All of you prophets out there — who among you predicted that in the final (we hope) year of Trump’s presidency, the country would be crippled by a pandemic, the police state would run wild, our cities would be on fire, protesters would overrun the White House lawn, and Trump would be hiding in a bunker? Anyone?
Over four centuries of slavery, colonialism, and exploitation are finally coming home to roost and we’re going through a well-earned paroxysm of pain. The only questions are how much worse is it going to get, and will the nation survive it? We know already that it’s going to get much worse if Trump is left in charge.
As cities burned night after night and images of violence dominated television coverage, Trump’s advisers discussed the prospect of an Oval Office address in an attempt to ease tensions. The notion was quickly scrapped for lack of policy proposals and the president’s own seeming disinterest in delivering a message of unity.
Trump did not appear in public on Sunday. Instead, a White House official who was not authorized to discuss the plans ahead of time said Trump was expected in the coming days to draw distinctions between the legitimate anger of peaceful protesters and the unacceptable actions of violent agitators.
On Sunday, Trump retweeted a message from a conservative commentator encouraging authorities to respond with greater force.
This is precisely what we don’t need. The American police have effectively delegitimized themselves with their brute force tactics and their alignment with white supremacy, and American justice has compromised itself with decades of oppressive laws that mean that 2½ million citizens are now imprisoned, mostly for drug-related crimes, and the law is unequally applied to black and white people. Money has poured into law enforcement to the point where they’re buying army surplus armored cars.
What we need to do is defund the police.
If Congressional lawmakers are serious about reining in abusive policing, there are things they can do at the federal level. They can start by eliminating the Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) office. Created by the 1994 Crime Bill, it has been the central conduit for funds to hire tens of thousands of new police and equip them with a range of surveillance technology and militarized equipment.
One of the projects they currently administer is Operation Relentless Pursuit, the Trump administration’s signature crime fighting initiative, that is set to flood seven major cities with scores of federal agents in partnership with local police to go after his favorite bugaboos of gangs and drug cartels. Congress approved $61 million dollars to pay for it, and that money should be taken out of any future appropriations. They can also take more steps to undo the damage done by the 1994 Crime Bill, like defunding school policing in favor of providing more counselors and restorative justice programs; investing in harm reduction strategies, like safe injection facilities and needle exchanges as well as high quality medically based drug treatment on demand; and rethinking the use of the criminal justice system to manage the epidemic of domestic violence.
It is time for the federal government, major foundations, and local governments to stop trying to manage problems of poverty and racial discrimination by wasting millions of dollars on pointless and ineffective procedural reforms that merely provide cover for the expanded use of policing. It’s time for everyone to quit thinking that jailing one more killer cop will do anything to change the nature of American policing. We must move instead, to significantly defund the police and redirect the resources into community-based initiatives that can produce real safety and security without the violence and racism inherent in the criminal justice system.
Take away their toys. Stop rewarding cowboy cops. End the us-vs-them attitude, don’t attack communities with paramilitary thugs, but do engage with them as fellow citizens. Unfortunately, if you turn on your TV or go to the movies, you’ll discover that the renegade macho cop is valorized, that car chases and crashes are routine, and that every conflict is resolved with a gun. Cops are somehow above the law, and their job involves getting the bad guy even if it means turning a neighborhood into a burning wasteland.
Does this look like “protect and serve” to you?
It’s not like I expect change to happen. Trump is fulminating in his bunker, raving about sending the army to take care of his enemies, and the Democrats are little better — note that the 1994 crime bill, mentioned above, was written by Joe Biden and signed into law by Bill Clinton. The instinctive response of the establishment politician is alway to crack down hard on any threat to their power. We’re going to have to tear it all down first.
We should start at the top and work our way down.
You want to see the problem?
The LA city budget is due tomorrow (6/1). $3 billion — a full 54% — of the budget is going to LAPD. We've seen the cops the past two days. They have enough money. Call and email council members and implore they have an emergency meeting to redistribute.
— Kelly Diamond (@KellyDiamond_) June 1, 2020
The police are seeing this as an excuse to demand more money to do their job poorly.
Abe Drayton says
Not that I think it’s likely to happen, but if it does, be on the lookout for efforts to replace them with privately operated police/security
Ray Ceeya says
2020 is really starting to resemble 1968. Worst year ever.
Marissa van Eck says
There was someone else, I just can’t quiiiiite remember who, who ended up in a bunker when his dictatorial plans started to go south…
If Congressional lawmakers are serious about reining in abusive policing
Spoiler alert: they’re not. It was their idea in the first place!
The violence and the racism are the intended outcomes. The so-called “criminal justice system” is not intended to “produce real safety and security” – it’s intended to protect wealth and power, and keep everybody else subjugated in fear. You’re not supposed to be secure, you’re supposed to be afraid.
The police are doing their jobs just fine, it’s just that their real jobs aren’t what your domestic propaganda always told they were.
The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs) says
Tsk, PZ, you shouldn’t have mentioned the Crime Bill. Now everyone will say you’re pushing “Purity Tests”, just because you noticed that the people currently in control of the party helped cause the riots. We’re not supposed to actually pay any attention to the history of the Democratic Powers That Be, or try to hold them to a genuinely higher standard than the Republicans, we’re just supposed to blindly and mindlessly support them, vote for them, wave flags, and shout “hurrah” at appropriate intervals while they work with Republicans to make everything worse.
@2 Ray Ceeya, yep! Complete with verbatim wrong things to say, repeated ad suicidum.
As for Trump cowering in the Presidential Bunker, seriously, I feel for him. Ignore the sounds that are suspiciously similar to the sounds of guffaws, ignore the upturned mouth and my being doubled over, seriously, it’s gas.
Aw hell, OK, it’s open laughter. Couldn’t happen to a nastier guy, when do they bring out the meat hooks for him to meet his Mussolini fate?
As for PZ’s notion of disbanding all police, I never was really big on tossing the baby out with the bathwater. My local police aren’t jack booted maniacs, they’re heavily into community based policing, they help the homeless and even provide food for the homeless.
Instead, I’m all for mandatory hormone testing and mandatory retraining. If they can’t adjust, the infantry could use them (OK, more likely that they’d get a general discharge as unable to adapt), maybe a higher skill level position as curb stop.
You’re becoming a caricature of yourself. Please stop.
That is actually a good point. It is not as if the wealthy cannot afford private security–or as if the rest of us would have any way of defending ourselves against it. I saw this when I lived in Africa. In times of uncertainty, the walls just got higher, with more broken glass and barbed wire. The folks who sold safes and armored cars did a bang-up business, as did the private security firms.
The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs) says
Will you get the people who want me to vote for a senile racist sexist homophobic rapist who created half the problems we now face to stop telling me that I’m wrong? Until then, I’m merely correct.
How can otherwise intelligent and sane people come with and idea that is so monumentally, self-destructively stupid on so many levels.
At the very least it is perhaps the best advertisement for trumpism/fascism handed to them on a silver platter. Go on, allow them to paint their opponents as unhinged anarchists and themselves as the defenders of the law and civilization.
Even taken at a face value it is an obviously unworkable idea that can not result in anything but horrible failure.
This is not about who to vote for, this is about what to vote against.
I for example, among other things, vote against presumption of guilt and made up irrational accusations ;-)
Captain Jeep-Eep says
The cops are so out of control that taking away their money would likely end up in a net reduction in crime.
There’s a move afoot (Sen. Brian Schatz) to stop piping military equipment down to police forces.
If they can’t play nice, take away their toys– in this case toys they never should have had in the first place. It’s a start.
the vicar: As I’ve noted before, I regard getting Biden into office as a necessary, but not sufficient step towards the ultimate goal of getting the “ship of (federal) state” on course towards achieving progressive goals. I am not under any illusion that everything will become shinyhappywonderful the moment Biden moves into the White House. But honestly… is there any progressive goal that you imagine would be easier to accomplish in the Angry Cheeto’s 2nd term, than in Biden’s 1st term?
Perhaps you’re right in all the nasty shit you say about Biden. Could be. Is the Angry Cheeto better than Biden in any of the aspects you mention? Is the Cheeto even only as good as Biden in any of the aspects you mention?
IMAO, one of those progressive goals that I’d hope we both agree is worth working towards is junking the current First Past The Post voting system, because of FPTP’s known tendency to render third parties irrelevant. Do you think this would be easier to accomplish during the Cheeto’s 2nd term than it would be during Biden’s 1st term?
Ordinary police don’t need military grade weapons. Those run off the mill officers who take your complaint when somebody broke into your car don’t need a cubic metre of tear gas. No police force that actually serves the population needs millions and millions to pay for police misconduct.
“Police” as white people tend to think about are a fiction we keep telling ourselves
Imagine if the money spent supplying tanks and bullets to police was instead spent training police to interact peacefully with their fellow citizens. Imagine if recruits had to spend orders of magnitude more time learning to diffuse situations in addition to the training in violence prioritised today. That training alone would have a strong weeding effect.
slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says
Excuse me for jumping off track, let me share a notion: I wonder why no one has yet mentioned how British police aka bobbies are all unarmed yet the crime rate in England is quite low. I know the usual response is to denigrate the general british population as being wimps. You know I seriously doubt they are simply wimps. Why we are obsessed with arming LEOs to the teeth is beyond my comprehension.
thank you for reading me ramble.
But that’s not “defunding the police”.
Rob Grigjanis says
There may be some confusion here. The author of the Nation article seems to be using ‘defund’ to mean ‘reduce/redirect funding for’. But ‘defund’ means ‘stop funding’. While I’m sure some ideologues would favour that, it’s not what the author meant.
I’m aware. But I’d also point out that, in practical terms, that is billions $$$$$ worth of equipment.
@17 slithey tove
<blockquote=>Excuse me for jumping off track, let me share a notion: I wonder why no one has yet mentioned how British police aka bobbies are all unarmed yet the crime rate in England is quite low. I know the usual response is to denigrate the general british population as being wimps.
I don’t think the general british population are wimps compared to americans but they do possess fewer guns.
@20. Sure. But it is not defunding. Even if it saves a lot of money as a secondary effect. And is incredibly, self-defeatingly stupid to call it “defunding” for the reasons already stated.
But that’s what he wrote. And it will be mercilessly exploited. As I said, it’s a mega-colossal failure of communication at best.
jack lecou says
@17: I wonder why no one has yet mentioned how British police aka bobbies are all unarmed yet the crime rate in England is quite low.
I’m not sure, but I for one am all for it.
As I hinted in one of the other threads, what you do when you have a few rotten apples in the barrel is you empty out the frigging barrel, wash it out and sterilize it with bleach and/or fire, then fill it back up very carefully with apples that are completely rot-free.
I think the rot in police culture here is so bad, that what needs to happen is not just defunding military equipment or whatever, but the dissolution of entire polices forces, city by city. We need to make a fresh start with new institutions and (mostly) new staff, organized on an entirely different model. Preferably something based on Peelian principles of some kind, with unarmed officers, on foot where possible, and proper training in community policing, de-escalation, prevention, etc., as well as real accountability, and very strict limits on official immunity. Former officers would only be rehired, especially initially, in very limited numbers after thorough vetting and a demonstrably sincere commitment to the new way of doing things.
Aside from the leadership at the top, and Dunc@4’s well taken point that this racist, authoritarian status quo is what those people want, this would actually be an ideal time to do something like that. The unemployment rate is in the double digits. There are a lot of out of work people — people with experience in public service, and many with college degrees — who might be interested in an opportunity for a career change, getting in on the ground floor in an important new thing. We could ask for volunteers and/or the loan of some peacekeeping forces from other countries — especially from English-speaking countries with Peelian type police forces — to come over and serve as training cadre and as a stop gap to keep order as the old police forces are dissolved.
Big problems need big solutions.
PZ Myers says
I don’t usually link to sites like ammo.com (heck, I don’t even read them), but the gun-fondlers are also getting upset with the militarization of the police.
I get the impression it’s mainly concern that Joe Bob and Cindy Lou are getting outgunned by the authorities, but when the police begin to lose the support of the AR-15-lovin’ public, they’ve got a problem.
NBC (Nov. 13, 2017)
By being repeatedly shot by the police apparently.
This is what BLM is asking for.
But I’m sure, you know more about police violence than them. /s
I admit I don’t know much about violence. But I damn sure know how this will come across and what the consequences will be.
As should anyone who has not yet been shot into the head ( or suffered other serious brain injury ) .
Bob Michaelson says
There are occasional instances of good cops https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/31/us/flint-michigan-protest-police-trnd/index.html but they are newsworthy because they are so rare. Police should be trained to esteem that sort of behavior rather than the SWAT-style behavior that they now mostly are trained to esteem.
There are specific tools that can help to foster good police behavior and beneficial police-community relations. One is to replace squad-car cruising with walking, and thus getting to know people in the area they serve. Another is through architecture, as with the Polis Station project from Studio Gang
On the other hand, the way to make things worse is to just do more of the same, with more and deadlier force.
Police murdering innocent black people is nothing new. It’s been going on for at least 100 years. And we’ve always been at this moment of crisis.
Police are a lawless, autonomous force, answerable to no one. And it’s gotten that way generationally. Father to son, veteran to rookie, old chief to new chief.
It’s not going to change, the way it stands. You can’t “train” a racist cop to be a non-racist cop. Or train a murdering cop to be a decent human being. Or change someone turned on by the unquestioned power of a uniform and a gun, into a helpful, caring person.
The only way toward change, is a total elimination and restructuring of police departments and unions. Eliminate the military, chain-of-command structure, and replace with a social worker-type organization. And a new mission statement, maybe: “To Help People and Society.”
And, for dog’s sake, pay police more competitively. And screen and recruit the right kind of people. People who want to be police for the right reasons.
Why haven’t law enforcement unions been defanged like all the others? They’re among the strongest, if not the strongest, unions left in the US. Is membership in the union mandatory or is there a “right to work” on a police force?
TGAP Dad says
In addition to the defunding idea, I’d add one thing: disarm the police, except for a small group of police that can check out weapons if an incident arises that justifies their use. I’m imagining something similar to the U.K. model, but without all the horribly intrusive U.K. surveillance – we have too much of that already.
And deescalation training.
@captainjack Yeah, kind of suspect the answer to your question is that, unlike mere “workers” cops are useful to the rich, powerful, and corrupt. So, of course they get to keep “their” unions.
@blf Ah, right, so the stuff they used to emphasize 30 some years ago, after a fair bit of reforms, and actual arresting bad cops, and their leaders, such as just what you mention, mandatory Hogan’s Alley training (which is now optional), mandatory training in how, if, not all the damn time, the guns have to come out, being aware of line of sight and actively limiting possible accidental casualties, etc. Some of which was done by all police academies, but not all of them, hence some of the idiot things my brother has talked about cops doing, when hired from a different academy than he went to, and so on. That sort of thing – which even when it was implemented the “last f-ing time” we had this crap happening, was only, seemingly, implemented by the precincts that where slapped the hardest, in places where the brutality was the worse, and the most cops got arrested, but ignored any place that the states/cities failed to clean house.
That sort of training?
Yeah, would love to see it, and my brother, back when he was still willing to put up with the corruption and stupidity, and back stabbing, and cowboy mentality (including from FBI when ever the showed the F up and almost got people killed by not telling them shit, or going ahead with stupid ideas, and not telling people shit, etc.), and resigned, had to go through it, and used it almost all the time, with very few cases of ever having to draw a weapon (unlike some of the idiots backing him).
Kind of like universal reform of… almost every damn thing we do in this country, what we get, invariably, is someone duct taping the leaks in the dam, and ignoring the cracks. But.. it would be amazing, I agree with that.
John Morales says
This Vox article makes some interesting points:
These videos show the police aren’t neutral. They’re counterprotesters.
Because no one has mentioned it, there is one thing that needs to be done, and that is to eliminate qualified immunity for cops.
David Utidjian says
I live in a town MUCH smaller than LA; population is about 53K. For the past thirty years the local school district accounts for about 53% of the city budget. The “public safety” budget is about 7%. Not saying that small town Northern New Jersey scales to largest city in California but what the fuck???