The last few years have been fascinating for a number of reasons, but one that’s really caught my attention is the way conservatives and their media have completely abandoned even the pretense of honesty, integrity, and a desire to make things better. I think the leaders and news outlets know that their base are so isolated from reality that they can tell them whatever they want, and they’ll just believe it. One of the best examples of this is their response to calls to defund the police. There are, of course, lies about what that phrase means, but I think those pale in comparison to the lie that the police have already been defunded, as though the slogan itself were some form of incantation that made it so. In case you’re not certain of the numbers, the agenda proposed by the Defund movement has been adopted by precisely zero cities. Some toyed with the idea, but overall, funding for police seems to have increased, rather than being reallocated to reduce the pressures that drive crime. .
These days I don’t really like the concept of “insanity”. It’s a dismissive over-simplification that I believe does more harm than good. That said, there’s a popular saying – that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I mention it because it’s brought up in the video below, and because that certainly seems to be the cycle that our leaders are trapped in. It’s as if they lack the ability to conceive of any response to unrest beyond increasing the number of soldie- sorry, police officers, and giving them more money. Never mind the killings, maimings, torture, theft, sexual assault, and harassment that all come from cops, we just have to have more cops, and then they can police the police! That always works, right? We just need the right reforms.
Well, no. Reform doesn’t work. I feel confident in saying that, because it’s been the primary approach for decades, and things have not improved. I also don’t buy that this is a new problem. It may be getting worse, with increase police militarization, and increased police protections, but cops have always been like this in the United States. Still, reform is a popular talking point, and our leaders don’t actually want the police to change in any significant way, so they will keep leaning on it, no matter how rotten it is. That’s why I want to share this video from Skip Intro, using the cop show We Own This City as a lens through which to examine police reform, and why it fails:
I also want to highlight a more blunt point made by writer Robyn Pennachia – police already know it’s bad to beat people to death. They aren’t robots that just don’t have the right programming. They are people with their own thoughts and opinions who routinely choose to beat people to death, or to shoot them, or to maim them, or to steal from them, or to plant evidence, or to rape them. They already know that that stuff isn’t allowed, and they do it anyway. Reform cannot work because police don’t want it to work, and actively fight against it. Giving them new rules won’t help, because they already break the rules that they have.
It’s worth noting that the Memphis police department enacted a series of reform measures back in 2020 following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. It was part of a program called “8 Can’t Wait” that aimed to reduce police violence by requiring certain things of police officers during stops.
- Ban chokeholds and strangleholds
- Require officers to de-escalate situations, where possible, by communicating with subjects, maintaining distance, and otherwise eliminating the need to use force.
- Require officers to give a verbal warning in all situations before using deadly force.
- Require officers to intervene and stop excessive force used by other officers and report these incidents immediately to a supervisor.
- Ban shooting at moving vehicles
- Establish a Force Continuum that restricts the most severe types of force to the most extreme situations and creates clear policy restrictions on the use of each police weapon and tactic.
- Require officers to report each time they use force or threaten to use force against civilians. Comprehensive reporting includes requiring officers to report whenever they point a firearm at someone, in addition to all other types of force.
Like most flavors of police reform, these measures presume that the police officers who kill do so only because they simply don’t know what else to do, because they haven’t been trained to do anything else. It presumes that they won’t use a chokehold if they are told to not use chokeholds. It presumes that if we just tell police officers “Hey, stop murdering people who are no kind of actual threat to you,” they will stop doing that. It assumes a certain amount of good faith that is not necessarily applicable to the kinds of police officers who kill people.
You know what the number one “deterrent” is to people committing crimes? It’s not long sentences, it’s not harsh prison conditions, it is certainty that they will be caught. This also applies to police officers in a systemically racist society who shoot or kill people to death.
If these officers didn’t know that what they are doing is wrong in these situations, they would also do them when dealing with rich white people. They’d act the same way when television cameras are rolling. They don’t. If this were the only way they knew to handle these situations, if all they needed was better training and more funding, they would never bring White mass murderers in alive. They do. Quite often, in fact. When was the last time police beat a mass murderer to death? Or a serial killer?
They know it’s wrong, they do it anyway, because they think they won’t get caught. They do it because power corrupts.
And because power attracts those who would abuse it.
Likewise, I think many of the rich and powerful people who advocate for “reform” already know that it won’t work, at least for the change wanted by the general public. They don’t want that change. I think that they want the police to keep the people in line, regardless of what the people want. There’s a paranoid part of me that worries that this continued ramp-up of police and the military isn’t actually about current conditions, but rather about future conditions, as the planet warms and capitalism continues to grind the masses into the dirt.
That’s why I’ve been convinced that the change we need has to come from us. We need to organize and build collective power, because the systems in place are designed to resist this kind of change no matter the cost. As with climate change, even if we don’t have a perfect solution, we sure as hell know how we could make things better, and yet “we” (the people in power) refuse to do it. All we have is us.
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No, it doesn’t.
What? I’m I the only one who saw the VIDEO FOOTAGE of George Floyd being murdered?
More to the point, even in the wake of all that followed that, am I the only one who watched footage of the Tyre Nichols murder which was shot from cameras THE MURDERERS KNEW WERE FILMING BECAUSE THEY WERE FUCKING WEARING THEM.
They don’t think they won’t get caught. What they think – what they appear to know, mostly – is that getting caught is irrelevant, because even if they are, they won’t suffer any serious consequences. Tyre Nichols’ murderers have been fired – whoopee fuckin doo. As we know, that’s no barrier to getting a job as a cop somewhere else, plus hey, you’re experienced.
Do some googling and see which jail they’re all in right now, awaiting trial. Five large, aggressive, black men, who as an armed group banded together to murder an unarmed man who was no threat to them – just how secure is the unit they’re being held in before their case comes up?
Abe Drayton says
Yeah, I think it’s worth reading “getting caught” as “suffering consequences”, rather than actually getting caught.
I’m not clear what you mean by the last comment. Four of them posted bail, so they’re not being held before trial, and I don’t see what role their race plays in the danger of them trying to break out or go on the run.
Edit: Yeah, on further reflection, I’m not gonna defend the notion that guaranteed consequences would act as a deterrent. I think the larger point that cops already know the shit they do is “bad” stands, though. And yeah, still confused about your wording.
Well… yeah. That’s was my point. No consequences (no immediate ones) even now. I had thought the sarcasm obvious. Sorry.
And the role their race plays is this: they’re black men. In the USA, you’d expect the “justice system”, as I believe people call it with a straight face, would come down particularly, disproportionately hard on them, given how racist it is.
In fact, with footage out in public of them beating a man to death, they’re walking the streets.
That’s because they’re NOT black men in this context. They’re cops. That status trumps the colour of their skin, evidently.
I hope that clears it up.
Abe Drayton says
@Sonofrojblake – Thank you for clarifying.
Alan G. Humphrey says
The justice system in the US works exactly the way the majority want it to work and has since the 2nd Amendment was written as an incentive to arm the states’ police forces. It is not just the oligarchs, but those that benefit from Clinton-style White Supremacy. You know, that vociferous condemnation of the most recent atrocity, while not quite finding the votes to actually pass laws to make meaningful change. And eventually any meaningful laws that were passed get the SCOTUS Originalist club beatdown.
Alan G. Humphrey says
Re: Tyre Nichols
Not all of the cops involved were Black. At least one white cop who used a taser on Mr. Nichols was involved, and by the way, was not charged with a crime for his involvement.
I agree and disagree. I disagree in the sense that I think that very specific kinds of reform are needed to fix the problem. I’ll detail some ideas in a bit. I agree in the sense that in order to get these reforms, we need to change the public consciousness about what police ought to be and how our criminal justice system should be structured.
Basically, I want to get rid of police, but not really get rid of them. That needs some unpacking. I also want to repeat that I think most people in society, including most people reading this post, are not willing to go as far as is needed.
In short, we shouldn’t have police. But I also think we should have police. The government should employ uniformed persons to walk around communities for crime deterrence, crime detection, crime investigation, criminal apprehension, search and return of stolen property, etc. The real kicker is that I’ve become convinced that police don’t need any special powers to do these jobs. We should not have persons in peacetime in the civilian space with special powers of detention, arrest, search, other seizures, carrying weapons, and use of weapons. While this might not be possible in the abstract extreme that I propose blithely here, I think we really ought to try to get as close as we can.
What do I mean by this? We should have a general rule that use of force by anyone, including cops, should generally be unlawful if it would be be unduly harmful to first seek a court order from a judge to authorize that particular use of force. That authorization is commonly known as “a warrant”.
More specifically, I say that warrants should be required for all arrests except for: 1- probably cause of felony offenses, 2- arrest by a personal witness of the offense for an ongoing violent offense but only during or immediately after the offense (because otherwise you should need a warrant), and 3- arrest by a personal witness of the offense for an ongoing offense that requires immediate fixing but only during or immediately after the offense (such as unlawfully blocking traffic, non-felony theft, etc.). Maybe there should be some exceptions to these rules, but again, we should try to get as close to these rules as we can. In other words, most offenses should be handled by citation with immediate release at the scene, with most arrests being done according to a bench warrant for “failure to appear”.
Let me try to sell you on this by quoting Terry Pratchet.
Basically, stop thinking of police as “military” or “officers”, and start thinking of police as licensed bounty hunters paid on commission or by salary. I’d rather be arrested by “Dog The Bounty Hunter” rather than a cop because I know that Dog knows that Dog will get his ass handed to him in court if he (needlessly) beats me during the arrest, and because I know that most cops know that they can get away with (needlessly) beating me during arrest. We need a complete culture shift regarding the question “what are police?” and “what do we want police to be?”.
That’s the first half. Identifying the necessary changes to the rules of engagement of police. I could go on for many pages, but that’s a taste of what I want. That’s the easy part. The second part is the hard part. The hard part is enforcement of these new rules of engagement. I have some radical ideas.
I totally agree with OP that the primary problem is that cops know that they can get away with it. We need to fix that. I think the necessity of the first part – new rules of engagement for cops – is not sufficiently appreciated, but it’s undeniably true we also need to reform the system to ensure that cops can’t get away with it.
The fundamental problem is a conflict of interest. It is the job of government prosecutors to prosecute cops for their criminal misdeeds, but this sets up an inherent conflict of interest. It is not always in the prosecutor’s interest to prosecute the cop. We need to fix this conflict of interest. My radical suggestion to fix this conflict of interest is private criminal prosecutors. Allow the victim, or the close family and friends of the victim, to have first priority and opportunity to seek an indictment from a grand jury to name themselves or any lawyer of their choosing to be the prosecutor for the case. Voila – conflict of interest solved.
Now, before you write that these ideas are crazy and could never work, I want to tell you that the ideas that I’m proposing are how this country, the USA, worked for the first century of its existence. I know there are no founder worshipers here, but I do want to mention that the American founding fathers would all be aghast and disgusted at our modern police. They would identify our modern police as functionally the standing army that they fought against in the war of independence. Remember that the British Army was first sent as law enforcement, and it was that which triggered the rebellion, and not the other way around. Remember that the Declaration Of Independence lists their grievances against the British Army which include killing innocent people without trial, and the perpetrators being subject only to mock trials and not “civilian power” (approx). I believe that modern readers misunderstand that, and what they really meant was that they were not subject to the normal court process of the day and specifically a highly motivated prosecutor to prosecute the offender instead of someone with an inherent conflict of interest, a prosecutor whose interest lay with the defendant.
Now, for more information, go read “Are Cops Constitutional?” by Roger Roots for a rather good in-depth and well-cited academic legal discussion of these ideas and more.
A brief list of things that I would like to do.
Ban plea bargaining entirely except for criminal informants of a criminal conspiracy subject to grand jury approval. I cannot understate the importance of this.
Bring back private criminal prosecutors, like I described above. Grand juries check them for basic fitness and possible conflicts of interest. (Merely wanting to prosecute to the best possible ability is *not* a conflict of interest for a prosecutor. Merely knowing the supposed victim is not a conflict of interest for the prosecutor. Being paid money by the supposed victim is not a conflict of interest for the prosecutor.)
Limit arrest power like I described above. Aka overturn Atwater.
To give teeth to the limits to arrest power, we also need to completely eliminate qualified immunity for police. Basically, overturn Harlow v. Fitzgerald. This is also why we need to properly codify the rules of engagement for police so that in most cases, there should only be questions of fact for the jury as to whether some person did it or not, and not questions of law as to whethre such a hypothetical action in a hypothetical situation is legal or not. Back in ye old days, they used to have published manuals about what is and is not allowed behavior for a cop in a myriad of possible situations. That’s what we need today. We need such detailed manuals that carry force in court.
Ban no-knock raid warrants entirely. No exceptions.
Require bail and arraignment hearings to be held promptly. On top of that, require bail and arraignment hearings to be held within 8 hours of arrest for daytime arrests and 16 hours for nighttime arrest, or else the accused must be released on their own recognizance pending trial.
Ban cash bail. Separately, people should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and it should be something like this standard to determine pretrial detention. Pretrial detention should be based on the risk to the public, which should include a preliminary examination of guilt, likelihood to reoffend, and seriousness of offense. We can ban cash bail, but also hold people in pre-trial detention who repeatedly commit minor misdemeanors like petty shoplifting.
Civil forfeiture should be banned. No exceptions. (Forfeiture should be criminal.)
Double jeopardy should protect a person against prosecution from multiple States and/or the Federal government for the same offense. Aka overturn Fox v. State Of Ohio.
Remove the “in plain sight” exception for the limited seizure scope for warrants. Basically, overturn Marron. Further, apply this rule for warrantless stops and searches. For example, if a traffic cop pulls someone over for a broken tail light, they should not be allowed to gather further evidence in the stop relating to any other offense, such as drunk driving, other drugs or guns in the car, a dead body in the back seat, etc.
Ban roadside sobriety checkpoints.
Ban border patrol checkpoints except at actual international borders.
Warrants can’t be issued in hearsay. The testimony used to issued warrants must be recorded to enable prosecution of persons who wrongfully seek warrants. Warrants must be in-hand to be used. No plainclothes officers may execute warrants (official uniforms only). Persons should have the right to read the warrant and give preliminary objections to the warrant before the warrant is executed (such as occupants of a house to be searched being allowed to check if the address is correct).
Hit police departments in their budgets.
End “qualified immunity”, and when they lose a court case after beating someone to death for no reason, take the money for the judgement directly from the PD’s pension fund.
Abe Drayton says
@Cubist – Yes and.
Alan G. Humphrey says
@ 7 GerrardOfTitanServer
One of the primary reasons for the creation of the modern professional police forces in England and France was that the private stipend-based police led to corruption, including organized criminal gangs using stipends as incentive to steal, and those early police forces were highly successful in reducing crime while reducing corruption. There’s a reason why the first professional police forces were organized in cities like London, Paris and New York. High concentrations of people lead to higher crime rates, at least in this so-called Western Civilization. The real solution is full free access to quality education for everyone, even to the post-doctoral level, because when was the last time you saw a video of a group of professors or post-docs beating anyone to death? But we know full well that the USAian oligarchs will never allow their primary source of power and wealth to be educated out of their serfdom.
Alan G. Humphrey
If you read that again, I explicitly said that police should still exist as a government funded force. I said
>The government should employ uniformed persons to walk around communities for crime deterrence, crime detection, crime investigation, criminal apprehension, search and return of stolen property, etc.
I am aware of everything you have said. Please read more carefully.
Alan G. Humphrey says
@ 11 GerrardOfTitanServer
You also wrote this, “Basically, stop thinking of police as “military” or “officers”, and start thinking of police as licensed bounty hunters paid on commission or by salary.”, and this, “Bring back private criminal prosecutors, like I described above. Grand juries check them for basic fitness and possible conflicts of interest. (Merely wanting to prosecute to the best possible ability is *not* a conflict of interest for a prosecutor. Merely knowing the supposed victim is not a conflict of interest for the prosecutor. Being paid money by the supposed victim is not a conflict of interest for the prosecutor.)”.
These are the avenues for organized crime infiltration and corruption, private money always corrupts, and licenses can be faked or corruptly bought. We cannot undo what is done, because those that have formed this system require it to remain, of course they also require their ownership of the means of production, those who work for wages, to be docile and uneducated.
Sorry, no idea what you’re on about.
Yes. I want this change. I want this change in public consciousness about the role of police and specifically their special powers to use force and weapons. Why did you think this means I want private police when I earlier said that I want government paid police?
Current police are salaried. I mentioned that there are several ways for the government to pay police. Mentioning the pay structure says nothing about who is paying them. Why did you think this means I want private police?
Police are not prosecutors. Why do you think this means I want private police?
Back to you:
Do you really think it would be worse than the current system to allow private prosecutors? Please explain how. Surely any complaints you have would apply equally to civil courts too. Do you think we should do away with civil courts?
And now you’ve gone completely off the rails into unproductive land. Let me know if you want to have a discussion about specific concrete proposals such as mine or any that you can bring.
So, do you not want government police? Because current government police are licensed. That’s what the “badge” is. It’s a license. A license to extra powers to use violence and weapons that the rest of us don’t have.
You seem to have a particular idea in mind about the licensing scheme, and I’ve spoken nothing about changing the license scheme. I’ve spoken only about changing (reducing) the amount of special powers to use violence and weapons.
Alan G. Humphrey says
Are not bounty hunters *private* cops? You say you want to privatize prosecutors to stop the conflict of interest and then describe that that was the way it was in the early days of the USA, but then discount my comments regarding why the corruption in the early system led to the government absorbing those functions and reducing corruption. These are the discrepancies in your described plan that I was trying to point out.
To get a feel for how unfeasible your plan is, just to be rid of qualified immunity will take replacing much of or expanding SCOTUS, and/or passing legislation. If you can imagine any congress and administration getting that done, then think on those that have pissed away decades ignoring the dangers to Roe vs. Wade.
Look. Whatever. I think there should be government paid police. I know the history of Pinkertons and the like, and that is bad.
I think private prosecutors is an entirely separate question for cases where the victim or close friends of the family want to prosecute. Most cass would still be handled by government prosector. I fail to see how the evils of private police apply to private prosecutors.
Moreover, I think it is actually impossible to get more corrupt than current US government prosecutors. IIRC, more presidents have been impeached than prosecutors who have seen the inside of a jail cell. Last I checked, only one US prosecutor has ever seen the inside of a jail cell for misconduct on the job, and it was a one day sentence. This is the height of corruption. You can’t get any worse than that. I think by making some prosecutors private citizens, we will lose this ridiculous delusion that government officials with this much power are trustworthy, and we’ll start to put real constraints and oversights on prosecutors.
Also, your last point is just defeatism. I won’t have any of that. We should be here talking about the best plans forward. The main problem is that the public isn’t willing to accept what is necessary, and so complaining about it is a catch 22. It’s also entirely unproductive.