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.

Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu

Two police officers were murdered Saturday at 2:45pm.

This crime highlights the connection between the escalation between cops and the communities they serve,with the ubiquity of guns. When the people are armed, the police can’t easily distinguish between the ones who are dangerous and those who aren’t.

Further, there is another dimension worth examining. The killer had just engaged in an act of domestic violence; it’s a crime that is particularly dangerous for both the partner and the police as well. It seems clear that what we should do is find ways to get communities and cops to work together to get guns off the street; and identify those individuals who are likely to purchase a gun and use it on a partner or a police officer. I wonder if preventing domestic violence should be central to what the police do – I suspect it will be even more useful than the broken windows theory. Track it and see what’s revealed.

Pat Lynch, however, isn’t helping the problem. I suspect, however, his rhetoric has more to do with upcoming contract negotiations than with the issues at hand. But the mayor isn’t responsible. the murderer is. If anything, there’s been an outpouring of support from many of the people who have been protesting against the cops. Lynch’s rhetoric is inexcusable.

Yes, there are some who chant “fuck the police” at marches. At best it’s in poor taste, and worst incendiary. But speech is exactly what the police are supposed to protect. The best test of that rule is when you hear speech you don’t like. That’s when we need protection the most.

Leaving my house today, I ran into a cop who had helped me a few months ago. He was walking his puppy, a beautiful German Shepherd. I said, “Tough times. Terrible tragedy.” He said, “It’s demoralizing.” He blamed the media. And then he said, “they should just release all the grand jury tapes. Then they would all know.”

It was a sentiment members in my parish had shared. Without transparency, trust becomes impossible to build. Although there will always be those who really hate the police, even poor, black communities want police presence. Small steps toward openness might go a long way. People might still see different things, but the intensity of the response would be diminished.

And now, let us turn our eyes toward the NRA.

End the Drug War

Kathleen Parker writes: Arguments against prohibition should be obvious. When you eliminate the victimless “crime” of drug use, you disempower the criminal element. Neutering drug gangs and cartels, not to mention the Taliban, would be no small byproduct of decriminalization. Not only would state regulation minimize toxic concoctions common on the black market, but also taxation would be a windfall in a hurting economy.

End the Drug War

Radley Balko writes what Phelps should have said.

Tell you what. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll apologize for smoking pot when every politician who ever did drugs and then voted to uphold or strengthen the drug laws marches his ass off to the nearest federal prison to serve out the sentence he wants to impose on everyone else for committing the same crimes he committed. I’ll apologize when the sons, daughters, and nephews of powerful politicians who get caught possessing or dealing drugs in the frat house or prep school get the same treatment as the no-name, probably black kid caught on the corner or the front stoop doing the same thing.