Skip to content

How many more?

Three more police officers were killed today, in Baton Rouge. Three injured. The same word used as in Dallas— “ambush.”

The fear and despair I’m feeling right now are mostly due to three beliefs: that such killings a) might have been inevitable, b) will certainly only make things worse, and c) may well happen again.

Black Lives Matter is of course both a slogan and a movement, and the movement’s leaders have disavowed violence against police officers. But America is certainly fond of binary thinking of the “you’re with us or against us” variety. Onlookers have gathered in a circle around this conflict like a group of children yelling “Fight! Fight!” Especially those who have drawn a line of allegiance between BLM and The Police, and have donned their #AllLivesMatter, #BlueLivesMatter, and “I Can Breathe” t-shirts to signify which side they’ve chosen.

My friend Ed Brayton remarked that he was experiencing writer’s block in the wake of the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, followed by the killing of five police officers in Dallas.  But he still managed to make the following observation that I think should be preserved:

This is not the least bit surprising to anyone who has paid attention to the problem over the years. And so we have the Black Lives Matter movement protesting against such injustice and brutality. And while you may dislike some of their tactics, they are right on the core issue. Our criminal justice system really is racist from top to bottom. Anyone who denies that cannot possibly have seen all the data that supports it, data that I have been presenting for more than a decade. And then we have two men who gunned down 11 police officers in Dallas on Thursday night, at the end of a long and peaceful protest against this injustice. What they did is horrifying and wrong in every possible way and it will do nothing but undermine efforts to address the problem. But unlike the unjust and racist treatment of black people in this country, that is an incident that is merely anecdotal, not systemic. But let’s also recognize that it was virtually inevitable. I have been saying this for years: When you oppress people, you radicalize them. If you do nothing to address legitimate grievances and fix problems, it is inevitable that some small portion of the victims of that oppression are going to choose violence as a response. That doesn’t justify it, but it does help explain it. If you cannot change as a result of non-violent protest, you make violent protest inevitable. And here’s the real problem: All this does is perpetuate the cycle of violence. Like the Hatfields and McCoys, every act of violence is then used to justify the next reprisal, which is then used to justify the next one, and the next one. At some point, the violence has to stop. But the only ones who can really stop it are those with power, which means law enforcement, courts and politicians. Violence on the part of those who protest against state-sanctioned killing is a response to the misuse of power, not an expression of power. It is up to those with power to fix this. No one else can.

What I fear is that Ed is right…but that those with power will not fix this. That they will just double down, using the killing of these officers as justification.

By all accounts, BLM and the police of Dallas actually had a decent relationship prior to the post-protest ambush, and hopefully will manage to repair that relationship in the wake of it.  The same probably cannot be said of Baton Rouge. But that’s kind of the point– these things differ from state to state, city to city. Police departments have different approaches, including Richmond, California police chief Chris Magnus’s decision to stress de-escalation and the development of a positive relationship with citizens above all else.

Here in Wichita, a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally last Tuesday led both protesters and police to declare the event a success, and they’re holding a cookout tonight, in lieu of another march, in the spirit of improving community relations.

All of which tells me that progress is being made on a local level. Quantifiable measures like the increase of police departments using body cameras are one way to recognize this, but of course body cams aren’t a panacea– no simple increase in accountability can be, though we still absolutely need increased accountability!

But what we also need, so very desperately, is a paradigm shift.  Nationally, we have to recognize that being opposed to racism and brutality in a police force is absolutely not the same as being anti-cop (any more, as one meme noted, than being anti-child abuse is the same as being anti-parent).

We have to acknowledge that the more police officers are different and separated from the communities in which they operate, the more empathy for people in those communities is diminished. No police department is an occupying force. Every police department is composed of human beings entrusted with tremendous power and authority to enforce the law, who are still human beings.  For better and for worse.

The “for betters” like the examples of Chris Magnus, like Wichita’s police chief Gordon Ramsay (yes, our police chief’s name is Gordon Ramsay and he’s organizing a cookout– what?) should be encouraged, rewarded, and perpetuated.

And when it comes to the “for worse,” to the biases and cover-ups and abuses…there are ways to counteract these. We absolutely must work to counteract these.  Our local communities and our national community depend on it.

Things you should read

The NYPD’s ‘Work Stoppage’ Is Surreal. Matt Taibbi describes the strange twist of New York’s Police Benevolent Association (which becomes a more and more ironic title by the minute) deciding to start making arrests “only when they have to” in order to try and stick it to Mayor Bill de Blasio by depriving the city of needed revenue.

Is this considered abuse? Leelah Alcorn (the chosen name of a transgendered teen formerly called Josh who committed suicide at age 17 on December 30th by stepping in front of a truck) started a Reddit thread asking for help two months ago. Some good advice and comfort was offered, but it obviously wasn’t enough.

On Nerd Entitlement. Laurie Penny’s patient, compassionate, but also poignant and pointed explanation to Scott Aarsonson of what it’s like to be a bookish, awkward, nerdy girl in response to his depiction of being a bookish, awkward, nerdy boy, and how the latter does in fact have privilege in comparison to the former.

Dollree Mapp, 1923-2014: “The Rosa Parks of the Fourth Amendment.” It’s interesting that when we consider the hallmark cases in which the rights outlined in the Constitution were asserted and argued in front of the Supreme Court, it isn’t always an immediate realization that for any violation of rights you can name, members of minority underclasses have experienced it more. That when it comes to civil rights, overt racism (for example) isn’t the only indignity people of color in America have to face. Institutionalized bigotry means that every violation of rights felt by the privileged classes is felt more by the non-privileged. But Dollree Mapp fought hard for her right to be secured in her person, house, papers, and effects– and for all of our right to the same– and should be remembered for this.

How many fallacies can one shirt hold?

Let me count the ones I see.

1. Obey the law, and you have nothing to fear.
2. Break the law, and you deserve to be tortured to death.
3. Rules #1 and #2 are applied equally to all Americans.
4. Police never break the law themselves.
5. When they do, they are never protected in ways civilians wouldn’t be.

Oh wait, I get it…this shirt is for police officers!

Breathe easy, cops– and hey, don’t break the law. But if you do, and murder one civilian after another in horribly gruesome ways, breathe easy…you won’t suffer the fate they did.

Especially if they’re black.

The perils of confusing libertarians and right-wingers

Exhibit A: You might make as big a fool of yourself as Lawrence O’Donnell did.

See, there is this video making the rounds of a reporter from Reason magazine talking to Matt Damon (the actor) about incentives to perform one’s job, comparing actors to teachers. But much more important than this exchange was O’Donnell’s reaction to it:

After casually labeling the Reason Foundation as a right wing Republican group he says: The right-wing attackers of teachers have never even shown the slightest curiosity about the job performance of another group of government workers who have very, very high job security, police officers. And police officers carry guns instead of textbooks. And as we`ve seen in New Orleans after Katrina and in countless other cases around the country, police officers have sometimes used those guns to shoot and kill innocent people.

Reason’s editor-in-chief Nick Gillespie fired back:

Reason.tv’s video featuring Matt Damon from Saturday’s “Save Our Schools” rally is making the rounds. In the vid, Matt Damon tees off on the “shitty” salaries that teachers make and argues that teachers do what they do out of love, so that structural arrangement such as early-and-easy-to-get tenure have no impact on what sort of job educators may do in the classroom. As a point of fact, Damon’s understanding of teacher compensation relative other professionals is wrong. It turns out that when you control for education level and hours worked, public school teachers do quite well (especially compared to private school teachers, who on average make $13,000 a year less). And that’s before fringe benefits, such as employer-paid health care and retirement packages are tossed in to the mix. Or job security. But we were talking about Lawrence O’Donnell, host of MSNBC’s Last Word, who used his “Rewrite” segment to question not simply whether public-school teachers should be scrutinized but whether Reason is anything more than a Republicanoid hack factory that would never dare question, say, the police. After showing a part of the Reason.tv video in which host Michelle Fields questions Damon about whether the relative insecurity of acting jobs pushes him to a higher level of performance, the wise and all-knowing – and, according to his Wikipedia page, exclusively privately educated – O’Donnell delivers the following screed

[This is] how crazy the attack on teachers has become. Comparing public school teachers work incentives to the work incentives of movie stars. It has never occurred to the teacher haters that teachers want to be teachers for any reason other than job security. It has never occurred to them that teachers might want to be teachers because they like teaching, because they love teaching, and because they care about their students. The right-wing attackers of teachers have never even shown the slightest curiosity about the job performance of another group of government workers who have very, very high job security, police officers. And police officers carry guns instead of textbooks. And as we`ve seen in New Orleans after Katrina and in countless other cases around the country, police officers have sometimes used those guns to shoot and kill innocent people. They have done so accidentally, which is in some cases understandable and forgivable. And some of the them — statistically very few to be sure — have done so deliberately, maliciously, with full criminal intent. They have summarily executed people. The worst teacher in America could never do as much damage as the worst police officer in America. But the right wing has never even been slightly curious about evaluating the job performance of police officers. Never once has Republican world said hey, maybe we should look into how police officers are carrying out their solemn public responsibility to serve and protect. No — no right wing website in America is investigating or will ever investigate how well police officers do their jobs. The targeting of teachers has been a vicious and politically deliberate action. And it has been so successful that many of its fundamental falsehoods are accepted as true by both Republicans and Democrats in our ongoing dialogue about public Education. 

 . . .while I realize that being Lawrence O’Donnell means never having to say you’re sorry, let me add some emphasis to the plain truth:Because Reason magazine, Reason.com, Reason.tv and Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes all these things, including this blog) are not right-wing or Republican, I can’t speak for those groups or folks inclined those ways.However, I can and will gently direct O’Donnell to have at least some goddamn inkling of what he’s talking about:Reason has been all over issues of police abuse like those Fullerton, California cops were all over the homeless man they beat to death.Or the other California cops who killed Allen Klephart following a traffic stop.Or who illegally detained DC-area journalist Justin Vorus because he snapped photos of cops at work.Or all the other law enforcement types who are waging a War on Cameras because it makes them have to respect civil liberties.And while I’m sure that O’Donnell has guests up the ying-yang for his show, he might want to think about asking Cory Maye, the Mississippi man who was first taken off death row and then released from prison altogether in large part due to the efforts of Reason journalist Radley Balko, along with Reason.tv’s Drew Carey and Paul Feine, whose “Mississippi Drug War Blues” documentary is a must-watch to any American interested in how the criminal justice system has major problems. Balko, now with the Huffington Post, was even named “Journalist of the Year” this year by the Los Angeles Press Club due to his Reason work on the Cory Maye and other cases.

And when O’Donnell is done digesting all that, he can relax with Reason magazine’s July issue, which was dedicated to what we called Criminal Injustice: Inside America’s National Disgrace. It’s online right now. For free. He just has to click the link.Or maybe, like Matt Damon, a truly gifted actor who is totally untroubled by the basic facts when it comes to questions of teacher compensation, O’Donnell will elect to live exclusively in a world of his own making.Make no mistake: Reason in all its iterations supports and applauds the work that the law enforcement system – from the U.S. Supreme Court down to the most local of meter maids and the least-honored of rent-a-cops – does to help keep the country and its citizens safe. Like good teachers, good cops have a tough-as-hell job that is made immeasurably harder by all the bad ones out there. And make no mistake, too, that Reason has been and will continue to look at ways to identify and call out bad actors in public and private life. And suggest ways in which education and law enforcement can be improved to better serve the citizens who pay for both.

Radley Balko writes on his own blog:

Of course, I’m not the only one who writes about this stuff. Maybe O’Donnell has had other people on. So I did a search of O’Donnell’s archives to see how many times he has addressed police abuses. I found one instance, and even that one had a partisan angle. O’Donnell actually acknowledged on Twitter yesterday that he could only think of a single story about police abuse he has addressed since he started hosting the show. (Though he did write a book several years ago about a police abuse case his father handled as an attorney.) Reason has run dozens of articles, videos, and blog posts over that period. So what sorts of important issues does O’Donnell think are more deserving than police abuse? Sarah Palin, apparently. He has discussed her more than 50 times. She even gets her own topic tag. And O’Donnell isn’t just wrong about Reason. The conservative-learning libertarian Glenn Reynolds have been outspoken and critical of police on issues like no-knock raids, citizens’ right to record police officers, and even ending qualified immunity for cops, a pretty radical (though in my opinion correct) position that I doubt you could find ten members of Congress to support. Sites like Lew Rockwell also run pieces by adamant police critics like William Grigg. So not only did O’Donnell deliver an ad hominem attack, it was an attack that was also embarrassingly wrong on the facts, which he’d have discovered had he done 20 seconds of research. And it doesn’t look like he’ll be issuing a correction. His only response yesterday was the Tweet linked above and to re-Tweet others’ weak defenses of him. If O’Donnell really gave damn about police abuse, he’d be looking to forge alliances across partisan and ideological lines to build support for reform. Meaning he’d be reaching out to places like Reason. Instead, in just the second time he has mentioned police abuse in his eight months of hosting a national TV show, it was to use the issue as an ideological cudgel to smack around people with whom he disagrees . . . on a completely unrelated issue.

Ed Brayton agrees:

Balko is absolutely right, progressives should be building alliances with groups like Reason on the issues where we agree. And there are lots of such issues beyond criminal justice, including executive power (which real progressives agree should be limited and subject to checks and balances, while the president and the Democratic leadership only thinks those things matter when a Republican is in the White House), torture and extraordinary rendition, opposition to constant military interventions abroad, the need to cut defense spending, warrantless wiretaps, opposition to the Patriot Act and other constitutional overreaches, and much more. Disagreeing with the libertarian positions on environmental regulation and similar issues is just fine; I’ll gladly join you in arguing against them. But casually lumping all libertarians — and this group in particular — in with the “right wing” and pretending that they all take the same position on every other issue is shallow and sloppy thinking.

I used to listen to Penn Jillette’s radio show daily. If you’ve heard Jillette opine on politics for more than a few minutes or watch a single episode of Bullshit, it becomes obvious that his is vehement libertarian of the first order. Lawrence O’Donnell is a good friend of Jillette, and was a guest on that show….maybe five times? Possibly more? He really should know better.

Tuesday links

  • New Hampshire Tea Partiers’ opinions of gay marriage range from apathetic to vaguely supportive.  I wonder how many of those people are members of the Free State Project.  Check out the guy at 42 seconds in.
  • Iowa, Florida, and Minnesota are trying to ban covert photography of factory farm operations. I would’ve thought that unauthorized documentation was already against the law, but these measures will apparently also criminalize the possession and distribution of images. On the one hand, these farms are private property and footage taken of them is often used by groups like PETA to make wild and unverifiable claims about how they operate. On the other hand, opacity is the means by which industrial farming survives unquestioned. We need to see this stuff in order to make informed choices, and agribusinesses sure aren’t going to offer it voluntarily. Sigh.  
  • Homophobia in hip-hop: three academics comment on combating it in their classrooms.  
  • So far as I’m aware, the term “contempt of cop” was coined by Radley Balko to describe situations in which a person was hassled, arrested, or worse simply because a police officer didn’t like his/her attitude. It describes this interaction between a bicyclist, a joker, and four NYPD officers.  
  • An article on the life of Glenn Greenwald in Out magazine. Greenwald is one of the most insightful and informed critics of American politics today, and he lives in Brazil because their laws are more accommodating to him and his boyfriend are those of his home country, the so-called “land of the free.”

Primary Sidebar

Secondary Sidebar