The Police

I get the desire to redirect, defund, and abolish the police.

Over the last four decades several intersecting factors have made it difficult to challenge aspects of police culture. These include a reduction in mental health services; the growing power of police unions; militarization; and the increased presence of guns. Add that in some places the police are the tax collectors for municipalities and get graded on their generation of income.

And that doesn’t include the hiring of white supremacists.

But most community organizers will tell you that communities want the cops. Social workers want cops to provide protection when they’re called on to deescalate. Furthermore, most urban police departments are more diverse than other institutions.

Community organizers know that one problem is underpolicing in dangerous areas, and overpolicing in everyday situations.Community leaders can tell the police where the dangerous places are; and they will tell you when they see cops sleeping on the job. When a precinct or a department are not connected to the community, they will not have the capacity to respond effectively.

LEOs can often be their own worst enemy. Some times the cop who has the worst reputation is like an enforcer in hockey, who will be the one who can be called to handle the most challenging and intractable situations. They fire the police who tell the truth; they begin to see civilians as enemies. This is not structurally different than other unions. But their inability to police themselves agitates the problem. Escalation against citizens ends up escalating the calls for abolishing police. That some cops work for more than 18 hours in a day means poor decision making.

We live in a country where guns, poverty, and envy, intensify the anxiety and corrode the capacity of individuals and communities to direct their energy toward mutual flourishing. It can be geographically intensified through density and close contact. Without an abundance of countervailing institutions, violence has always been a way to pay the piper, to maintain honor, to establish rules. The availability of guns makes these communities, and work of LEOs less safe. The solutions are not simply, “be nice to cops” or to stop protesting; but perhaps counterintuitive.

Public safety includes a variety of social problems that requires coordination across disciplines. Communities should fund a variety of institutions that do so. This includes police. Therefore, some resources should be directed away from parts of the pipeline into programs that prevent violence in the first place – Midnight Basketball was one of the more ridiculed ones. But it worked!

I submit that two policies might actually reduce and redirect this challenge of cops occupying communities: fund living wage jobs for teen-agers to adults; and second, rearrange our policing so that they are not underpaid, do not work 30 hour overtimes, and are trained for more than 3 months, but up to four years. Four years before getting a gun.

That the origins of the police have been related to issues of race – and ethnic patronage – is familiar history. But origins do not determine use, and it is up to us to think realistically about both ensuring safety, and funding the programs that actually give people the tools to thrive.

Black Lives Matter

A white officer was shot in cold blood by a mentally ill black man in Texas. Given the context, some interpret this as an example of how #blacklivesmatter is anti-white. Charles Blow responds beautifully.

Countless amounts of ink will be poured and video shot misdirecting this outrage. I don’t have much to add. But when a policeman gets shot the might of the state will be behind him. It’s always illegal to murder someone, but when it’s a policeman, the consequences are justifiably severe.

But when a black man gets shot by the state, the presumption is guilt. So when someone says #bluelivesmatter I think, yes, we know that. All our public institutions will now be defending the legacy and family of the dead officer. As they should. They are fundamentally public servants.

But black people, however, don’t get that luxury. The default position is blame.

At its core, black lives matter asks for one simple thing: fairness. It’s not fair when any person shoots any other person and gets a free pass – even when they are policemen. And although nobody denies justified shootings – thats the implicit contract with the state, the public deserves to know when and how such shootings are justified. And police, like every other citizen in the country, must be held accountable. Nobody should be above the law – especially its enforcers.

Given the amount of video footage of cops performing poorly, it’s now even more apparent we must find ways to prevent the shooting of innocent people. This is the claim that so many white people refuse to recognize: the shooting of an unarmed innocent person is always morally repugnant, no matter what the intention of the policeman is.

I’m incredulous when I hear people implicitly defend the shooting of an innocent. Because no matter how any person interacts with a cop, when they are not threatening him, they don’t deserve to die. Just because a cop is afraid doesn’t give him the justification to kill someone else. Nobody has that right. When you choose to be a cop you must learn other criteria: for example, you are afraid, and the person has a gun.

I have not touched on racism. But it’s racism that permits this blind spot. We call it “institutional” in part because it’s not about any single racist person, but a series of practices that circumscribe black life.

A friend of mine who’s father was a cop said that what’s discouraging to him was that cops know that some of them are unfit. But instead of creating a process to correct the institution, they create a wall of silence. This disserves the police who try to do their work with integrity.

The police refuse to recognize the arms race that the #NRA has forced them into. Of course they’re afraid of the public. Because guns are everywhere. And they’ve bought into the myth that it’s impossible to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Further, if the policemen believe they are at war with the citizenry, that means there’s a serious problem with our public life. They must not be defensive, but seek to be a part of the solution, taking ownership for their mistakes.

People often say that if a criminal wants a gun, they can get a gun. But that’s not true. Making owning a gun risky drives the price up. Trying to get a gun on the black market for $150 is going to be a lot different when the penalties are higher. As the comedian Jim Jeffries jokes, the black market for a gun in Australia now is $30,000. Criminals generally don’t have that kind of money.

Unless they’re on Wall Street.

#Blacklivesmatter