations for unmanned aerial vehicles (U.A.V.s). I was told time and time again that lawmakers don’t want to add any additional regulations for their use by police. One of the explanations offered was that the U.A.V.s themselves were being manufactured in central New York, and they were hoping that only lightly regulating their use would allow them to be an economic engine. Just as American communities have built economies on prisons, they may soon be building them on drones, many of which will likely land in the hands of police departments.
In the face of all this, some lawmakers are still trying to rein in the police. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) has introduced a new bill to limit military transfers to the police. Whether it succeeds this time will likely be dependent on the voices of those in Ferguson and elsewhere. We’ll see if they’re loud enough to drown out the lobbyists.”
Yes, American police act like occupying armies. They literally studied their tactics via The Guardian
“Created in the 1990s, the so-called “1033 program” allows police departments to obtain surplus material from the vast stocks of the world’s largest military. Not all the material is what most would consider war-fighting hardware. Some of the inventory consists of exercise gear or even musical instruments. But the renewed clamor to “demilitarize” the police is usually directed at the helmets and body armor, rifles, and armored vehicles that have been on abundant display since Minneapolis police killed George Floyd last week.
In some cases, this police would commit torture, forced disappearances, and massacres. The largest US police assistance mission coincided with the war in Vietnam. When Engle’s operation closed down, many of his subordinates came home to become police chiefs, prison wardens, Washington law-enforcement bureaucrats, private security contractors, or criminology professors. One later remarked that his experience in Vietnam remained front and center in his mind while a chief because it was “far more fascinating than any work of fiction”.
Although the gear has changed, American police have always directed their attention toward suppressing political rebellion. Distant lands, colonial occupations and theaters of war have served as crucibles for testing and advancing policing techniques. Demilitarizing police is absolutely necessary – but it will require more than just ending one surplus equipment program.”
De-escalation Keeps Protesters And Police Safer. Departments Respond With Force Anyway via FiveThirtyEight
“When I had the opportunity to build a new police department, I was able to do in three days what would normally take me three years to do.”
It’s also just hard to change police culture. Maguire compared it to trying to change hospital procedures by using evidence-based medicine. Even if the evidence is, “don’t perform this surgery in that way or someone could die,” it can still take 20 years for the new technique to be widely adopted.
The disconnect between rank and file and executive leadership — commonly cited as an impediment to policing reform — also seems to get in the way of improving policing of protests. Take the Atlanta Police Department as an example. On Saturday the city’s chief Erika Shields earned plaudits for meeting face to face with protesters, empathizing with their grief and fear, and even reprimanding some of her own officers: “I’m standing here because what I saw was my people face to face with this crowd and everyone is thinking, ‘How can we use force to diffuse it,’ and I’m not having that.” But mere hours later, her department was trending on social media again — this time because officers had used tasers to force two college students out of their vehicle, even though they did not appear to be posing any threat.
That, experts say, speaks to a cultural attitude that is endemic to the profession, and is hard to change with new chiefs or rules.
Thomson encountered this when he tried to make change in Camden. The police department was so dysfunctional that the city took the unprecedented step of disbanding the force and reconstituting a whole new agency from scratch. “When I had the opportunity to build a new police department, I was able to do in three days what would normally take me three years to do, because of work rules, because of the bureaucracy of collective bargaining agreements — there are a lot of impediments to reform,” Thomson said.
Couper, the creator of the Madison Method, said, “It’s this whole attitude of, ‘We keep order because we kick ass, and it’s us against them.’ (…) We’ve got to root those people out and say, ‘Look, this is the job that we expect. This is how a democracy is policed. If you can’t buy into it. I’m sorry. You just have to find another job.’”
Police “Reforms” You Should Always Oppose
Here is a simple guide for evaluating any suggested ‘reforms’ of U.S. policing in this historical moment.
1. Are the proposed reforms allocating more money to the police? If yes, then you should oppose them.
2. Are the proposed reforms advocating for MORE police and policing (under euphemistic terms like ‘community policing’ run out of regular police districts)? If yes, then you should oppose them.
3. Are the proposed reforms primarily technology-focused? If yes, then you should oppose them because:
a. It means more money to the police.
b. Said technology is more likely to be turned against the public than it is to be used against cops.
c. Police violence won’t end through technological advances (no matter what someone is selling you).
4. Are the proposed ‘reforms’ focused on individual dialogues with individual cops? And will these ‘dialogues’ be funded with tax dollars? I am never against dialogue. It’s good to talk with people. These conversations, however, should not be funded by tax payer money. That money is better spent elsewhere. Additionally, violence is endemic to U.S. policing itself. There are some nice individual people who work in police departments. I’ve met some of them. But individual dialogue projects reinforce the “bad apples” theory of oppressive policing. This is not a problem of individually terrible officers rather it is a problem of a corrupt and oppressive policing system built on controlling & managing the marginalized while protecting property.
“The history of American policing shows that it was designed to eat up resources and subjugate the civilian population.
Police reform is supposed to help police improve their technical capabilities to ensure order and disarm critics who charge that governments do not care about abuse. It is intended to increase police legitimacy, shoring up public support for the government. But by earning this support at home, police leaders have transformed their agencies into a power unto themselves. Greater police legitimacy means greater ability to shape governing priorities. The result is today’s larger, technologically sophisticated police department, which gobbles up increasing shares of budgets and seem to answer to no one. When police commit an outrage, reformers step in to reject calls for reducing police power. They offer reform as a way to maintain it.
This brings us back to where we began: with the question of how to quell a rebellion. If US police professionals helped autocrats decades ago, today they have become the autocrats. Police have behaved during these protests as if their prerogative trumps the Constitution. Whether by attacking or arresting journalists, detaining delivery workers during curfews, or simply brutalizing innumerable protesters with tear gas, batons, and rubber bullets, police indicated throughout the current protests that they would not be constrained.
In response to demands to abolish police, the profession is offering the familiar acknowledgment of a need for reform. But the long history of police reform as a response to political insurgency may be coming to a close before our eyes. Police have held municipal budgets hostage for decades now, under the premise that without their professional expertise there would be anarchy. After the past two weeks of police terror, once they take off their body armor and put the chemical munitions back in storage, will anyone believe them when they say “Trust us”? It is time to stop believing that police reform is the answer. Reformism is what got us here.”
“Defunding police, by itself, will make the problem smaller. This is, in a sense, progress. But it leaves the basic political structure intact: it does not necessarily change how police evaluate themselves, which means that they will continue to target the people that their human or algorithmic supervisors identify as fair game. It will not change the revenue structure of the cities that fund themselves with fines and forfeiture; police will still get directives from on high to engage in piracy, incentivizing interactions that prove tragic for the plundered.
The core problem with policing and incarceration is the same problem that plagues our whole political system: elite capture. The laws, the regulations, the bailouts, and the wonks who write and evaluate all of the above are all powerfully influenced—if not functionally controlled—by elite political and corporate interests. We cannot put our faith in elected representatives and merely vote our way out of this problem: elections are more dominated by dollars than ever, and grassroots energy around political figures is increasingly shaped by identity politics, which faces its own elite capture problem.
Instead, we need to give power back to the people—directly. Under one specific proposal, offered by the Washington, D.C.–area group Pan-African Community Action (of which I’m a member), communities would be divided into districts, each of which would be empowered to self-determine how to maintain public order. Each district would hold a plebiscite to decide what to do with its current police department, immediately giving the community the direct voting power to abolish, restructure, downsize, or otherwise reconstruct their departments.
Whichever police departments survive the vote would be directly controlled—not overseen, not solicited for advice, not merely “participating” in decision-making—by a pair of civilian control boards. To prevent the corporate capture of elections through lobbying and advertising that plagues the rest of our political system, these boards would be staffed by sortition (random selection of the population, in the way juries are composed) rather than elections. The random selection severs the links between police departments and the wider web of prosecutor, corporate, state, and federal incentives that now govern their behavior.
The boards would have direct control over hiring and firing, the prerogative to set and enforce community priorities and objectives for harm response, and to set relationships with other communities (for example, merging departments with a neighboring district). They would rotate membership, with community tenure lasting anywhere from three months to a year, depending on the complexity of the issues at a given point in time. A variety of methods could help ensure that members have the time and energy to devote to their tasks, including provision of child care, paid leave (or direct compensation, for the retired and unemployed), weekend scheduling (as Ireland’s recent Citizens Assembly used), and other forms of support to the citizens acting as officials of the community.
In the best case, community control over police would come packaged with a broader commitment to sortition, in which case the budget the civilian board managed would be the outcome of a similar process arranging the local budget as a whole. Even in a less than ideal scenario, community control over police would be a marked improvement over the current system. It would be within the boards’ power to run the operation at any scale below the upper bound of their budget allocation. An abolitionist civilian board could, then, effectively nullify even a pro-police militarization budget from an ideologically opposed city council.”
“This history highlights the fact that America’s exceptionally punitive criminal-justice system is a (loathsome) remedy for a genuine social problem. Intensive policing in black communities does not exist to reproduce white supremacy; it exists because white supremacy condemned wide swathes of the black public to economic dispossession, and then blocked the path to more humane means of combating the violence that dispossession fostered. The fact that African-Americans are disproportionately likely to live in neighborhoods with high homicide rates is itself an index of racial oppression. Thus, if our aim is to affirm the value of black lives, then we must be as concerned with redressing the injustice of concentrated criminal violence as we are with combating the obscenity of racist police killings.
And there is reason to fear that in the absence of much higher investments in community-based gun violence prevention, conflict mediation, mental health, public employment, job training, health care, education, and other vital social services, cutting police budgets could result in more African-Americans losing their lives to homicide.
But today, the peer-reviewed journals have caught up with our civil-rights visionaries. In a 2017 review of criminological literature, researchers from the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania found that increases in policing manpower reduced crime — but increases in wages and job opportunities did, too. A 2016 report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers similarly concluded that “a 10 percent increase in wages for non-college educated men results in approximately a 10 to 20 percent reduction in crime rates.”
If we provide disadvantaged areas with the employment opportunities, economic development, housing, and social welfare services that they deserve, while developing community-based institutions of crime deterrence, we can plausibly render policing as we’ve known it obsolete.
By contrast, if we make modest cuts to police budgets — and use the freed-up funds to make recession-induced cuts to municipal social services only slightly smaller than they otherwise would have been — we may well condemn more black Americans to violent deaths. As of this writing, we are heading toward the latter outcome. This week in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he would cut some funding for the NYPD, and redirect it to social services — which will, nevertheless, see a potentially multibillion-dollar overall budget cut.
If we stipulate that there is no alternative to implementing draconian, economically irrational austerity in the middle of recession, then the diversion of a sliver of NYPD funds to youth services and conflict mediation is a win. But there is no reason to make that stipulation; not when the protestors in our streets have Republicans shaking in their jackboots. Few objectives are more integral to advancing racial justice, or laying the groundwork for a world beyond policing, than defeating fiscal austerity. To win that fight, we must make our calls for new spending on social nourishment as loud as our demands for defunding collective punishment.”
“The law invented the concept of officer discretion so white drivers could get fewer speeding tickets. If we want to have fair and equitable policing, we’ll have to get over our hatred for speed cameras.
“Historically, police officers come from a concept called ‘the police power’ which does not refer to police officers,” Seo said. “And the way it’s defined as a sovereign, inherent power to govern for people’s health, safety and welfare...When you look at what police officers in the 19th century did, they responded to public safety and welfare, for example finding lost children, taking care of drunk people sleeping on the street. It was very much a caretaking function of the government.”
So, instead of having one department that responds to all kinds of public welfare issues like homelessness, domestic violence, speeding cars, gunshots, and robberies, specialized agencies could respond according to their expertise and have the tools on hand necessary for that specialization alone. DUI patrols, for example, could be trained in de-escalation tactics, detecting intoxicated individuals, and substance abuse treatment.
As with any other drastic reform, these are not perfect solutions and they come with trade-offs including privacy concerns from all the enforcement cameras. But destroying systemic racism requires sacrifices. You may not be able to argue your way out of a speeding ticket, but it also can’t order you to step out of the car.”
Law Enforcement Scoured Protester Communications and Exaggerated Threats to Minneapolis Cops, Leaked Documents Show via The Intercept
“Newly leaked documents reveal that, in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, local and federal law enforcement agencies repeatedly told police in Minnesota that they were under attack. The fears stoked by the warnings appear to have set the stage for the police’s escalating, violent response to the protests, including the widespread use of tear gas, percussion grenades, and rubber bullets, sometimes fired at close range.
The documents show that law enforcement leadership warned of potential threats from antifa and “black racially motivated violent extremists,” as well as vaguely described social media users. Federal and local agencies collected intelligence drawn from private online messaging groups and Slack channels, according to the documents. The agencies also tracked Facebook RSVPs to peaceful protest events, including a suburban candlelight vigil.”
“Special Services Group, the vendor behind the brochure, does not advertise its products publicly. Its logo is the floating-eye-in-pyramid logo seen on the back of the $1 bill, which conspiracy theorists associate with the Illuminati, and the company's slogan is "Constant Vigilance." The company is so secretive that, when asked for comment for this story, it threatened VICE with legal action if we published this article.
The brochure is available here, starting from page 93.
"Due to the critical missions of our customers, we have chosen not to place our product information on our website. Please use the contact section of our site to request more information," the company's website reads.
Special Services Group says on its website that it caters to law enforcement and government agencies, but not necessarily exclusively; the website adds it also works with "select clients."
The brochure, dubbed "Black Book" by its authors, contains a cornucopia of surveillance devices.”
TIES WITH RACISM & WHITE NATIONALISM
“Over the past week, cops have shown that they share a coherent ideology.
Make no mistake: Cops have allowed other demonstrations, even very large ones, to play out with minimal or no interference. Heavily armed right-wingers marched on statehouses last month decrying measures to arrest the spread of Covid-19, and the police universally treated them as peaceful and lawful demonstrators, even as they threatened lawmakers and burned at least one governor in effigy. There were no violent crackdowns, no curfews, no brawls on the streets, no kettling or mass arrests. There was no tear gas. No major George Floyd–inspired protest has received the same courtesy, as far as I can tell. Fifty cops decked out in full riot gear descended on 14 quietly protesting students in Hoover, Alabama, on Tuesday, and arrested them all.
Democratic (and occasionally libertarian) politicians, liberal think tanks, and policy shops have produced lots of proposals designed to prevent what happened to George Floyd from happening again: implicit bias training, de-escalation training, body cameras, use of force restrictions. None of these figures have a plan to stop police from allowing a white mob to violate a curfew with impunity while brutally repressing protesters representing the “other side.” What is the reform plan for that, exactly? What is the reform plan for police choosing to believe deranged conspiracy theories about demonstrators?
It is almost reassuring to believe that the police want peace but are, through ineptness or poor training, bad at achieving it. They have told us, over and over again, that they are a political force with specific goals. Are we ready to listen yet?”
“The ramifications of putting cops at the center of the story is starkest on procedurals. Every week, these series churn through crimes to solve; new victims and suspects arrive, and every week they leave again when their problem has been solved and order restored. The characters who stay are cops. In the almost unimaginable deluge of American crime TV, the characters whose names we know and whose lives we value are cops. The communities they police are disposable, and at the end of each episode, they’re promptly disposed of…
Police procedurals have become so much a part of American culture that when Donald Trump tweets “LAW & ORDER” as a call for even more police control, his followers will recognize what he means, and they will also, of course, recognize the name of a TV show about cops. It’s not surprising that as New York City mayor de Blasio defended the actions of police officers who drove cruisers into a crowd of protestors on Saturday night, cable TV was in the middle of a 21-hour marathon of Chicago PD. No matter when de Blasio spoke, on Saturday or any other day of the week, there would almost certainly have been a police procedural playing somewhere else on TV. “If those protestors had just gotten out of the way,” de Blasio said, “we would not be talking about this situation.” It was a callous, heartless thing to say, but the underlying message of de Blasio’s words was uncannily supported and echoed by every fictional cop narrative on TV that night, and every night. It’s a shame if protestors got hurt, but they really should have known better.”
“Being “working class” is a relation, not an identity
The state is not a neutral arena, it has a class character
The police are a unique arm of the capitalist state
People of good faith may raise a lot of questions about this issue. Particularly if they know people who are police.
Aren’t a lot of police working people of color?
Why should teachers have unions but not police?
Wouldn’t the situation be worse if there was no union?
One of the most compelling arguments for police unions is that without them, police forces would be even more prone to cronyism, patronage and abuse—without the protection of union contracts, police forces would become the personal fiefdoms of politicians, who could stock them with loyal henchmen, use them as political pawns, and otherwise subject a potentially lethal armed force to the whims of locally powerful politicians.
This was an argument that, as someone who considered themselves on the labor-left, was persuasive to me, because it has a similar logic to arguments that are used to defend public-sector unions in general. One of the most critical functions of public-sector unions is to protect those workforces from becoming mere patronage dumps for powerful politicians, which degrades public services and undermines democracy.
This is probably the most persuasive argument in favor of police unions. However, the implication is that so long as state power is held by an exploitative class, the public is stuck between two bad options. With strong unions, police can beggar cities, exercise immense power in urban politics, protect and immunize their members from accountability. Without them, corrupt bourgeois politicians can build personally loyal patronage armies inside what is essentially a paramilitary force. In neither case is the public more safe.
Drawing down police departments and funding alternative public safety programs, and building working class organizations to take state power—two approaches that complement each other—are the only sure ways to end the police violence that has wracked the working class and in particular the Black and brown segments of the working class, for generations.”
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Are Prisons Obsolete by Angela Davis
When Police Kill by Franklin E. Zimring
The End of Policing by Alex Vitale
Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement by Ejeris Dixon (Editor) and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (Editor)
The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes and Racism in America's Law Enforcement and the Search for Change by Matthew Horace
Full ‘CitiesX: The Past, Present and Future of Urban Life’ Course https://www.edx.org/course/citiesx-the-past-present-and-future-of-urban-life
A Local Artist Made a Mini Comic Book to Help People Understand the Andres Guardado Case via L.A. TACO
Do Not Resist via Vanish Films
Policing The Police via FRONTLINE
Police Killings in the U.S. - Inequalities in Race/Ethnicity and Socioeconomic Position
Can You Build a Better Cop?: Experimental Evidence on Supervision, Training, and Policing in the Community
Militarization fails to enhance police safety or reduce crime but may harm police reputation
The Mass Criminalization of Black Americans: A Historical Overview
Police Are Our Government: Politics, Political Science, and the Policing of Race–Class Subjugated Communities
Headlong: Running from COPS
Shots Fired via Radiolab
The Untold Story: Policing via Lemonada Media
The death of George Floyd: will anything change?
Justice in America Episode 21: Police Accountability
American Police via NPR
Blame via Radiolab
Mr. Graham and the Reasonable Man via Radiolab
T. Greg "BOEK THE BLUP" Doucette @greg_doucetteTo simplify following the criminal justice news of the last 36 hours, I posted a set of 10 links to police brutality videos on Facebook Can't do that here, obvs So I'm putting them into a thread
“Did Iraq & Afghanistan Wars contribute to the militarization of US police departments? Data are pretty clear. Surplus military equipment transferred to local law enforcement (via 1033 program) steadily rose starting in mid-00s, followed by spikes after 2010.” via @ProfPaulPoast
Data proves that together these eight policies can decrease police violence by 72%.
We can end police violence in America
Police have killed 598 people in 2020.
A curated collection of links
“This resource guide offers sources on policing, prisons, and punishment. In general, I’ve tried to list shorter pieces, articles, and listening/viewing material. Though the sources are organized thematically, there is no issue in the carceral state that doesn’t intersect with another; therefore, most of the categories are necessarily false divides used for purposes of organization. In places where I’ve listed books, I include a link to the book or to an interview with the author.”
That’s it for this week. Until next time - Ad Astra!