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kottke.org posts about policing

The Abolition Movement

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 27, 2020

Writing for Vanity Fair, Josie Duffy Rice lays out the case for the abolition of policing.

Despite much reporting of a spike in murder this year, the long-term trend still shows the murder rate hovering roughly in the same place it was in the 1960s, half of what it was in 1980. And while procedurals may paint a picture of cops chasing serial killers weekly, the actual face of police is more mundane. In June, the New York Times culled available data and estimated that police spend roughly 4 percent of their time addressing “violent crime.” Most of their time is spent dealing with noncriminal matters. And yet no matter the call — the loud party next door, the permit for a parade, the expired car tags, the escort for a funeral procession, the elderly welfare check, the frolickers barbecuing in the park, the schoolyard fight, the opioid overdose, the homeless person outside in the cold, the stray dog — the state’s answer is to respond with armed agents blessed with the near unimpeachable right to kill.

Copaganda: The Biased Portrayal of Police in TV & Movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2020

YouTube channel Skip Intro is making a series of videos about copaganda, which Wikipedia defines as “the phenomenon in which news media and other social institutions promote celebratory portrayals of police officers with the intent of swaying public opinion for the benefit of police departments and law enforcement”. The introductory video embedded above introduces the concept and tracks the history of how police have been portrayed on TV in the movies. Two subsequent videos take a closer look at two contemporary police shows: Blue Bloods and Brooklyn Ninety-Nine.

See also Dan Taberski’s excellent podcast Running From COPS, which covers some of the same ground as the video series. (thx, david)

Update: Jacqui Shine wrote about the influence Dragnet had on how many Americans perceived the police: ‘Dragnet’ was straight up LAPD propaganda, on national TV for years.

When we see a cop on TV, we’re seeing the legacy of Dragnet. Everything we think we know about crime and law enforcement — and everything we believe about the police — bears the imprint of the show. It did no less than fashion the idea of modern policing in our cultural imagination. And, as viewers were reminded each week, all of it was true. But what most of us don’t know is that Dragnet was also calculated propaganda: the Los Angeles Police Department did far more than provide technical assistance, essentially co-producing the show.

The Origins of Policing in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2020

From Khalil Gibran Muhammad and Chenjerai Kumanyika, a quick tour of the history of policing in America and how that history should shape our discussions around police reform, defunding, and abolition.

The story of policing in the United States is the story of systems meant to protect and serve only a fraction of Americans.

As Kumanyika says in closing, the police in America are fulfilling their purpose very well. But the public has other demands that are not being met.

See also A History of Policing in America and Why Police Reform Doesn’t Work In America.

Players Lead Sports Strike to Put Focus on Racial Injustice

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2020

Four years to the day after Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem of an NFL preseason game to protest the oppression of Black people in the United States, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play their NBA playoff game and set off an NBA-wide strike, as well as strikes by teams in the WNBA, MLB, and MLS. They were reacting to the attempted murder of Jacob Blake by a Kenosha police officer on Sunday and the subsequent inaction by officials to take any disiplinary action against the officer.

The shooting prompted numerous N.B.A. players and coaches to express frustration and anger that the various measures they have been taking for weeks to support the Black Lives Matter movement, such as kneeling during the national anthem and wearing jerseys bearing social justice messages, were having little impact. Some also began to question, as the Nets’ star guard Kyrie Irving did in June before the 2019-20 season resumed, whether providing entertainment through basketball was actually diverting public attention away from the broader social justice movement.

Fueled by that frustration, Milwaukee’s players stunned league officials by organizing Wednesday’s boycott, a walkout that had virtually no precedent in N.B.A. history.

Milwaukee’s George Hill gave a glimpse of the Bucks’ mind-set on Monday when he openly questioned whether the league’s return had successfully amplified the players’ messaging.

“We shouldn’t have even come to this damn place to be honest,” Hill said. “I think coming here just took all the focal points off what the issues are.”

Former NBA player Kenny Smith walked off the set of TNT’s Inside the NBA in solidarity with the players.

As a reminder, here’s what Kaepernick said after kneeling four years ago:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

You can see why the players believe that little has been done to address this state of affairs — there’s definitely more awareness now, but substantive change is not happening.

Update: A previous version of this post referred to the players’ walkout as a boycott (following the Times’ language). While boycott is technically accurate, it is generally used to refer to consumers withholding their purchase power as a protest. Strike is a more exact word to use in a situation where workers are withholding their labor (even though the players are not demanding concessions from their employers), so I updated the post to reflect that. (thx, david)

Why Police Reform Doesn’t Work In America

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2020

With the help of Harvard historian Khalil Gibran Muhammad, this video from BuzzFeed documents investigations into police brutality and racism from the past century and how reforms based on those investigations have not brought about meaningful change. These reports — exploring the causes of unrest in Chicago in 1919, Harlem in 1935 & 1943, LA in 1965, Ferguson in 2014 — demonstrate again and again the discriminent violence committed against Black people by the police, and yet that violence and racism continues until the next investigation is conducted with the same conclusion.

Defund the Police? We’ve Already Done It Successfully in America.

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2020

The American system of law enforcement is so deeply embedded into our national psyche that if you find the idea of defunding or abolishing the police challenging, I don’t blame you. But imagine calling an ambulance because a loved one was having trouble breathing or was suffering a stroke and, instead of the expected trained paramedics, a man with a gun showed up. Not great, right? As Jamie Ford explains in this thread, that was not unusual in America until recently.

Until the 70s, ambulance services were generally run by local police and fire departments. There was no law requiring medical training beyond basic first-aid and in many cases the assignment of ambulance duty was used as a form of punishment.

As you can imagine, throwing people with medical emergencies into the back of a paddy wagon produced less than spectacular health outcomes. Now imagine how much worse it became when disgruntled white police officers were demoted to ambulance duty in black neighborhoods.

From Kevin Hazzard’s The First Responders:

Emergency care was mostly a transportation industry, focused on getting patients to hospitals, and it was dominated by two groups: funeral homes and police departments. Call the local authorities for help and you’d likely get morticians in a hearse or cops in a paddy wagon. If you received any treatment en route to the hospital — and most likely you did not — it wouldn’t be very good. At best, one of the people helping may have taken a first-aid course. At worst, you’d ride alone in the back, hoping, if you were conscious, that you’d survive.

Pittsburgh’s Freedom House Ambulance Service changed all that, ushering in a new era of much improved medical care for communities around the US.

Together the two men hashed out a plan: Hallen would raise the money, Safar would contribute his medical expertise, and together they would design advanced ambulances and teach paramedics to provide care on the scene of an accident or emergency. It would be a pioneering medical effort, and Hallen, who was white, suggested another first. The Falk Fund was committed to mitigating racism, and Hallen wanted to staff the service with young black men from the Hill. He hoped that empowering individuals long deemed unemployable would be a source of pride in the black community, a symbol of equality, and a signal that bigoted notions about the black people of Pittsburgh standing in their own way were nonsense.

To help with recruitment, Hallen and Safar partnered with an organization called Freedom House Enterprises, a nonprofit dedicated to establishing and supporting black-run businesses in the city. Freedom House handled staffing for the fledgling ambulance service and recruited the first class of paramedics, including Vietnam veterans and men with criminal records.

So this is a great instance in which armed and untrained police officers have been relieved of a particular responsibility and replaced with specially trained personnel, resulting in a greatly improved outcome for members of the community. If you want other examples, just think about how odd, unhelpful, and dangerous it would be for our communities if the police showed up — armed with a loaded weapon — to collect your garbage, to put out fires, to inspect restaurants, to fix potholes, or to deliver the mail. No, we have sanitation workers, firefighters, public health inspectors, municipal maintenance workers, and postal workers to do these jobs — and they’re all trained in the ins and outs of their particular disciplines.

With these examples in mind, instead of armed personnel handling a wide variety of situations for which they are often not trained, it becomes easier to imagine traffic patrols conducting transportation safety stops, social workers responding to domestic disputes, special crisis centers assisting rape victims, mental health counselors helping people behaving erratically in public, housing guides finding homeless folks a place to stay, student safety coaches helping struggling students navigate school, unarmed personnel responding to property crime, and drug addiction counselors helping drug users stay safe. These are all areas where American communities have applied policing by default, like a flimsy bandaid. It’s ineffective, expensive, and dangerous, and communities should think seriously about supporting and funding alternatives that will be more effective, cheaper, safer, and produce better outcomes for everyone.

Update: See also (hear also?) 99% Invisible’s episode on the Freedom House Ambulance Service.

What Does Justice for Breonna Taylor Look Like?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 30, 2020

In a piece for Essence, prison industrial complex abolitionists Mariame Kaba and Andrea Ritchie challenge us to consider whether arresting and prosecuting the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor (or George Floyd or Elijah McClain) will result in justice.

Beyond strategic assessments of what is most likely to bring justice, ultimately, we must choose to support collective responses that align with our values. Demands for arrests and prosecutions of killer cops are inconsistent with demands to #DefundPolice because they have proven to be sources of violence not safety. We can’t claim the system must be dismantled because it is a danger to Black lives and at the same time legitimize it by turning to it for justice. As Angela Y. Davis points out, “we have to be consistent” in our analysis, and not respond to violence in a way that compounds it. We need to use our radical imaginations to come up with new structures of accountability beyond the system we are working to dismantle.

Noting that “turning away from systems of policing and punishment doesn’t mean turning away from accountability”, Kaba and Ritchie argue that use of a reparations framework would be more effective in delivering justice to Taylor’s family and in preventing future killings and violence by police.

Under a reparations framework Breonna’s family — and all of us — are also entitled to more than an individualized response to what is a systemic problem. We are entitled to immediate cessation of the actions that caused her death — no knock warrants, to be sure, but also short knock warrants, and dangerous drug raids in all their forms. And all of us are entitled to non-repetition, an end to the conditions that produced her death, including an end to the drug war that killed her, and the forces of gentrification that brought police into her neighborhood. It is long past time for an approach to drug use that saves lives instead of ending them — whether in a raid or in a cell — and a reckoning with the ways in which economic policies are driving deadly policing practices.

Read the entire piece at Essence.

How to Make Our Communities Safer by Reducing Our Reliance on Policing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2020

From Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing, a list of 10 Ways To Reduce Our Reliance On Policing And Make Our Communities Safer For Everyone, which includes proposals like having mental health and social workers to respond to crises, have crime labs operate independently of law enforcement, and replacing cops in schools with counselors & safety coaches.

For children growing up during the era of mass incarceration, seeing armed officers in their schools is commonplace. Federal grants have supported more and more cops in schools. Federal programs like the Community Oriented Policing Services (“COPS”) have provided millions of dollars to hire and train local police, including police in schools.

Police officers do not have specialized training in adolescent or childhood development. They are not mental health experts, social workers with licensed degrees, psychologists, or school counselors. They are not educators. To be clear, school resource officers are career law enforcement officers, with arresting authority, and a license to carry a weapon. Police officers patrol school hallways just like they do city streets. More than one and a half million students attend schools with an SRO, but no counselor.

There are better, safer, and cheaper alternatives. In 2016, Intermediate School District 287, a school west of the Twin Cities with a high concentration of students with special needs and mental health needs that can result in behavior issues, replaced their school resource officers with Student Safety Coaches. The Student Safety Coaches specialize in mental health, restorative justice, de-escalation, and building positive relationships with their students. Arrests decreased by 80 percent in the pilot school after implementation of the program.

The common, and commonsense, thread through all of these proposals is to replace armed, untrained responders who make difficult situations less safe with people & organizations that are specifically trained to help people in distress or crisis.

See also Police Abolition: The Growing Movement to Defund the Police.

A History of Policing in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2020

This video provides a quick overview of the history of policing in America through the lens of race, from the slave patrols in the South to the violent and discriminatory policing of Black migrants in the North in the midst the Great Migration. At its conclusion, historian Khalil Gibran Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness, asks a very direct question:

And so the question that has to be asked in the wake of George Floyd — and I think this question is being asked and answered by more white people than I’ve seen in my lifetime is — do white people in America still want the police to protect their interests over the rights and dignity and lives of Black and, in too many cases, brown, Indigenous, and Asian populations in this country?

This video is a snippet from an hour-long podcast episode of NPR’s Throughline called American Police (transcript here). (via @GeeDee215)

The Ideology of American Policing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2020

For What the police really believe, Vox’s Zack Beauchamp interviewed several former police officers and policing experts to find out how police think of themselves, their jobs, and the communities they are supposed to be protecting and serving.

Police officers across America have adopted a set of beliefs about their work and its role in our society. The tenets of police ideology are not codified or written down, but are nonetheless widely shared in departments around the country.

The ideology holds that the world is a profoundly dangerous place: Officers are conditioned to see themselves as constantly in danger and that the only way to guarantee survival is to dominate the citizens they’re supposed to protect. The police believe they’re alone in this fight; police ideology holds that officers are under siege by criminals and are not understood or respected by the broader citizenry. These beliefs, combined with widely held racial stereotypes, push officers toward violent and racist behavior during intense and stressful street interactions.

Kadir Nelson’s Powerful New Yorker Cover Honors the Black Victims of Police Violence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2020

Kadir Nelson New Yorker Cover

This week’s issue of the New Yorker features a cover designed by artist Kadir Nelson. The magazine has an interactive version of the cover online that identifies the people shown, along with their stories. Along with George Floyd, there’s Tony McDade, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, Emmett Till, Rodney King, the victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre, and too many others. The cover also features periwinkles, which have been used to locate the often unmarked graves of slaves.

The Periwinkle Initiative derives its name from the flower that certain scholars believe was the most common wildflower brought to gravesites of enslaved Americans. This perennial flower has guided researchers to many abandoned burial grounds that would have otherwise gone undetected. The resilient Periwinkle is a perfect symbol to represent the endurance of enslaved Americans and their legacy.

One other thing. According to the NYer, the name of the cover is “Say Their Names”. This is a take on the #SayHerName hashtag that was created to bring “awareness to the often invisible names and stories of Black women and girls who have been victimized by racist police violence”. Phrases and associated hashtags like “Say His Name” and “Say Their Names” have been used over the past few weeks, but some activists say that co-opting specifically takes the spotlight away from the victims the original hashtag was meant to highlight. Here’s Precious Fondren for Teen Vogue:

Since Floyd’s death, there have been uprisings around the country. There’s also been an influx of people using hashtags like #SayHisName and #SayTheirNames to remember the names of other male victims of police violence. While everyone deserves to be honored and remembered, especially when they are being murdered at the hands of those sworn to protect us, it should be noted that such hashtags muddle the very reasoning behind the creation of the #SayHerName.

Conceived in 2014 by the African American Policy Forum and the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies, the #SayHerName hashtag was meant to amplify the names and narratives of Black women and girls who have also been the victims of police killings; people simply couldn’t name them the way they can name Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, or Freddie Gray.

Police Abolition: The Growing Movement to Defund the Police

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2020

In recent weeks as antiracism and anti-police violence protests continue around the country, the movement to defund and abolish policing in America has rapidly gained momentum. As Black communities have asserted for decades, people have begun to wonder in earnest what purpose police serve. They’re asking when there’s a problem in our communities, do we really need a person with a gun showing up to solve it? What would a system oriented around public safety look like if it was designed from scratch rather than just piling more responsibility onto and funding into increasingly militarized and unaccountable police departments?

There are a lot of resources out there about police abolition right now, so here are some that I’ve found helpful in understanding it.

Alex Vitale’s The End of Policing, which came out in 2017, is a well-reviewed critique of modern policing.

This book attempts to spark public discussion by revealing the tainted origins of modern policing as a tool of social control. It shows how the expansion of police authority is inconsistent with community empowerment, social justice — even public safety. Drawing on groundbreaking research from across the world, and covering virtually every area in the increasingly broad range of police work, Alex Vitale demonstrates how law enforcement has come to exacerbate the very problems it is supposed to solve.

In contrast, there are places where the robust implementation of policing alternatives—such as legalization, restorative justice, and harm reduction — has led to a decrease in crime, spending, and injustice. The best solution to bad policing may be an end to policing.

Verso, the book’s publisher, is offering the ebook version for free for a limited time. The Paris Review has an excerpt that addresses the difficulties with reforms (such as the #8cantwait initative):

This does not mean that no one should articulate or fight for reforms. However, those reforms must be part of a larger vision that questions the basic role of police in society and asks whether coercive government action will bring more justice or less. Too many of the reforms under discussion today fail to do that; many further empower the police and expand their role. Community policing, body cameras, and increased money for training reinforce a false sense of police legitimacy and expand the reach of the police into communities and private lives. More money, more technology, and more power and influence will not reduce the burden or increase the justness of policing. Ending the War on Drugs, abolishing school police, ending broken-windows policing, developing robust mental health care, and creating low-income housing systems will do much more to reduce abusive policing.

The Intercept interviewed Vitale in October 2017.

We should understand policing as the most coercive form of state power … and the reason is that policing has historically and inherently been at the root of reproducing fundamental inequalities of race, class, and immigration status. Trump, the police, ICE — this is just a continuation of a history of exclusion and repression going back to the exclusion of Chinese immigrants in the 19th century, Texas Rangers driving out Mexican landholders and indigenous populations to make room for white settlers, the transformation of slave patrols and urban slave management systems into what became Jim Crow policing in the South and ghetto policing in the North. Police have historical origins in relation to both the formation and disciplining of the industrial working class; early 19th century forms of policing in Europe and the United States shaped rural agricultural workers into urban industrial workers, and then suppressed their movements to form labor unions and win better living conditions.

The point of all this is to fundamentally question this liberal notion that police exist primarily as a tool for public safety and therefore, we should embrace their efforts uncritically, when in fact, there are lots of different ways to produce safety that don’t come with the baggage of colonialism, slavery, and the suppression of workers’ movements.

In 2018, Amber Hughson designed a series of flyers outlining some alternatives to policing. The “Isn’t this public safety?” question at the end of each flyer is really compelling.

Police Abolition

Christy Lopez (co-director of Georgetown Law School’s Innovative Policing Program) writing in The Washington Post: Defund the police? Here’s what that really means.

To fix policing, we must first recognize how much we have come to over-rely on law enforcement. We turn to the police in situations where years of experience and common sense tell us that their involvement is unnecessary, and can make things worse. We ask police to take accident reports, respond to people who have overdosed and arrest, rather than cite, people who might have intentionally or not passed a counterfeit $20 bill. We call police to roust homeless people from corners and doorsteps, resolve verbal squabbles between family members and strangers alike, and arrest children for behavior that once would have been handled as a school disciplinary issue.

Police themselves often complain about having to “do too much,” including handling social problems for which they are ill-equipped. Some have been vocal about the need to decriminalize social problems and take police out of the equation. It is clear that we must reimagine the role they play in public safety.

MPD150, a grassroots organization working towards a police-free Minneapolis, has a bunch of resources on their website, including What are we talking about when we talk about “a police-free future?” and an 8-page FAQ zine for folks trying to get up to speed on police abolition.

Police Abolition

Many people already live in a world without police. If you grew up in a well-off, predominantly white suburb, how often did you interact with cops? Communities with lots of good jobs, strong schools, economies, and social safety nets are already, in some ways, living in a world without police.

Annie Lowrey makes a fiscal argument in Defund the Police.

A thin safety net, an expansive security state: This is the American way. At all levels of government, the country spends roughly double on police, prisons, and courts what it spends on food stamps, welfare, and income supplements. At the federal level, it spends twice as much on the Pentagon as on assistance programs, and eight times as much on defense as on education. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will ultimately cost something like $6 trillion and policing costs $100 billion a year. But proposals to end homelessness ($20 billion a year), create a universal prekindergarten program ($26 billion a year), reduce the racial wealth gap through baby bonds ($60 billion a year), and eliminate poverty among families with children ($70 billion a year) somehow never get financed. All told, taxpayers spend $31,286 a year on each incarcerated person, and $12,201 a year on every primary- and secondary-school student.

Critical Resistance has a police abolition resources page that many activists are recommending, including this toolkit and this chart comparing reforms vs abolition.

Police Abolition

The Marshall Project is maintaining a collection of links about police abolition.

I liked the framing of this Twitter thread by Gabrielle Blair:

This is how I, a 45-year-old white woman and mother of 6, currently at her peak Karen power, went from assuming police work was a necessary part of functional communities, to becoming a passionate advocate for #abolishthepolice #defundthepolice, over the course of one week.

She continues:

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Do you know that saying? Apply it to police. If you’re always prepared to easily inflict violence, then the chances of inflicting unwarranted violence go way up.

Cat in a tree? Got locked out of your car? Kids prank called 911? Found a brutally murdered body? When called, police will arrive at all four of these scenes equally armed to the teeth. Why would we ever be okay with that? It is INSANE.

Vox’s podcast Today, Explained did an episode on What “abolish the police” means. From the transcript:

SEAN: And for the people who are worried about how this you know, how this might affect the way our society functions, like, let’s just say, you know, it’s a Friday night, 4th of July or something like that, like like the Fourth of July. That’s coming up real soon. And, you know, you’re worried about drunk drivers on the road. Who’s getting your back on drunk drivers?

BRANDON: You’re going to be able to call the police. The police are still going to be out there enforcing traffic violations, maybe not with weapons, though, maybe they have some other tools to de-escalate situations.

SEAN: And what about, like, you’re scared that this jilted ex lover of yours is going to come after you and kill you? Same situation?

BRANDON: You know, we can continue to go through these hypotheticals. I want to be very clear here. Police don’t listen to black women as it exists today. Black women are often the victims of sexual assault, sexual violence, and they are not listened to. They’re not deemed credible by police officers. So we’ve got to ask yourself, is policing working? Maybe it’s working for certain communities, white communities in particular. Now, police are going to be there when you call and say, hey, look, there’s someone harassing me. They’re going to have the better trained police officer come and diffuse the situation if the perpetrator is still there.

I have not listened to this yet, but next up in my podcast queue is a two-episode series of Intercepted with host Chenjerai Kumanyika and long-time prison abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore.

Journalist and lawyer Josie Duffy Rice:

many people in america already exist in a world where police and prisons do not exist. go to any middle to upper class suburb in america. cops arent wandering the streets. people aren’t being arrested. neighbors aren’t being sent to prison. and generally everyone is….fine.

many people say they cannot imagine this world. what most of them cannot imagine is someone not policing black brown and poor people. THAT is what is unimaginable to them. not the absence of law enforcement. if you are lucky, you already functionally live with that absence.

Garrett Felber details the history of the police and prison abolition movements that stretch back for decades: The Struggle to Abolish the Police Is Not New.

Although abolition was not a central demand of the midcentury civil rights movement — despite informing the activism of many of its key figures — it took hold in the 1970s. This revolutionary ethos — what Chicano poet Raul Salinas called the “prison rebellion years” — was linked to mass uprisings in the streets; the state repression, jailing, and murder of black and brown radicals; and opposition to the Vietnam War and imprisonment of conscientious objectors. Quaker Fay Honey Knopp’s pivotal 1976 Instead of Prisons: A Handbook for Prison Abolitionists, for example, had its genesis in her visits to conscientious objectors in prison during the Vietnam War and her participation in feminist, civil rights, gay rights, and prisoners’ rights struggles.

Update: Abolition activist Mariame Kaba writes in a NY Times opinion piece: Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police.

Minneapolis had instituted many of these “best practices” but failed to remove Derek Chauvin from the force despite 17 misconduct complaints over nearly two decades, culminating in the entire world watching as he knelt on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes.

Why on earth would we think the same reforms would work now? We need to change our demands. The surest way of reducing police violence is to reduce the power of the police, by cutting budgets and the number of officers.

But don’t get me wrong. We are not abandoning our communities to violence. We don’t want to just close police departments. We want to make them obsolete.

We should redirect the billions that now go to police departments toward providing health care, housing, education and good jobs. If we did this, there would be less need for the police in the first place.

Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas HBO Series Is Available to Watch Online for Free

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2020

Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas was an HBO documentary series created and hosted by writer and comedian Wyatt Cenac. The entire run of the show is available for free on YouTube (and on the HBO website) for the next month, but of particular interest is the first season, which was dedicated to the problem of policing in America. The first episode of season one, embedded above, explores police training (specifically “warrior training”) and how it contributed to the death of Philando Castile in Minneapolis. The season’s other episodes cover community policing, police abolition, use of force, and abuse of power.

Cenac says of the show:

The show’s not perfect. You can see when my eyes are reading a teleprompter because HBO’s legal team needed me to say something very specifically so they didn’t get sued. But the show wasn’t about being perfect or even about being right. It was about trying to have a dialogue.

When the smoke clears, we’re still going to need to find a way forward. And we’re going to have to find a way to do it together because this country is a dingy apartment and we’re all just a bunch of Craigslist roommates that have to find a way not to eat each other’s cheese.

See also Ava DuVernay’s Selma and 13th Available to Watch Online for Free.

John Oliver on Policing in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2020

For the latest episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver dedicated his entire show to policing in America. It is worth watching as a summary of how we got here, what the obstacles to reform have been, and where we can go from here.

We’re actually not going to focus on Trump tonight nor are we — unlike some in cable news — going to dwell on the incidents of looting that occurred, except to say if you said the name “Macy’s” more than you’ve said the name “Breonna Taylor” this week you can very much fuck off.

Likewise if you asking why spontaneous decentralized protests can’t control every one of its participants more than you are asking the same about a taxpayer-funded heavily regimented paid workforce, you can also — in the words of this generation’s Robert Frost — suck my dick and choke on it.

“Increasingly Rightwing” Police Unions Have Made Policing More Dangerous In America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2020

BuzzFeed’s Melissa Segura writes that the political ideologies of police unions moved further to the right in response to calls for reform from the Obama administration and groups like Black Lives Matter, resulting in increasing violence and a lack of accountability & consequences for police.

Like in Minneapolis, police unions across the country have bucked reforms meant to promote transparency and racial equity in law enforcement. Many of these unions have pushed collective bargaining agreements that make it all but impossible for departments to punish, much less fire, officers. These agreements defang civilian review boards and police internal affairs departments, and they even prevent police chiefs from providing meaningful oversight, according to community activists and civil rights lawyers. Meanwhile, the unions have set up legal slush funds to defend officers sued for misconduct.

I mean, this stuff is just cartoonishly maddening:

More than a year before a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, pinned George Floyd to the ground in a knee chokehold, Mayor Jacob Frey banned “warrior” training for the city’s police force.

Private trainers across the country host seminars, frequently at taxpayer expense, teaching “killology” and pushing the notion that if officers aren’t willing to “snuff out a life” then they should “consider another line of work.” Frey explained that this type of training — which has accompanied the increasing militarization of the police over the last few decades — undermined the community-based policing he wanted the city to adopt after a string of high-profile killings in the region.

But then the police union stepped in.

The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis worked out a deal with a company to offer warrior training. For free. For as long as Frey was mayor.

See also James Surowiecki’s 2016 New Yorker piece, Why Are Police Unions Blocking Reform?

For the past fifty years, police unions have done their best to block policing reforms of all kinds. In the seventies, they opposed officers’ having to wear name tags. More recently, they’ve opposed the use of body cameras and have protested proposals to document racial profiling and to track excessive-force complaints. They have lobbied to keep disciplinary histories sealed. If a doctor commits malpractice, it’s a matter of public record, but, in much of the country, a police officer’s use of excessive force is not. Across the nation, unions have led the battle to limit the power of civilian-review boards, generally by arguing that civilians are in no position to judge the split-second decisions that police officers make. Earlier this year, Newark created a civilian-review board that was acclaimed as a model of oversight. The city’s police union immediately announced that it would sue to shut it down.

(via @torrHL)

Update: I forgot to include this thread from Minneapolis City Council member Steve Fletcher about how difficult it has been to enact policing reforms in the city.

I want to be clear: I am about as pro-union as a person can be. The Police Federation should not be thought of as a union. They do not affiliate with the AFL-CIO. They don’t walk picket lines in solidarity. How do I know? Because I do and I’ve never seen them on a line. Not once.

Instead, they distort hard-earned labor laws to defend indefensible behaviors. The City recently lost an arbitration after Chief Arradondo fired a cop for beating someone while in handcuffs. Kroll, on behalf of rank and file MPD, pressed the case and won that officer’s job back.

And then he calls the police department a “protection racket”:

Politicians who cross the MPD find slowdowns in their wards. After the first time I cut money from the proposed police budget, I had an uptick in calls taking forever to get a response, and MPD officers telling business owners to call their councilman about why it took so long.

We pay dearly for public safety: $195 million a year plus extensive, expensive legal settlements. That should buy us more than a protection racket that’ll take it out on our constituents if we try to create accountability.

(via @alopexfoxy)

The NYPD’s Doppelganger Problem and Racially Unfair Policing

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 05, 2017

Lisa Davis Lisa Davis

For years, a white woman named Lisa Davis was paying the price (sometimes literally) for tickets issued to other women named Lisa Davis living in NYC.

Finally, the DMV told me that I wasn’t the victim of identity theft; there was simply another Lisa S Davis with the same birthday in New York City. Our records were crossed. When cops run a license, they don’t check the person’s address, signature, or social security numbers. They check the name and the birthday, and both the other Lisa S Davis’s and mine were the same. We were, in the eyes of the law, one person, caught in a perfect storm of DMV and NYPD idiocy.

In fighting all of these improperly filed tickets, Davis learned that most of them issued for bullshit “broken windows” misdemeanors in predominately minority neighborhoods.

It was then that it became clear to me: the reason for the tickets wasn’t that these Lisa Davises were petty criminals. The reason was likely that they lived in highly policed areas where even the smallest infractions are ticketed, the sites of “Broken Windows” policing. The reason, I thought, was that they weren’t white.

That could have been the “proof” I offered to the judge. Brownsville’s population is less than 1% white. It almost couldn’t have been me. My neighborhood, though fairly diverse (and cheap) when I moved there in the early 90s, is now 76% white. I have never heard of anyone getting tickets in my neighborhood for any of the infractions committed by the Lisa Davises in neighborhoods of color.

I felt there was only one thing to do. I had to find the Lisa Davises, to untangle myself from them, to talk to them about being Lisa Davises, and to see if they agreed with my supposition: that the real “crime” they had committed was being non-white.

See also Pro Publica’s report published today, Minority Neighborhoods Pay Higher Car Insurance Premiums Than White Areas With the Same Risk.

Police Racism: a Tale of Two Justice Systems

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2016

In 1974, Studs Terkel published a book called Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. One of the people he talked to for the book was Chicago police officer Renault Robinson. Robinson is African American and offered up his views to Terkel on how blacks are policed differently…here are the relevant bits of the interview. On traffic stops:

“About sixty percent of police-citizen conflict starts in a traffic situation. It’s easier to stop a person on the pretext of a traffic violation than to stop him on the street. It’s a lot easier to say, “Your tail light’s out.” “Your plate is dented.” “You didn’t make that turn right.” You can then search his automobile, hoping you can find some contraband or a weapon. If he becomes irritated, with very little pushing on your part, you can make an arrest for disorderly conduct. These are all statistics which help your records.

Certain units in the task force have developed a science around stopping your automobile. These men know it’s impossible to drive three blocks without committing a traffic violation. We’ve got so many rules on the books. These police officers use these things to get points and also hustle for money. The traffic law is a fat book. He knows if you don’t have two lights on your license plate, that’s a violation. If you have a crack in your windshield, that’s a violation. If your muffler’s dragging, that’s a violation. He knows all these little things….

So if they stop the average black driver, in their mind the likelihood of finding five or six violations out of a hundred cars is highly possible…. After you’ve stopped a thousand, you’ve got 950 people who are very pissed off, 950 who might have been just average citizens, not doing anything wrong - teachers, doctors, lawyers, working people. The police don’t care. Black folks don’t have a voice to complain. Consequently, they continue to be victims of shadowy, improper, overburdened police service. Traffic is the big entree.”

And on the type of young white male that the job was attracting at the time:

A large amount of young white officers are gung ho. It’s an opportunity to make a lot of arrests, make money, and do a lot of other things. In their opinion, black people are all criminals, no morals, dirty and nasty. So the black people don’t cooperate with the police and they have good cause not to. On the other hand, they’re begging for more police service. They’re over-patrolled and under-protected.

The young white guys turn out to be actually worse than their predecessors. They’re more vicious. The average young white policeman comes from a working-class family, sometimes with less than a high-school education. He comes with built-in prejudices. The average young white cop is in bad shape. I think he can be saved if a change came from the top. If it could be for just eight hours a day. They may still hate niggers when they got off duty. They may still belong to the John Birch Society or the Ku Klux Klan. So what? They could be forced to perform better during the eight hours of work.”

Reading about this stuff, I keep going back to the 9 principles of policing drawn up by London’s Metropolitan Police in the 1820s in which the power of the police comes from the people, force is to be used minimally, and the efficacy of policing is judged on the absence of crime, not on the number of arrests or people sent to jail.

Redditt Hudson served as a police officer in St. Louis during the 1990s. He shared his perspective on race and policing with Vox last year: I’m a black ex-cop, and this is the real truth about race and policing.

It is not only white officers who abuse their authority. The effect of institutional racism is such that no matter what color the officer abusing the citizen is, in the vast majority of those cases of abuse that citizen will be black or brown. That is what is allowed.

And no matter what an officer has done to a black person, that officer can always cover himself in the running narrative of heroism, risk, and sacrifice that is available to a uniformed police officer by virtue of simply reporting for duty.

(via @tonyszhou)

Policing By Consent

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2014

In light of the ongoing policing situation in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer and how the response to the community protests is highlighting the militarization of US police departments since 9/11, it’s instructive to look at one of the first and most successful attempts at the formation of a professional police force.

The UK Parliament passed the first Metropolitan Police Act in 1829. The act was introduced by Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel, who undertook a study of crime and policing, which resulted in his belief that the keys to building an effective police force were to 1) make it professional (most prior policing had been volunteer in nature); 2) organize as a civilian force, not as a paramilitary force; and 3) make the police accountable to the public. The Metropolitan Police, whose officers were referred to as “bobbies” after Peel, was extremely successful and became the model for the modern urban police force, both in the UK and around the world, including in the United States.

At the heart of the Metropolitan Police’s charter were a set of rules either written by Peel or drawn up at some later date by the two founding Commissioners: The Nine Principles of Policing. They are as follows:

1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.

2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.

4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.

5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.

6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.

7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.

9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

As police historian Charles Reith noted in 1956, this philosophy was radical when implemented in London in the 1830s and “unique in history and throughout the world because it derived not from fear but almost exclusively from public co-operation with the police, induced by them designedly by behaviour which secures and maintains for them the approval, respect and affection of the public”. Apparently, it remains radical in the United States in 2014. (thx, peter)