We need a revolution in policing

An awesome editorial from Richard Carlson in the Strib:

Jamar Clark in Minneapolis. Philando Castile in Falcon Heights. And now Justine Damond — in Minneapolis, again.

For the record, I want it to be known that I object to being policed this way. As between the Minneapolis Police Department and the civilian authorities in my town, it is the civilians who must be in control, not the police. These days it appears to be the opposite. It is well past time for our mayor and our City Council to assert their authority. They can start by firing our ineffectual police chief. After that, the City Council should take charge of a complete overhaul of the department.

Since the department can’t seem to hire and train anything but Blue Warriors, the council, rather than the department, should set the rules for what qualifies a person to become and remain a Minneapolis police officer. If the council doesn’t feel it has the expertise to micromanage how cops are qualified and trained, it can hire experts from foreign jurisdictions who don’t think of the citizenry as the people of an occupied country. The council should break up the entire command structure of the department, and demote, fire or reassign everyone in management, because these are the people who have stubbornly failed or refused to reform the culture of our paramilitary Police Department despite scandal after scandal.

I make no exception for the innocent, if there are any, because despite their oath to uphold the law, they did not stop the others.

Finally, the council should make it known that it will no longer negotiate labor agreements with the police union (yes, my Carroll ancestors are no doubt rolling in their graves), because for years the union has done everything it could to defend unfit officers and to block reform. If these things lead to expensive litigation by retrograde elements in the department, feel free to increase my taxes to pay for it. It’s time to decide who runs this town — the citizens, or the schoolyard bullies in uniform.

I’d like to think that a thorough overhaul of the Minneapolis Police Department and its policies will not be happening just because this time the victim is a white woman who holds citizenship in a predominantly white first-world country and who was shot in an affluent white neighborhood, rather than a black or American Indian person shot in downtrodden north Minneapolis. I’d also like to think that the police and the city won’t try to solve their PR problem by simply throwing the Somali-American police officer who shot Damond under the nearest bus. But I’m not that naive.

There are more ways for this case to go wrong than I can count. Minneapolis, which prides itself on its liberalism, has in reality led the nation in hypocrisy on the issue of race. I am ashamed of my city, of its arrogant, hypocritical police force, and of its civic leaders who have shrunk from taking on the elephant in the room for fear that they will lose the political endorsements of the all-powerful police union. Included in those civic leaders are the judges and prosecutors of the Hennepin County District Court, who have tortured facts, law and logic to justify almost anything cops chose to do to the people that I spent 28 years bringing before them for justice.

I’ve had enough. Haven’t you?



  1. cartomancer says

    Well there’s one systemic problem right there. It shouldn’t be “police vs. civilian”, because the police ARE civilians. They’re not soldiers, they’re citizens in uniform. Or they should be. As soon as you start thinking in terms of us vs. them you start building this culture of disdain and violence.

  2. says

    I make no exception for the innocent, if there are any, because despite their oath to uphold the law, they did not stop the others.

    This. Continuously, through loudspeakers, all across the globe.

  3. says

    Here’s a story of a person on a Grand Jury in Austin, in the New York Times: A Trying Time on a Grand Jury. One of the ways the prosecutors game the system so that cops don’t get indicted is show-and-tells of how police work is done. They also get really uncomfortable with questions, and (maybe) stop presenting certain kinds of cases to that particular grand jury.

  4. remyporter says

    because the police ARE civilians

    Unfortunately, the US has never really adopted the Peelian principles, and it’s a shame. It wouldn’t fix the problems we have with police in this country, but it’d be a good first step. Sadly, most of the principles are basically alien to policing culture in the US, and the “tough on crime types” want to make it yet more alien.

  5. ctech says

    YES! I also loved your post on the plea for foreigners to not come to america because the police will shoot them. Something has got to give with either more training or vetting processes to get these scared, itchy-trigger finger cops out. I understand they want to go home to their families too and that they have a dangerous job but we are beyond the point of ridiculous of saying, “I feared for my life so I shot”.

    If you can’t handle the stress and the danger of the job without overreacting then policeman is not your right career choice.

  6. says

    Don’t worry the black cop will be indicted and convicted of shooting the white woman and the civil authorities will go “Whew! We are getting better at rooting out bad police officers… move along… nothing to see here now…”

  7. Snarki, child of Loki says

    “because the police ARE civilians”

    That’s why they get EXACTLY the same legal protection as civilians do, when they kill random innocent people, right? Because, if that were so, there would be a significant number of (ex) cops sitting on Death Row, with exactly the same false conviction rates as J. Random Citizen.

  8. says

    cadfile@8 not only is the cop in this case black, he’s a Muslim as well. Everyone’s favourite Minnesota ex-politician, Michelle Bachmann, is claiming Officer Noor shot Justine Damond because he had a “cultural seizure” at the sight of a woman in pyjamas. You can be sure that she won’t be the last to play the Muslim angle, no matter what an investigation might reveal.

  9. cartomancer says

    rietpluim, #5

    I am aware, yes. But the language here is somewhat pernicious. Even this strongly critical op-ed piece uses the language of police vs. civilians uncritically. I think that doing so concedes to the world that we accept such a state of affairs.

  10. joel says

    Even in this forum I see someone repeating the myth that policing is a really, really dangerous job. It isn’t. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, law enforcement is not even among the top 10 most dangerous occupations:

    (Scroll down to Chart 3)

    Logging, farming, commercial fishing, mining, and about a dozen construction trades are all more dangerous jobs than policing. Aviation. Delivery-truck driving. The list goes on.

    Spread the word. If cops deserve deference for taking risks, then a whole lot of other people deserve it even more.

  11. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Minneapolis, which prides itself on its liberalism, has in reality led the nation in hypocrisy on the issue of race.

    Minneapolis, you’re in good (bad?) company: in the early naughties – or whenever it was that Juan Williams was the host of Talk of the Nation on NPR – public radio’s flagship talk/call-in show decided to record on location in Portland, for some reason. Williams got the mayor up on a stage with some other local politicians and entirely reimagined the job of fluffer. For Williams, a fluffer’s work was now to be performed in the audience’s full view.

    After praise for random things that really didn’t deserve praise, save possibly by comparison with lunatic jurisdictions that were entirely ignoring evidence when constructing municipal policy, Williams asked the white mayor of the (then) whitest big city in the US, a city located in a state that still had 140+ year old language in its constitution banning land ownership by Black people (unenforceable, but at that point still unrepealed) what Portland was doing so right on issues of racism, why Portland didn’t see major riots of the type seen in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict, why Portland wasn’t the subject of acrimonious class-action lawsuits against racist treatment, and why, in our mayor’s opinion, other major cities didn’t simply copy Portland’s recipe for success.

    Unfortunately, we did not hear the only possible honest reply:

    Well, Juan, that’s tricky. I mean, sure I advocate copying Portland’s recipe for anti-racist success, but at this point it isn’t easy. First you have to go back about 160 years and make the existence of Black folks in your Territory a crime. This is an extremely important part of remaining neutral on the issue of slavery. Both white slave owners and all Black people are equally prevented from existing in your pre-statehood Territory. When statehood comes twenty years later, make sure that codify the ban in state law, backed up by a constitutional prohibition on any Black person’s ownership of real estate anywhere in the state where you are establishing your racism-free city. As soon as the civil war is over, while maintaining a ban on the existence of slaves (because freed slaves are controversial, don’tcha know) make sure you invite disaffected southerners (many former slave owners) to move to your city. Many years from that point you will tell schoolchildren that this was part of measures supporting economic growth, but make sure that at the time your advertisements and propaganda are spread widely in the South and advocate migrating to your city as a way to escape governments that were now being influenced by the actual votes of actual Black people.

    Then after 50 years of raising the flag of the New South in your city, you let in a very marginal number of Black folk and force them to reside within a relatively small portion of your land near to certain port facilities where the men will be permitted to do dangerous, backbreaking work. While this is occurring, use your newspapers and other fora for public discussion to spread the views of the most vocal members of the KKK who are advocating that white men buy up large plots of land in the suburbs and in the wheat-growing east of your state as part of an overt plan to take your state’s lands out of the hands of its indigenous inhabitants and prevent those lands from ever being controlled (even in part) by the hated Black folk who caused so much destruction in the South, what with their sympathetic propaganda about how they supposedly didn’t like being all enslaved and stuff.

    For the sake of even-handedness and because those shipyard workers have to live somewhere away from the delicate white women of the 20s and 30s, reluctantly expand the areas in which Black folk are allowed to live. Keep the area small, however, even during worker migration necessitated by a major war where Black men aren’t always seen as good enough to be used as canon fodder and are thus by percentage more likely to be available to work at the vital war-related occupations on the US mainland. The local influx of Black men will cause an outcry from your white citizens, of course, but this can be minimized by relegating Black workers and other undesirables to extremely flood-prone lands protected by a hastily built dike. Then when the floods breach the dike, killing 15 and destroying the homes of 20,000, you have a natural pressure for those newly homeless who were only permitted into the state because of the exigencies of war to leave for places where they have extended family who can support them.

    Now you’ve reached the Atomic Age with barely any population of African descent to speak of, and with your history of declaring yourself the new homeland of the KKK your propaganda does your work for you, holding the migration of Black US citizens into your city at a trickle. After Brown and Heart of Atlanta are decided by the Supreme Court, simply ignore issues of racism as too distasteful for polite conversation. Relying on the small population of people of color in your city, class action lawsuits against your large local employers are rare and individuals who are victimized by discrimination in this (former) capital of the new White States of America have their stories treated as if they are individual tragedies. People of color are relieved that at least, when they manage to get their stories told, they are treated as tragedies. White people are relieved that they, frankly, don’t ever have to talk about issues of race at all – not in employment policies, not with regard to the major local employers, not with regard to law enforcement (“Black folk arrested disproportionately in Hillsboro? Last year they didn’t arrest any Black folk in Hillsboro!”) and certainly never, ever, ever in elections. After 140 years, white people vs white people will be the only municipal elections your city has ever known.

    Then you invite a conservative Black man and Clarence Thomas fan who thinks Thurgood Marshall was too radical to praise you because your city’s Black population hasn’t yet rioted, blush in a self-flattering way, and then moralize about how truly, truly good your (white) people are to have avoided the historical mistakes that provided the roots of conflict in those other, really, really racist cities.

    To this day I wonder what Juan Williams would have done if he’d actually gotten an historically informed, historically accurate answer as to why a city with no Black mayoral candidates and the smallest percentage of Black citizens of any US metropolis might not have managed to even have a conversation about race sufficiently provocative to trigger a riot. What a wanker. I honestly think less of him than I do of Portland, a city where two white guys can open VooDoo Donuts and have it explode in popularity without provoking any public discussion of racism or colonialism at all.

    You want to know why you aren’t seeing any sticky, slimy racism in Portland, Juan? Trust me: the magic of racist ignorance is in the hole.

  12. grumpyoldfart says

    As a matter of interest, Justine Damond is the 541st person shot dead by US police this year.


    Points from the article:

    * City Council to assert their authority
    * start by firing our ineffectual police chief
    * a complete overhaul of the department.
    * the council…should set the rules
    * hire experts from foreign jurisdictions
    * break up the entire command structure of the department
    * demote, fire or reassign everyone in management
    * no longer negotiate labor agreements with the police union

    Let us know when any of that happens.

  13. zoniedude says

    Seems that all of the police who shoot people claim that they were frightened so they shot unarmed people to death. Why are so many police officers abject cowards?

  14. says

    As a matter of interest, Justine Damond is the 541st person shot dead by US police this year.

    Jesus Christ on a pogo stick, and we’re only halfway through.

  15. flange says

    Carlson is entirely right. His suggestions should be followed by all police departments in the US. The most important item (and least likely to happen) is purging and completely restructuring the entire force, including tiers of management. You can’t “train” out racism, or generations of systemic, engrained, nepotistic cop mentality.

  16. says

    As long as “tough on crime” is a winning campaign strategy for any elected office, attempts to reform the police will fail. Trigger-happy cops are just one part of a larger structure which includes DAs and judges and legislators, and they will merely be replaced with other trigger-happy cops as long as the other positions in the hierarchy have an incentive to appear to be punishing crime more thoroughly.

  17. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Well there’s one systemic problem right there. It shouldn’t be “police vs. civilian”, because the police ARE civilians. They’re not soldiers, they’re citizens in uniform. Or they should be. As soon as you start thinking in terms of us vs. them you start building this culture of disdain and violence.

    First, one of my favorite quotes:

    It always embarrassed Samuel Vimes when civilians tried to speak to him in what they thought was “policeman.” If it came to that, he hated thinking of them as civilians. What was a policeman, if not a civilian with a uniform and a badge? But they tended to use the term these days as a way of describing people who were not policemen. It was a dangerous habit: once policemen stopped being civilians the only other thing they could be was soldiers.

    – Terry Pratchett, Snuff

    Now, are you prepared for the consequences of what you just said? You said that police shouldn’t be soldiers. They should be civilians. I don’t think you know what that entails. I do. Let me hit you with some of it.

    Currently, all US states (AFAIK) have laws that criminalize resisting arrest where the arrestor is a cop, regardless of the legality of the arrest. You want to make cops not soldiers? You want to make everyone equal before the law again, including cops? One consequence that is not immediately obvious is that we would need to bring back the right and privilege to use force to resist wrongful arrest.

    About 100 years ago, in 1900 to be precise, the United States Supreme Court heard a court case called “Bad Elk v United States”. In short, IIRC, Bad Elk was shooting his guns on his property, in violation of some local laws on the shooting of firearms in public or in city limits or something. The sheriff sent some his deputies to bring Bad Elk to him so he could chew him out, maybe put him in jail, or something. The deputies go to arrest Bad Elk, and Bad Elk points out that the arrest is unlawful. – Back in the day, it used to be unlawful to arrest someone for most non-felonies after the offense has concluded, an ideal that we should strive towards today – So, the deputies go in and threaten with guns, and Bad Elk draws and shoots and killed a deputy. Fast forward: The Supreme Court hears this legal argument, and they order the case to be re-tried with proper jury instructions. In short, SCOTUS didn’t find that the killing was reasonable and proper, but the court did find that it may be permissible to use deadly force to resist arrest when deadly force is used to coerce an unlawful arrest, subject to a standard self defense analysis, on the basis that because the arrest was unlawful, it was like an assault, battery, kidnapping, etc., and normally one is allowed to use force to resist that.

    Are you prepared to go that far? How far are you prepared to go? How much extra arrest power do you want to give the police?

    I am prepared to go quite far.

    For a primer on some history that very few people know, start here:
    Some of the citations are lacking, and a few of the arguments and sources are highly dubious, but the generall content is mostly correct. I’ve verified it from other sources. I’ve found better sources, but they’re behind paywalls.

    Then, here’s a list of things that I would try to get made into constitutional amendments. Half of them are about drasticaly limiting police power.


    I am aware, yes. But the language here is somewhat pernicious. Even this strongly critical op-ed piece uses the language of police vs. civilians uncritically. I think that doing so concedes to the world that we accept such a state of affairs.

    Most people do. Most people in this thread would balk at some of the suggestions that I have in my google doc. They still want police to be something other than civilians.

  18. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Most people here are against personal gun ownership and carrying rights. It’s hard to hold that position, and also hold to any position except that police are military, because they’re allowed to have guns, and the rest of us aren’t. The net effect is that they want a police state. They cheer it on. The police state is already here. We live in a police state.

    Just as another example, in about half the states, cops can demand to see your identification papers for basically no cause, and it’s criminal to refuse. “Stop and identify” statutes. We’re living the cliche you see in old WW2 films, where people in German accents go person by person, asking for “papers please”.