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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

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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Our Thin-Skinned Blue Line

When we see each other as enemies, we are the Middle East, and we can no longer work together for the common good. Consider what happened last week at a Minnesota WNBA basketball game:

Four off-duty Minneapolis police officers working the Minnesota Lynx game at Target Center on Saturday night walked off the job after the players held a news conference denouncing racial profiling, then wore Black Lives Matter pregame warm-up jerseys.

Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, the union that represents rank-and-file officers, praised the officers walk out:

I commend them for it… If [the WNBA players] are going to keep their stance, all officers may refuse to work there.

What is lost in the police union grandstanding was that the Lynx jerseys in question read “Change starts with us, justice and accountability” and on the back had Philando Castile’s and Alton Sterling’s names along with “Black Lives Matter” and the Dallas Police Department shield. How is that seen as anti-cop? This highlights how thin-skinned police forces around the US are whenever criticism emerges about bad policing.

But what can be done?

The most recent report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics quadrennial “Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, 2008” shows that there are 17,985 state and local law enforcement agencies with at least one full-time officer or the part-time equivalent in the US. All of them are managed by local, county or state governments, and the majority of police are members of a local union. Wrongo is not anti-union, but the social identity of being in law enforcement cultivates a code of unduly protecting members, hiding evidence, and blindly supporting the position of other officers simply because of their collective identity. The “Blue Wall of Silence” around cops is the excuse to cover up bad behavior in the face of investigation.

Creating an equivalency between #BlackLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter is wrong. Consider this thought from Jonathan Russell, Professor and Chaplain at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture:  (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

A black life is a life under the threat of social death, a social life constituted by precarity and the potential of imminent death…Blue lives have no analogous history, no precarious location from which their collective lives need recovery…Blue lives are not…living under conditions similar to black life. It is the history of black lives not mattering that gives meaning to the hashtag. Blue lives have no such analogous history.

Russell goes on to say:

Blue lives have always mattered, present and past. Their experience of social space is (for the most part) one of…deferential treatment… It is profoundly misrepresentative and disrespectful to develop an analogous hashtag, as if blue lives have an analogous experience of social life in America as black lives have. This hashtag is wrong in so much as it connotes that the lives of law enforcement officers have failed to matter sufficiently in the broader public consciousness.

For the umbrage-takers out there, relax. Wrongo isn’t saying that cops don’t deserve respect, they do. He thinks that cops have a tough job, and that we must mourn any cop killed on the job. But, we can’t be blind to the power of this confrontation between #Blue and #Black to tear us apart.

Here is ginandtacos: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

I keep holding out hope that we will learn something from this, that police can say to themselves “All those Dallas officers wanted was to do their job and go home alive at the end of the day” and have some moment of inspired transference wherein they realize that every black person they pull over in a traffic stop wants the same...

More from ginandtacos:

If most cops are good cops as we are repeatedly told – and statistically that’s true, as most departments have a few officers who account for the majority of complaints – then it is time for the Good Cops to stop participating silently in a broken system. It’s time for Good Cops to do something about Bad Cops.

Is this realistic, given the Blue Wall of Silence and the power of the police unions, who go ballistic at the merest hint of criticism? Politicians who criticize their PDs are seen as “weak on crime.” However, when police unions are part of any decision to fire a cop, what is the alternative? Two additional considerations:

  • An armed society makes for nervous and trigger-happy law enforcement officers.
  • Police have an expectation of immediate and absolute compliance with every command. Anything less is deemed justification for using force.

Fixing all of this will take action on multiple fronts. We have to soften the Blue Code. We need to see fewer guns on the street. We need to reform police protocols.

We need to talk to each other.

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Monday Wake Up Call – October 26, 2015

From the NYT:

The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, said on Friday that the additional scrutiny and criticism of police officers in the wake of highly publicized episodes of police brutality may have led to an increase in violent crime in some cities as officers have become less aggressive.

Comey is lending his support to a meme called the “Ferguson Effect”. As the “Ferguson Effect” theory goes, police have slowed down enforcement due to public scrutiny, which has led to more crime, including homicides. In the absence of tough policing, chaos reigns.

Ever since Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, MO last year, people across the country have taken to the streets to protest police brutality and the mistreatment of black men and women. At the same time, police officers and pundits began arguing that demonstrators are jeopardizing community safety, pointing to rising violent crime rates.

This theory for the uptick in violence in some cities is partly based on a cherry-picking of violent crime data, since some increases actually occurred BEFORE the Ferguson demonstrations, and in general, the data are unclear. We know that far more people are being killed in America’s cities this year than in many years. And to be clear, the increases are largely among people of color, and it’s not cops that are doing the killing.

Most of America’s 50 largest cities have seen an increase in homicides and shootings this year, and many of them have seen a huge increase. These are cities with little in common except being in America—places like Chicago, Tampa, Minneapolis, Sacramento, Orlando, Cleveland, and Dallas.

So something big is happening, but what? Comey thinks he knows, and in Chicago, he floated the same idea as Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently floated, that cops are not doing their job because people have started taking videos of police interactions with their smart phones.

Here is snippet of what Comey said:

I spoke to officers privately in one big city precinct who described being surrounded by young people with mobile phone cameras held high, taunting them the moment they get out of their cars. They told me, ‘we feel like we’re under siege and we don’t feel much like getting out of our cars.’…I’ve been told about a senior police leader who urged his force to remember that their political leadership has no tolerance for a viral video.

If Comey’s impression both of the Ferguson Effect, and the role of cameras is correct, cops have stopped doing the job we pay them to do because they’re under amateur surveillance.

If Comey’s right, what he’s describing is the chilling effect of surveillance, the way in which people change their behavior because they know they will be seen on camera. That the Director of the FBI is making this claim is more striking, since the surveillance cops are undergoing is targeted, and by the public. It is not the total government surveillance (such as the use of small planes and stingrays to surveil the Baltimore and Ferguson protests), which both the FBI and NSA use in inner cities.

Comey can’t have it both ways. Since he said in Chicago that surveillance has a “chilling effect”, that it makes cops feel under siege, maybe he should consider the implications of what he is saying about surveillance by his own agency and the NSA of all Americans.

If the targeted surveillance of cops is a problem, isn’t the far less targeted surveillance conducted on Americans a much larger problem?

And why can’t Americans hold two diametrically opposed ideas in their minds at the same time? We love the police, and want them safe. But, the real problems in US law enforcement have to be addressed.

And why does Comey imply that we need to accept a trade-off between a brutal police state and weakened policing? Why can’t we have civilized police who focus on getting the real bad guys, instead of choking a man to death for selling loose cigarettes?

So, wake up Mr. Comey! Show us data that support your feelings, or get in line with the data we have. To help you wake up, here is Humble Pie doing “30 days in the Hole”, from their 1972 album, “Smokin’”. The song was featured in “Grand Theft Auto V”:

For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can view the video here.

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Why Are Police Looking for Apologies?

What’s with the police union presidents in New York City, St. Louis and Cleveland? All are outraged by fairly tepid comments on the recent and controversial actions of their members, and all want apologies now, dammit. Let’s start with Cleveland.

TPM reports that the Cleveland police union has demanded that the Cleveland Browns football team apologize for a player who wore a T-shirt before last Sunday’s game protesting the police shootings of two black people. Here is the T-shirt:

Andrew Hawkins

That’s Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wearing a shirt reading “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford III” during pre-game warmups.

To refresh your memory, Rice was the 12 year old kid killed last month when a Cleveland police officer shot him when he mistook the boy’s toy gun for a real weapon. John Crawford, 22, was killed by police in August at a Cleveland area Wal-Mart while he was holding an air rifle. Crawford was shot while doing absolutely nothing illegal. He was not threatening anyone. He was on his phone in Walmart carrying an item that’s sold at the store. Cops showed up and shot him.

So, seeing the T-shirt, Cleveland Police Patrolman Union President Jeff Follmer reacted:

It’s pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law…They should stick to what they know best on the field. The Cleveland Police protect and serve the Browns stadium and the Browns organization owes us an apology.

So, nice stadium ya got there. Be a shame if something happened to it. The Browns did not apologize.

On to St. Louis, where the police overreacted earlier this month after a few Rams players entered their stadium making the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture popular with protesters in Ferguson, Missouri. The St. Louis Police Association called the gesture “tasteless, offensive and inflammatory”, asked the Rams team for an apology, and called on the NFL to punish the players who ran on to the field using the “hands up” gesture.

And in New York City, the city’s Patrolman’s Benevolent Association (PBA) have been angered by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s reaction to the killing of Eric Garner. And NYC’s cops are now telling the Mayor to stay away from cop funerals. The PBA distributed a flier to members, blaring: “DON’T LET THEM INSULT YOUR SACRIFICE!” Cops were encouraged to sign and submit the “Don’t Insult My Sacrifice” waiver to ban what they see as a cop-bashing mayor from their funerals. The NYC mayor traditionally attends all funerals for fallen officers.

De Blasio basically said that he didn’t think the NYPD should be chokeholding its citizens to death, a matter that may require a seasoned NYC lawyer Mitchel Ashley or others to intervene for the families left behind. PBA President Patrick Lynch reacted by accusing the mayor of throwing cops “under the bus.”

De Blasio then went further, speaking about his 17-year-old mixed race son Dante:

We’ve had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him…

That was too much, and PBA president Lynch replied: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

We have to teach our children, our sons and our daughters, no matter what they look like, to respect New York City police officers, teach them to comply with New York City police officers even if they think it’s unjust.

Three cities where cops use questionable tactics. Three cities where using those tactics caused controversial deaths. Three cities where the police are thin-skinned when their tactics are questioned.

These thin-skinned reactions seem totally natural, and consistent with a culture of “comply or die”.

And the police union presidents, by jumping on the comments of athletes and the NYC mayor, make a clear case against public-sector unions. They are not there to serve or protect the greater community, they are there to serve and protect their members, right or wrong. The presidents also are making the case that the police are not part of the community, but exist in a world above the community, since they deserve the community’s respect and legal immunity, regardless of their actions.

And it’s remarkable to see just how incredibly insular, tone-deaf and hyper-sensitive these police union presidents, and at least some of their rank and file, seem to be.

In Cleveland, the union president should be more concerned about the recently completed two-year Justice Department study that found the Cleveland police have a pattern of “unreasonable and unnecessary use of force”. Will different tactics emerge as the Cleveland police adapt to their consent decree?

We need to rein in our police. There is way too much “comply or else” out on the streets. We see weapons meant for warfare pointed at people trying to exercise the small shred of their free speech rights that remain. All of these cops who killed in these controversial cases have said that in the same circumstances, they would shoot/choke again.

Who should receive the apologies? Hint: it’s not the cops.

UPDATE:

The column above needs to be updated with the news that on Monday, the Supreme Court decided that our police don’t have to know the law when they stop or detain a citizen. The message is that ignorance of the law is not a barrier to policing. From Think Progress:

There is one simple concept that law students learn in their very first weeks of criminal law class: Ignorance of the law is no excuse. This principle means that when an individual violates the law, it doesn’t matter whether or not they knew what the law said. If it’s a crime, and they are found to have committed the elements of that crime, they are guilty.

But now, that rule doesn’t apply to the police. On Monday, the US Supreme Court in an 8-1 ruling, found that North Carolina cops who pulled over Nicholas Heien for a broken taillight were justified in a subsequent search of Heien’s car, even though the reason he was pulled over was not a violation of the law.

The case involved the 2009 arrest of Nicholas Heien near Dobson, North Carolina. Sgt. Matt Darisse pulled Heien over for having only one working brake light, then found a bag of cocaine while searching his vehicle and charged him with attempted drug trafficking. However, state law only requires motorists to have one brake light working at any time. Heien’s attorneys argued that this made Darisse’s search unlawful. They lost.

So, our Supremes failed to draw a line limiting the scope of police stops, at a time when they are rampant and racially disproportionate. Now, police have more leeway to stop passengers on the road, even in jurisdictions that had previously said cops are not justified when they make mistakes of law.

During the past weeks, we have heard a lot about Grand Jury procedure and the “latitude” our legal system affords police and prosecutors. That latitude apparently now includes their right to be ignorant, of our laws. That goes along with:

• Their latitude in discerning what may be a threat to their person.
• Their latitude in the use of fire-power.

Now, they have latitude not to know the laws they enforce.

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