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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Let’s “Defang” Not “Defund” the Police

The Daily Escape:

Great Falls, VA – photo by Zev Steinhardt Photography. These falls on the Potomac River are about 15 miles west of DC.

A few distressing stories about police and their relationship to our society came up in the past few days. First, the NYT reported on a claim that anti-police employees at a NYC Shake Shack restaurant had “intentionally poisoned” three officers who ordered milkshakes.

The story was initially broken by the Detectives’ Endowment Association in New York, who claimed on Twitter that the officers had been targets of an attack:

“Tonight, three of our fellow officers were intentionally poisoned by one or more workers at the Shake Shack…”

The NY Police Benevolent Association (PBA) chimed in, insisting that the attack was part of a larger, nefarious anti-police crusade:

“When NYC police officers cannot even take a meal without coming under attack, it is clear that [the] environment in which we work has deteriorated to a critical level. We cannot afford to let our guard down for even a moment.”

Numerous media outlets then reported that NYC officers had been poisoned on purpose.

But, the story was misleading. NYPD found that no crime had been committed. The problem may have been that the milkshake machine wasn’t properly cleaned. Eric Boehlert:

“The false story played right into a right-wing fantasy portrayal of police critics and the Black Lives Matter mindset — the idea that activists are plotting ways to poison and kill members of law enforcement….the mainstream media is too quick to buy into the false portrait and to embrace bogus stories that support that characterization.”

So much paranoia. Who knew police are such snowflakes?

Second, Atlanta police reacted to the murder charge against Garrett Rolfe, the policeman who was fired after he shot Rayshard Brooks twice in the back, killing him. Hours later, CNN reported that Atlanta police stopped responding to calls in three of the department’s six zones.

The WaPo reported that Vince Champion, the southeast regional director of the International Brother of Police Officers said:

“This is not an organized thing, it’s not a blue flu, it’s not a strike, it’s nothing like that…What it actually is, is officers protesting that they’ve had enough and they don’t want to deal with it any longer.”

The “blue flu” is a de facto police strike in which a large group of officers simultaneously call in sick. Essential state employees, like police and first responders, are legally forbidden from actually walking out on the job in many jurisdictions.

These police are protesting about no longer being automatically above the law in Atlanta. This is a form of extortion by some police who fail to perform their duty; it is another form of abuse that is being shown by elements of the police in our nation. Trump gave them air support on Fox News:

“I hope he [the former officer] gets a fair shake because police have not been treated fairly in our country…”

Once again, the myth that police are the real victims persists. The road to reform will be long and torturous. We will not succeed in reforming the police by calling it “defunding”, or “reimagining” them. We have to start by taking away their military style weapons and by holding them accountable for their actions.

In other words, we have to defang the police.

Law enforcement has simply been allowed by towns and cities to rot. The problem has lasted because people of color are the police’s primary targets. White people aren’t harassed by the police anywhere near as much as people of color. So if something doesn’t affect you, you tend to ignore the problem, or do nothing to eliminate it.

Cops and their supporters keep going on and on about the supposed “good apples”.  Yet those supposed good cops seemingly keep protecting the “bad apples”.  How is it possible for them to be “good cops” when they keep protecting the bad guys.

We have to start by DEFANGING the police, but it won’t be easy.

Let’s remember that the last person to successfully break up the police was Sting.

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Will the Demonstrations Lead to a Wave Election?

The Daily Escape:

Lenticular clouds over Utah Lake, UT – 2020 photo by jephriB. It’s Utah’s largest freshwater lake.

One thing that is giving Wrongo hope amongst the (mostly) negative voices about the protests against police violence is how universal these protests have become. People have protested in all 50 states and DC, including in hundreds of smaller towns and cities that have not been in the spotlight during previous nationwide protests.

On Sunday, our little town of 25,000 had a demonstration supporting Black Lives Matter. Here are a few photos:

Photo by Pame Ortega

Photo by Pame Ortega

There seems to be something happening on the ground that may have electoral implications in November. Wrongo’s home town is in a very conservative part of Connecticut. It voted 75% for Trump in 2016, and is 94% non-Hispanic White. The town Facebook page is a cesspool of right wing comments. Yet the march was well-attended, and the marchers skewed young, white and female. It was completely peaceful:

Photo by Pame Ortega

The speakers on the town green included politicians, police, local clergy and rally organizers.

Wrongo has regularly scheduled Monday morning meetings with the town’s mayor, a conservative Republican. The mayor had attended the march, and we spoke in passing about the demonstration. He was pleased by the strong attendance, and was happy with the response by his police, fire and public works departments. He was also happy to see peaceful engagement by the citizenry.

Are things changing in America?

The WaPo reports that the closer someone lives to a protest, the more likely it is to change their vote. Moreover, protests influence not just election turnout, but also what types of issues rise to the top of party platforms, and who gets elected to local, state and federal offices.

Demo Memo reports that most Americans believe in the right to protest, but a surprisingly small share of the public has ever demonstrated. According to a 2018 Gallup survey, just 36% of adults have ever felt the urge to organize or join a public demonstration. That is much higher than it was during the fractious 1960s. In 1965 when Gallup asked the same question, only 10% of Americans said they had ever felt like organizing or joining a protest.

What’s driving the change in the willingness to demonstrate? Maybe it’s the growing polarization of our society. Or perhaps our growing diversity and the relative youth of our population are behind the change.

WaPo also shows that young people in the outer suburbs and small towns are becoming less conservative. They report that statistical analyses suggest that rural voters age 18 to 29 went from supporting Donald Trump by a 17-point margin in 2016 to supporting Democratic congressional candidates by an eight-point margin in 2018. Votes by their older neighbors (40s and older) barely budged.

Even the smallest cities have shifted leftward in recent years.

We’re in a new era. First, COVID-19 brought home to us who were the truly essential members of the American workforce, and how many of them were minorities. Now, we’re seeing first-hand how those same people are forced to live, and how they’re mistreated by our police and by American society at large.

As they say, you can’t unsee this.

Much of what is working to bring about change is the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been an organizing force working on these issues at least since 2014. Add to that, white suburban disgust with Trump and his goon-like behavior around both the pandemic and the protests.

It has become clear to white people that Trump would have zero issues with shooting them in the street, beating them, or pepper spraying them, or turning dogs on them.

And when most families are spending concentrated time at home together, their kids are asking them unanswerable questions.

The only answers are at the ballot box. Vote for change in the White House, the Senate, in your statehouse, your county seat, at city hall and on your school board.

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Monday Wake Up Call – June 8, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Banksy – June, 2020

Banksy is a well-known British graffiti artist whose identity is secret. But he’s become well-known, gaining attention for his politically charged works. The above appeared in an Instagram post where Banksy says:

“At first I thought I should just shut up and listen to black people about this issue. But why would I do that? It’s not their problem, it’s mine. People of colour are being failed by the system. The white system. Like a broken pipe flooding the apartment of the people living downstairs. The faulty system is making their life a misery, but it’s not their job to fix it. They can’t, no one will let them in the apartment upstairs. This is a white problem. And if white people don’t fix it, someone will have to come upstairs and kick the door in.”

Well said. We all should know where the responsibility lies for fixing the problems of racism.

Let’s hope that Americans understand the threat and the opportunity posed by this moment. Racism and the indiscriminate use of violence by police are burning the fabric of our society. How the fire is put out is entirely in our hands.

And the demonstrations continued over the weekend, mostly peacefully, at least as Wrongo writes this. These rallies have quickly become the focal point of a nationwide movement against systemic racism, and for police reform. They’re becoming better organized, and are unlikely to end soon.

Thousands gathered on Capitol Hill on Saturday to join a protest organized by Freedom Fighters DC. It drew one of the largest crowds since protests began there:

Source: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Sen. Angus King (I-ME) joined the protesters outside the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Roll Call reported that: (brackets by Wrongo)

“…he [Sen. King] drew connections between the current uprisings and his experience at the 1963 March on Washington. He was a 19-year-old student at Dartmouth College and was on hand for Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech at the march on Aug. 28, 1963.”

At the time, Wrongo was also a 19-year-old student, studying at Georgetown in DC. Sen. King says that this is a “full circle moment” for him, and Wrongo agrees. It’s a full circle moment for America. We appear to be on the verge of something big, politically.

More from Sen. King:

“This is what America is all about. First Amendment rights of people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for the redress of grievances. This is a 400-year-old grievance…”

Roll Call reported that protesters and police kept each other at a distance and largely avoided skirmishes. King noted that Saturday’s crowd was about 80% white and young, which he called “significant” in comparison to Dr. King’s 1963 March on Washington.

Having a large element of white support for the DC marches is important to building the political momentum for change. As Banksy said, “People of colour are being failed by the system. The white system”.

Kellie Carter Jackson, says in the Atlantic:

“Since the beginning of this country, riots and violent rhetoric have been markers of patriotism. When our Founding Fathers fought for independence, violence was the clarion call. Phrases such as “Live free or die,” “Give me liberty or give me death,”…echoed throughout the nation, and continue today.

More from Carter Jackson:

“Black rebellion and protest, though, have historically never been coupled with allegiance to American democracy. Today, peaceful demonstrations and violent riots alike have erupted across the country in response to police brutality and the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Yet the language used to refer to protesters has included looters, thugs, and even claims that they are un-American.”

Particularly by Trump and Barr.

In reality, if we are to fix what’s wrong, it’s going to be fixed town by town and city by city. That means that domestic policing in the US needs to be reinvented from the ground up. It will be a huge job, since there are more than 18,000 police departments in the US.

It’s time to wake up America! We’re again seeing a grand revealing of what’s been behind the curtain since 1619.

We’re waking up to: “this is what’s going on in America?” Hopefully, it’s not too late.

And with COVID-19 added to the mix, we’re looking around, saying: “Wow. Why is everyone so vulnerable? Why is everyone living paycheck to paycheck? “What’s with the police brutality?”

Time to wake up and get busy. It will take an overwhelming turnout in November to right this sinking ship.

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Is Insurrection Brewing in Our Cities?

The Daily Escape:

Mt. McLoughlin, Cascades Range, OR – photo by kayalfainart. Unclear if that’s another mountain in the background, or Godzilla peeking at us.

…and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people, the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.” ― John Steinbeck, “The Grapes of Wrath

This could be written today, because new grapes of wrath could again be harvested.

Think about the grim future ahead for today’s high school and college graduates. With 40 million unemployed, jobs will be scarce. Wages will be stagnant. Many of those 40 million may be out of work for quite a long time, as will many of the new grads. Many families will go hungry.

Add to that the people who are protesting the killing of George Floyd. This uprising involves a direct challenge to police power, along with a clear challenge to political power as well. That’s visible in Trump’s militarized reaction to Constitutionally-guaranteed protest.

We’re experiencing confusion and tension that has put many cops on edge at a time when their goal should be de-escalation, not escalation. There have been an untold number of similar incidents in the past where police officers have been exonerated in cases of seemingly obvious abuses of power.

That has led America to understand that its police forces can act with almost total impunity. As Wrongo has said earlier in the week, historically, this has hurt black and brown people the most. Here’s a chart that shows American’s current attitudes towards the police:

Source: Morning Consult

People may finally be fed up. There’s the tension over the pandemic, and the economic pressures it’s created. And there’s Trump, who seems only capable of pouring gasoline on what is already a bonfire.

The militarization of American law enforcement, already a massive problem, has been taken to the extreme by Trump. He thinks nothing of brutalizing a crowd of protesters so that he can be filmed walking across the street to wave:

“…an upside-down Bible in front of a church he rarely attends and whose leaders and congregation work against the policies he trumpets.”

Trump has threatened to use the US military to put down protests, even if state leaders do not want the US military in their states. Secretary of Defense Esper has spoken of a need to “dominate the battlespace” (he subsequently recanted) in reference to something that is not a battle, and that involves civilians, not a hostile enemy.

Our military is monitoring protests in multiple states, including flying drones over Minneapolis.

On Monday, Washington DC saw a bizarre “show of force” with helicopters hovering much lower than permitted over crowds of peaceful demonstrators. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Milley, was patrolling near the White House in his camouflage uniform.

On Tuesday night, troops of the 82nd Airborne Division, 10th Mountain Division and 1st Infantry Division arrived at Joint Base Andrews near Washington DC.

But who would they be fighting against? These tactics — mass arrests, tear gas, rubber bullets, intentional and unconstitutional attacks on peaceful demonstrators and journalists — are familiar, because they’re the tactics employed by authoritarian governments all over the world in response to local insurrection.

But, is what’s happening in our cities an insurrection?

Replacing the police with the military would only escalate the situation. Violence begets violence. But creating more “resistance” may well be the Trump Administration’s plan.

Let’s agree that there was unnecessary violence and property damage in many cities. Facebook and Twitter are ablaze with comments saying that a massive show of force is absolutely necessary to put down the insurrection.

Out of nowhere, GOP politicians from local to federal levels are singing a chorus of “Antifa” is a terror group, and the primary cause of the problems on the streets of America. Antifa, short for anti-fascists, describes an amorphous group of people whose political beliefs lean far left, and do not necessarily conform to the Democratic Party’s platform.

The problem with Trump’s claim that it’s a terror group is that it doesn’t have central leadership, according to federal law enforcement officials. Worse for Trump is that many of Antifa’s Twitter accounts turn out to be run by fascists in Europe.

“Antifa” is vapor in the US, and recognizing it as some defined group is a joke that has been taken seriously only by America’s Right.

Painting disparate punk assholes as some kind of formal group is ridiculous and counterproductive.

We desperately need to get the twin problems of the coronavirus and the nationwide civil disobedience behind us.

These infections need to be cured.

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Police Violence

The Daily Escape:

Fall sunrise at Crystal Lake, near Ouray, CO – photo by Ryan Wright

Wrongo is now certain that 2020 is the worst year for America since 1968. Why? We have had riots in 140 cities. 40 million are unemployed, and the Death rate from COVID-19 has reached 106,003. Here’s a map of where protests have occurred in the past few days:

We have a national problem of civil disobedience leading to rioting and looting. Note the number of states (in yellow) that have already activated the National Guard. We should assume that the number of cities with protests will probably grow.

Let’s talk briefly about policing in America. After the Ferguson uprising in 2014, we were astonished at the militarization of the police. We also started paying closer attention to the number of police killings in the US, but since there was no central database, independent groups started to compile them.

Cities and towns introduced new policies designed to reduce police violence, starting with police wearing body cameras. But according to the Police Shootings Database, police in America killed more people in the US in 2019 than in 2015, and the number has risen every year since 2017.

If police killings are increasing despite widespread public attention and local reform efforts, shouldn’t we be asking why?

Minneapolis, like most other cities, has a civilian review board, but it didn’t prevent Chauvin from killing George Floyd. In fact, the review board had failed to impose consequences for any of the eighteen previous complaints made against Chauvin. This shows how little these review boards are doing to change behavior.

Can change happen through the ballot box? Minneapolis implies that voting isn’t enough: Minneapolis has a progressive mayor and a city council composed entirely of Democrats and Green Party members. But it doesn’t prevent out-of-control racist cops from killing people. The glue holding this broken system together is police unions.

From Eric Loomis:

“That our police are openly fascist is finally becoming apparent to a lot of liberals who really didn’t see it that clearly before…..The police are openly declaring war on the nation. They are raising their fascist flag instead of the American flag. They are blinding good journalists. It is completely unacceptable…”

Loomis specializes in labor unions and labor issues. He says that it is in the public’s interest to force the police unions to give up the blank check for violence that they currently have. The two concepts that should be written out of the union contracts are arbitration in discipline cases, and qualified immunity.  Qualified immunity is a concept in federal law that offers government officials immunity from harms caused by actions they perform as part of their official duties.

Because of qualified immunity, police act like the laws don’t apply to them. This is a legal obstacle blessed by the Supreme Court that’s nearly impossible to overcome when the police violate our Constitutional or civil rights.

Despite that, blanket immunity shouldn’t absolve cops of responsibility for violence. Since they are state actors, the burden of proof should be on them to prove their violence was justified, not the other way around.

In many cases, the police unions are also run by bad people. In Chicago, the police union just elected as president a cop who has been reprimanded several times and is currently stripped of his police powers.

Minneapolis’s police union has a hard line and controversial president, Bob Kroll, who said that George Floyd had a “violent criminal history” and that the demonstrations were part of a “terrorist movement.”

Minnesota AG Keith Ellison blasted Kroll on “Fox News Sunday”:

“…he operates as sort of an alternative chief who, I think, undermines good order in the department.”

These are the kinds of people that rank and file police all across America want protecting them. That shows something about the true character of the rank and file.

Cities should pull the records of every cop with a double digit number of excessive force complaints and fire them. Force the unions to sue and then litigate it every step of the way. Make them defend the indefensible.

America needs stronger mayors, town councils and district attorneys who can be for “law and order” and also for protecting the rights of citizens who are swept up by day-to-day policing. We can have stronger public servants by voting them in.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms says just that in this video, which everyone can see here:

As an aside, Mayor Bottoms looks to Wrongo like an excellent choice for the Democratic VP.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging — Protesting and Looting Edition — May 31, 2020

Last Monday night in Minneapolis, 46-year old George Floyd was arrested. Police officer Derek Chauvin handcuffed him and pinned him to the ground, crushing his throat. Floyd died an hour later.

What happened next has played out time and time again in American cities after high-profile cases of police brutality. Vigils and protests were organized in Minneapolis and around the US to demand police accountability. Google the name of any large city in the US along with “police brutality” and your search will return many pages of results.

But while Minneapolis investigators waited to charge Chauvin, unrest boiled over. News reports soon carried images of property destruction and police in riot gear. This has now morphed into the Minnesota governor calling out the National Guard.

Wrongo can’t claim to understand race issues in America, but he thinks that we should take a minute to re-read Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. In his letter, MLK identified “the great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom” not as the KKK, or the South’s White Citizens Councils. He said it was white moderates, people who:

  • Are more devoted to order than justice
  • Prefer the absence of tension to the presence of justice
  • Say they agree with your goals, but not your methods for achieving them
  • Constantly urge patience in the struggle, saying you should wait for a more convenient time

If you have watched the news for the past 40 years, you know that the Moderate is one stumbling block to universal justice. The Moderate’s tools are things like Non-Disclosure Agreements, loyalty to the team, and to the power of the hierarchy. Moderates may not be at the top of the power pyramid, but as long as Moderates can kiss up and kick down, they’ll hang in there, waiting for a better time to think about bringing justice to all Americans.

When it comes to violence in our cities, as Elie Mystal says in The Nation, it’s hard to name a city in America where the police aren’t working for white people. The police know it. And deep down, white people know exactly whom the police are supposed to protect and serve, and they know it’s not black and brown people.

Disagree? Go to any white suburb in America. Cops aren’t wandering the streets, people aren’t being arrested and neighbors aren’t being sent to prison. It’s easy for most of us to think that the George Floyd’s of America are simply a tragic cost of doing business, that a looted Target is evidence of the need for more policing.

We can hold more than one thought in our heads. People should be free to demonstrate, and that sometimes leads to rioting. Both are forms of protest. Wrongo doesn’t condone looting. But it’s also a form of protest. If you argue it’s not, then refresh your memory about the Boston Tea Party, when white protesters dressed up as minorities and looted to make a point about taxes.

If you are upset about protests, and were also pissed off at Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, you are probably a Moderate. People first need to be able to identify racism when they see it before they can understand the racial issues underpinning what happened in Minneapolis this weekend.

If you woke up today angry, confused, or frustrated about the direction our country is heading: VOTE!

Wrongo has looked hard for fun cartoons, without success. Here’s the best of the week. Sadly, her hope can only be aspirational:

How times have changed:

From 2016. All you need to know about demonstrating in America:

For Sunday, we include a rarely heard protest song written in 1966 by Malvina Reynolds (1900-1977). She wrote “Little Boxes” and many other songs. She wrote “It Isn’t Nice” as an answer to those who value order above justice. Here, “It Isn’t Nice” is sung by Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers:

Sample lyric:

It isn’t nice to block the doorway,
It isn’t nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it,
But the nice ways always fail.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

It isn’t nice to carry banners
Or to sit in on the floor,
Or to shout our cry of Freedom
At the hotel and the store.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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