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Table of contents:

Direct Action

There are all sorts of places to donate, and we’ll start with North Minneapolis, which I mentioned has been undercovered in discussions about places in Minneapolis that have seen adversity without seeing much in the way of donations. Here’s the Northside Funders Group. If you’re looking to provide direct aid instead of helping a business regrow, check out the North Minneapolis Autonomous Zone Facebook page for mutual aid.

After that, we can look at the bail funds around the country. This is a list of bail funds by city or state that you can go to and donate where ever you feel the need best fits. Of course it makes sense to either start with your locality — Minneapolis funds in the context of bail funds actually look pretty good, so if you wanted to donate to Minneapolis specifically check out the other links below.

UPDATED TO ADD: Many of the organizations below have met their fundraising goals and ask you to donate elsewhere. Reclaim the Block has an updated list of organizations that still need funding to the best of their knowledge. Orgs with two asterisks next to them have been added in the last 24 hours and therefore less likely to have had their goals met.

This Google doc has a list of organizations and individual funds for donation. I have not vetted it, nor do I know the people who vetted it, so proceed with some caution. On that list, organizations I’d recommend or have myself donated to — the Black Visions Collective for organizing and mutual aid in Minneapolis, Reclaim the Block, another organizing group meant to shift politics towards community control, the Northstar Health Collective, who have been crucial providing health care to those on the ground protesting.

Here’s the South Minneapolis Autonomous Zone Facebook page for mutual aid.

For direct donations in the twin cities, here’s a list of places to donate and whether or not they’re open to receive donations.

Outside of the Twin Cities, here’s a list of direct action opportunities, whether that’s volunteering, protesting, donating or otherwise. One can also donate to the NCAAP Legal Defense Fund and national Black Lives Matter. This is also a remarkable list of national resources, whether that’s organizations to donate to, volunteer for or to receive help. Unable to protest? Here’s a blog post on ways to help.

Ad Hoc has a helpful guide for direct action as well.

Systemic Racism

We talk a lot about systemic racism in this podcast, but we don’t sit down and define it, in part because we’ve covered its breadth before in a few previous episodes as well as a recent episode of one of my football podcasts, the Zone Coverage Football Machine. Check out the show notes there, the show notes of our police shootings episode from 2017 and this one on systemic violence from another 2017 show. Here’s the blurb from the Football Machine that condenses a lot of it:

Qualified black students were three times less likely to be identified by teachers to be selected for giftedand talented programs. Here’s the original resume study. And here’s a followup on the famous resume experiment, this time contextualized in the framework of a black Harvard graduate. Here’s one on whether having a black face on a resume impacts callback rates.  

Environmental racism is a concept that refers to the idea that race factors into environmental decisions, like where to place polluting factories, which toxic waste spells to clean up and quality of drinking water. These result in an increased prevalence of asthma, increased severity of asthma symptoms, low birth weights, and high blood pressure.

This site has collected study after study of every single type of medical interaction and how they’re impacted by race. They went over pain management, organ donation decisions, diagnosis accuracy, cardiology, prescription drug decisions, oncology, mental illness and more. Even the amount of time one spends at a doctor’s visit. Where hospitals are placed is impacted by race, and within the same health care facilities, black patients tend to receive worse care.

In education, schools are less likely to be well-funded, have access to educational resources, have better class size ratios, have higher quality and up-to-date textbooks and have qualified teachers (or teacher who have time to prepare lessons) if they serve a primarily black population than otherwise.

Studies on police brutality — this is the one I mentioned from 1974, this is the ProPublica report indicating young black males are 21 times more likely to experience a police shooting than white teenage men and this one that only looks at cases where there was a police interaction indicates a black person is 3.49 times likely to be shot than a white person when controlling for all factors. And police interaction occurs much more often to black people than white people. When assessing threats, officers are much more likely to mistake objects (like a cell phone) held by black people as guns than similar objects held by white people. Off-duty officers who are shot are nine times more likely to be black or latino than white.

Even outside the context of shootings, officers are much more likely to use force in general in interactions with black suspects than white suspects. And once in custody, black people die at four times the rate as white people.

Here is an exhaustive list from the Washington Post on the evidence for racial bias in all aspects of the justice system, from police profiling, to jury selection, to conviction rates, to the types of crimes prosecuted, to lawyer availability and so on and so forth.

The Scene in Minneapolis

We mentioned dueling coroner reports. Most media organizations will be referring to the Hennepin Counter Medical Examiner’s report, the one that rules the death a homicide but rules it a death as a result of cardiopulmonary arrest due to a multitude of factors. The independent medical examiner’s report, however, concludes that George Floyd died due to “asphyxia due to neck and back compression”. Because the original report did end up concluding that Floyd died as a result of homicide, it hopefully won’t mean much that they disagree on the medical cause of death.

This law firm explains the eggshell skull rule I briefly mentioned in the episode.

I mentioned the Unicorn Riot feed, which you can find on YouTube here. Their website has more coverage — including written journalism — as well as means to donate.

I mentioned that large media organizations normally do a great job sanitizing police action and deferring to their authority, even in instances where it’s baldly inappropriate. Carlos Maza just released a video documenting exactly that. He mentions a New York Times piece on the persistence of police lying under oath — which of course hasn’t changed how the Times tends to trust police reports regardless — but it’s worth reading here.

The Washington Post recently published something along the same vein, in a piece titled, “In violent protest incidents, a theme emerges: Videos contradict police accounts”

On May 26, the morning after George Floyd’s last gasps underneath a policeman’s knee, the Minneapolis Police Department wrote he had “physically resisted” officers, who noted Floyd “appeared to be suffering medical distress.”

That news release went online hours before video revealed two things the public may have never learned otherwise: the source of his distress was nearly nine minutes of Derek Chauvin’s leg pressed into Floyd’s neck, and there is little evidence, if any, that Floyd resisted officers.

The pattern — video of violent police encounters that contrast sharply with accounts by the departments or their unions — has repeated with grim symmetry in the days since Floyd’s death. Numerous incidents have captured the rage of the public who point to inaccurate or outright misleading descriptions of what has occurred before their eyes.

Taken together, the incidents show how instant verification of police accounts have altered the landscape of accountability.

This includes the police murder of George Floyd, the police assault on 75-year-old Martin Gugino in Buffalo, the assault by police on a protest in Philadelphia and the Australian camera crew assaulted by the police in an effort to clear Lafayette Square in Washington DC.

Officers think the media handle them too harshly… but there’s not much evidence of that. The evidence that does exist only covers instances where the media is covering a case of police brutality, never covering instances where the media re-report the police report uncritically. More importantly, the media people consume tends to be entertainment more than news, and they tend to treat the police with significantly more reverence.

We mentioned what turned out to be lies by the Minneapolis and St. Paul police department about the significance of out-of-state protesters. It turns out, this not only influenced the national conversation surrounding protests but was picked up by other states — where those other states also lied. In Minneapolis, 86 percent of arrestees were from in the state while 67 percent in St. Paul were from in state. USA Today scoured 1800 feeds of people posting on Twitter about their activity at the protests and found that 85 percent had a history of posting about happenings in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

That’s not to say there weren’t people with different agendas causing violence, but that the complicated issue of the kinds of violence being enacted in the community and who was causing it requires a timeline and a willingness to do more critical analysis. From the Unicorn Riot feed

In Idaho, many were worried about antifa being bussed in from out of state, and it turns out that it didn’t happen and there was no evidence that it was going to happen. Kansas City police blamed their protests on out-of-towners, which turned out to be a lie. The same is true in Cleveland and New York. Detroit tried the same narrative too and the media ran with it — despite the fact that the very same article reports that 121 of 127 protesters were from Detroit or the surrounding suburbs. But they claimed it anyway because only 47 were from within the city limits of Detroit. The police, however, didn’t talk about the suburban protesters — they talked about the one from Maryland and one from New York to paint a broad narrative.

The mayor of Chattanooga claimed the same thing, but with no arrests there is no way to verify his claims or an accounting for how he even knew that. Harrisburg’s mayor did the same, with only one arrest. Miami claimed the same, but 51 of their 57 arrests were from in-state, with 47 of those 57 from Miami-Dade county, the surrounding counties or homeless with another three not listing any state at all.

The Miami New Times seemingly unironically to printed the sentence, “The city’s police chief echoed what departments across the U.S. have said about disturbances mostly being caused by outsiders looking to make trouble, stoke division, and drown out the message of peaceful protesters.”

CNN ran a piece saying we should be careful of claims of “outside agitators” because those claims diminish the impact of the protests, distract from underlying causes, ignores the fact that movements are connected (like Ben said), justifies violence against protesters and prevents movements from growing. This reporting has not stopped CNN, in different articles, from uncritically printing the lies from state and city officials. It’s also worth remembering that the accusation of outside agitators has been used historically to diminish the demands of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Over five hundred cities saw protests in the United States alone.

Reuters reported that there’s no evidence that extremist groups on the left or the right caused protests, backed up by a Department of Homeland Security report, also pointing out that though white supremacists organized online to a great degree, that evidence of their actual contribution to violence is slim. They further pointed out that claims from Washington DC and Baltimore about outside agitators don’t ring true.

Court and police records from some of the cities where violence erupted – Baltimore, Minneapolis and Washington – show most of the people the police had charged with rioting, property damage and violent offenses over the weekend lived either in those cities or in nearby suburbs. In Minneapolis, records show 25 of the 312 people booked into the county jail since May 26 listed addresses outside the state.

The Baltimore Sun, linked above, also makes a good point about how even if there are outside agitators, that shouldn’t invalidate the protest.

Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman fit the definition of “outside agitators.” They were white New Yorkers in their early 20s who had driven down to Mississippi, where they successfully organized a black boycott of a variety store — along with James Chaney, a local black man once suspended from high school for wearing an NAACP paper badge — and led voting registration efforts for African Americans, much to the chagrin of white supremacists. For their trouble, the three civil rights workers were kidnapped and killed in 1964 in the infamous “Mississippi Burning” case investigated by the FBI. But even after the bodies of the three young men were recovered, the impression that they were troublemakers from the North stuck.

. . .

Even some who concede that Derek Chauvin and some of his former police colleagues should face criminal sanctions for George Floyd’s death aren’t willing to see the bigger picture, the pattern of oppression at work. Instead, they follow a narrative of one bad cop, some peaceful protests, followed by those “outside agitators” who are the real problem. How convenient for those who resist change, including a president who consistently finds himself on the wrong side on issues involving race relations. How much easier to promote conspiracy theories on Twitter than engage in meaningful and courageous reforms in real life.

There are multiple reports from Minneapolis residents of run-ins with white supremacists, as the Daily Beast outlines. The Minneapolis Councilman for Ward 4 brought up white supremacist violence in a virtual town hall with President Barack Obama (conversation begins at 36:00, accusation of white supremacist activity specific to North Minneapolis at about 40:20).

The Department of Homeland Security apparently leaked a memo to Politico indicating that white supremacists are using Telegram to organize in Minneapolis and are concerned with their pattern of behavior regarding Minneapolis. Keith Ellison has the same concern — North Minneapolis is far away from the initial rioting, and destruction there is intentional. The BBC makes a great point about being wary of conspiracy theories, however, and avoiding spreading fake documentation.

As a propaganda studies professor points out in Wired Magazine:

In left-leaning misinformation circles, the overwhelming information to avoid is the violence and destruction of property that has accompanied protests. “I think the hard truth is that among the pain, anger, and protest, there are some who are taking their justified rage to dangerous places, and there are some who are taking advantage of that pain for their own ends,” says Adam Klein, who studies propaganda and extremism at Pace University. “It is easy, and perhaps politically expedient, for some to find a boogeyman in all this to blame it on.” The most common scapegoats have been Russian operatives and especially neo-Nazis and alt-righters. There is little evidence for either theory. “Are [white supremacists] coming and watching? Sure,” says Spencer Sunshine, a longtime researcher of the far-right. “But for practical purposes, they’re irrelevant actors. Nobody is organizing this shit.”

The same holds true for the preferred targets of right-wing conspiracy theorizing: antifa, and, in the outermost fringes, antifa supported by a puppeteering Jewish global elite. It’s just another way to make the anger seem foreign and constructed. “For over 1,000 years, we have had this narrative of blame that relies on pointing to an outside group,” says Stanislav Vysotsky, who studies far-right and far-left movements at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. “The outsider changes but the narrative is always the same.” And really, the outsider in conspiracy theories about shadowy puppet masters barely changes: In the Middle Ages it was the Jews; in the 1920s it was anarchists, and also the Jews; in the 1950s it was the communists, and also the Jews. In this environment, the idea of militant antifascists—who do not seem to be driving protest or violence in any significant numbers—is extremely easy to substitute into the time-honored formula.

While his analysis definitely carries tones of “both sides” middle logic fallacy, it is important to remember how easy it is to absorb the narrative that white supremacists are doing much more than they actually are. Everyone is primed to accept conspiracy theories — and as we pointed out in the show, the fact that some are true makes it even easier — but we also have to remember to be self-critical and know we aren’t immune to propaganda.

We also have to be careful of the use of antifa as a means of diverting attention away from white supremacists; they’ve created antifa accounts to make antifa ideologues look like “bad actors”.

We mentioned the Boogaloo boys, and Bellingcat has a wonderful piece on them and the factions within them, how there’s no evidence connecting some of them to racism but do include some white supremacists — and how many of their symbols have a history linked to racism, like the meme itself — as well as how many Facebook groups have multiracial representation. Like many things online, it’s complicated.

We mentioned reports of unmarked cars without license plates, something the police confirmed and corroborated by Minneapolis residents on Twitter we also mentioned accelerants placed throughout the city.

Violence and Protests


This is what I prepared beforehand when talking about Martin Luther King, Jr.:

There’s a moral authority to citing MLK but part of it is false — not because MLK didn’t have his own moral authority and not because he wasn’t important; he’s a critical part of civil rights history and carries moral authority because of it.

The reason it’s a little false is because his historical figure has become part of a shell game to silence protest. He’s become a vessel to fill in whatever meaning people want, and they can copy and paste whatever quotes from his extensive history of speeches to make whatever point they want to make without necessarily engaging in the mechanics of it. I’m guilty of this too — it feels really good to shut down someone saying “MLK would disagree” with a quotation from him saying otherwise.

This is particularly tempting because the history surrounding MLK has been sanitized; forcing people to confront the very recent past and the context of his actions has its own catharsis. People seem shocked to find out that he was widely reviled by the broader white American public. Two thirds of the surveyed public disapproved of his actions in the final years leading up to his assassination, and his approval rating was dropping and had been dropping ever since he began discussing desegregating the North, not just the South.

Why would monumental movements be necessary if civil rights were popular in the first place? People don’t examine these assumptions, so they’re left with thinking that a racist governor in George Wallace and some largely unspecified individual racists in Congress were all that were standing in the way of black liberation, instead of a broader American public that approved of their elected officials and created the environment that normalized segregation. In some ways, it feels like the ways that Martin Luther King Jr is deployed, he must have fought against nothing, apparently.

We can play that game, too. We can quote his words on rioting — that “a riot is the language of the unheard,” that “America has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so, in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay.”

And people would respond by saying you have to put his words into further context, pointing out that in the very speeches where he said that, he also said “riots are socially destructive and self-defeating” and that “violence begets violence.”

And one could respond by saying that King did not define property damage as the type of violence one should focus on and that condemning riots is something he absolutely refused to do. Speaking on riots throughout 1967, he said

“The violence, to a startling degree, was focused against property rather than against people. There were very few cases of injury to persons and the vast majority of the rioters were not involved at all in attacking people. The much publicized ‘death toll’ that marked the riots were overwhelmingly inflicted on rioters by the military — all of the other participants had a different target—property. I am aware that there are many who wince at a distinction between property and persons — who hold both sacrosanct. My views are not so rigid. A life is sacred. Property is intended to serve life, and no matter how much we surround it with rights and respect, it has no personal being. It is part of the earth man walks on; it is not man.”

That “riots grow out of intolerable conditions. Violent revolts are generated by revolting conditions and there is nothing more dangerous than to build a society with a large segment of people who feel they have no stake in it, who feel they have nothing to lose.”

That was King in 1967. In 1968, at a community forum, he argued in a speech titled “The Other America” that “It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without at the same time condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are things that cause individuals to feel they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention.”

Late in 1967, he gave a speech to the American Psychology Association, where he said,

“Urban riots must now be recognized as durable social phenomena. They may be deplored, but they are there and should be understood. Urban riots are a special form of violence. They are not insurrections. The rioters are not seeking to seize territory or to attain control of institutions. They are mainly intended to shock the white community. They are a distorted form of social protest. The looting which is their principal feature serves many functions. It enables the most enraged and deprived Negro to take hold of consumer goods with the ease the white man does by using his purse. Often the Negro does not even want what he takes; he wants the experience of taking.” And Dr. King recognized that nonviolence only works if the oppressor agrees to the foundational truths of the social contract.

“Let us say boldly that if the violations of law by the white man in the slums over the years were calculated and compared with the law-breaking of a few days of riots, the hardened criminal would be the white man. These are often difficult things to say but I have come to see more and more that it is necessary to utter the truth in order to deal with the great problems that we face in our society.”

King’s views were not static and apparently shifted towards a belief that while nonviolence was a strategy to strive for, that violence was inevitable.

This discussion however is a distraction. Martin Luther King Jr. is undeniably an important civil rights figure, but he’s not the only voice in the civil rights discussion and what he said in 1967 might not apply in 2020.

And even when fetishizing King, those same people who use him to shut down broader protest seem to love his methods but not his vision. It’s not just racial equality he fought for, but socialism, something he wrote about extensively — two things he eventually came to think of as critically intertwined. Let them fight about that.

But he wasn’t the only civil rights leader in history, and he might not even be the most important. But it’s fairly suspicious that we don’t talk about Nat Turner or Kwame Ture or Marcus Garvey or Malcolm X or Fred Hampton. And sometimes when we talk about revolutionary figures, we leave their more violent history aside — Harriet Tubman didn’t just ferry slaves to the North, she drew up an army and raided plantations.

What’s maddening is that there’s this assumption that King’s strategy worked on its own. It’s curious that while both strategies were being deployed — to simplify into a binary of violent and nonviolent resistance — only one was seen as responsible for civil rights legislation. Nevermind that nonviolent resistance occurred with the background of violent resistance behind it. If they co-occurred, whose to say which worked?

Do we trust the words of the legislators themselves, who have every reason to promote the use of nonviolent tactics over violent tactics? The newspapers of the time — the very same who vilified King until he could be used as a prop against a more aggressive resistance? The very same newspapers that painted the Black Panther party as purely terroristic organizations instead of ever talking about its community outreach efforts, extensive investment in community education and food distribution? Those newspapers?

There’s no question that the marches in Birmingham on May 3rd 1963 produced the most powerful and memorable images of the civil rights movement, and those images moved senators and national newspapers to call for passage of civil rights legislation even the very next day.

What people seem to forget is that the protestors abandoned nonviolence even two days afterwards — and despite what people talking about violence now would have you believe, didn’t seem to stall momentum for that legislation. That violent resistance resulted in mass arrests more than the May 3rd march and those 2500 prisoners — who could not be housed in local jails and took four hours to arrange feeding one meal — led to local newspapers pleading with President Kennedy to pass civil rights legislation, and images of children in jail propagated worldwide, with the Soviet Union using them in their influence war in Africa. Business leaders began to pressure political leaders on civil rights for the first time.

And on May 11, the motel that King had been staying at was bombed, leading to thousands rioting, burning buildings and even human casualties. Federal troops were deployed. It wasn’t until after the riots that the Civil Rights Act was drafted. That’s not to say that the riots led to the bill being drafted but that even our most powerful example of nonviolent resistance from the civil rights campaign isn’t a clean or uniform example of the lone success of nonviolence without a background of violence and looting and burning buildings. Both happened. Both have arguments for spurring action on a local, federal and even international level.

Even Selma, perhaps the most uniformly nonviolent and well-known protest march, critical to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act started with a minor act of violence — as King led blacks to register to vote, Sheriff Clark denied them entry into the courthouse, arresting any who came back the next day. By court order after that, the first 100 were allowed to wait in line to register to vote and he arrested everyone in excess of that number, including an attempted arrest of 53-year-old Annie Lee Cooper, who struck Clark and brought him to his knees before he pulled out his billy club. And the image of Clark and four deputies striking back at her was what caught national headlines and kickstarted the 1965 Selma campaign.

At the same time, Malcolm X wrote a letter to the head of the American Nazi Party, who arrived in Selma to attack King, that any “racial agitation” would be met with “maximum physical retaliation,” and Malcolm X arrived in Selma in early February to explicitly represent a threat — if Dr. King’s march failed, he was the next step.

Though protestors in the 18-day Selma campaign consistently engaged in nonviolent practices at the protest they did so, maybe even unwillingly, with the background of violence. March 7 was likely the turning point, called Bloody Sunday, where peaceful protestors were beaten for marching to the courthouse to register to vote. 17 were critically hospitalized and another 50 were treated for injuries.

After another march, and the second death of the campaign, activists secured federal military support in the form of a federalized Alabama National Guard to protect the protestors, potentially leading to a violent showdown between state and federal forces — a nonviolent protest held within the background of violence. It was the third march that recaptured national and international attention for Selma and secured the Voting Rights Act and without the threat of violence from the National Guard, how different do you think the third march would have been from the first? Also, regardless, impossible standards are put on those who practice nonviolence. See this political cartoon from the Civil Rights Movement:

What about the post-assassination riots? In 1968, after King was assassinated, there were riots nearly every major American city and most smaller ones, with over 125 cities experiencing civil unrest and over 15,000 Americans arrested. And what did that accomplish? Passage of a fair housing bill that King campaigned for but could never pass. And the history very clearly states that the riots — not the mere act of his death — spurred this legislation.

That’s not to say the riots resulted in uniform improvement, of course — research also indicates that white flight massively accelerated during this period and a now right-wing Republican party took control in 1968.

At the same time, the riots spurred membership surges in the Black Panther party and started the White Panther party, a group of whites dedicated to the Black Panther’s cause.

Their membership peaked and in the early 1970s we saw gains in labor rights movements at the local level across the country, as well as significantly more cultural cache for the Black Power movement, which had been growing since the 1950s. Those local unions had become critical to actually enforcing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that, along with the passage of the act itself, oversaw a rapidly declining black-white wage gap, which began increasing once more after the post-Reagan deregulation era.

From the International Socialist Review:

Against this background of growing Black militancy generally and clashes with employers and the trade-union officialdom in particular, Black caucuses in the unions emerged

The wave of protest and social-movement activism found expression in workplace militancy as well. Between 1956 and 1965, there were never more than 4,000 strikes in a single year in the US. Then, from 1967 to 1974, there was an average of 5,239 strikes per year. From 1956 to 1965, an annual average of 1.53 million workers were involved in strikes. But from 1967 to 1971, an average of 49.5 million strike days were lost annually. The strike wave peaked in 1970, with 66.4 million strike days lost.7

Rank-and-file initiative was central to this strike activity. In 1967, 14 percent of all union contracts were rejected by the membership at least once, a trend called “alarming” by the American Management Association and derided as “labor anarchy” by the Wall Street Journal. A Uniroyal executive advised local management to help union leaders “sell” settlements to the rank and file. Besides the postal workers’ strike, the most successful wildcat was the three-month walkout by Teamster truckers, which included a $1.85 increase over 39 months, an average wage increase of 13 percent per year. This constituted “the highest nationwide increase for a leading union in the country’s history.”8

Rising with the number of strikes were pay increases established in labor contracts. From 1960 to 1965, the average first-year pay raise in major union contracts was just 3.15 percent. But in the period 1967–1971, the average wage raise more than doubled to 8.6 percent. Inflation accounted for some of this increase, but the gains did exceed increases in the cost of living.9 The inflation-adjusted wage levels of 1973 remain the historical high, underscoring the gains won by the strikes and the scale of the losses that accompanied the dramatic decline of the unions since then.10

With their numbers augmented and a Black consciousness movement in ascendance, a significant minority of these workers began to organize Black caucuses. One can distinguish between “traditional left-wing” union caucuses with a large percentage of Black members, such as the group which attempted to bring a decertification vote against Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union in New York City, and the “new Black groups” such as the Ad Hoc Committee in the United Steelworkers and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in the UAW. In either case, these Black caucuses were positioned to both fight union discrimination from within the ranks and play an important role in the increased strike activity.12

These local unions were enormously successful in desegregating national unions and improving worker wages generally, and were critical to the largest and most successful strike in federal employment history, the postal worker strike of 1970 — defying the orders of Congress, the president and even national union officials, winning the fight in nine days and securing wage increases while inspiring other government workers to assert their labor power.

Here’s research indicating that the black-white wage gap shrunk significantly during the early 1970s before widening in the 80s, and goes into expanded analysis demonstrating that the wage gap right now is similar to the wage gap black men saw in the 1950s.

Beyond that something else that has become extraordinarily clear. When moderates talk about King’s nonviolence, they often also mean civil obedience. King — and their other favorite, Mahatma Gandhi — stridently advocated civil disobedience and lawbreaking as part of their package of nonviolent resistance tactics and it has become infuriating to grapple with people who cynically deploy Dr. King to shut people down. Even the most docile version of Dr. King you can imagine would violate a curfew order my god.

But again, that’s not the only movement we can draw upon. Nobody can deny that the Stonewall rebellion, a response to police action, kickstarted the modern queer liberation movement. You know what won the 8-hour work day and 40-hour work week? Riots from the labor movement, worldwide — not just in the United States.

What astounds me is that the very people complaining about how violent protests don’t achieve anything are also complaining that peaceful protests don’t receive media attention. Neither of those claims are true, but if it were true, wouldn’t it be revealing? What does a protest accomplish if no one knows about it?

From Showdown on Nonviolence, which I found from this Tweet, Martin Luther King Jr. argues that a lack of response to nonviolence inevitably results in violence — and also once again makes the distinction between violence against people and violence against property.

The fact is, we have not had any insurrection in the United States because an insurrection is planned, organized, violent rebellion. What we have had is a kind of spontaneous explosion of anger. The fact is, people who riot don’t want to riot. A study was made recently by some professors at Wayne State University. They interviewed several hundred people who participated in the riot last summer in Detroit, and a majority of these people said they felt that my approach to the problem—nonviolence—was the best and most effective.

I don’t believe there has been a massive turn to violence. Even the riots have had an element of nonviolence to persons. But for a rare exception, they haven’t killed any white people, and Negroes could, if they wished, kill by the hundreds. That would be insurrection. But the amazing thing is that the Negro has vented his anger on property, not persons, even in the emotional turbulence of riots.

But I’m convinced that if something isn’t done to deal with the very harsh and real economic problems of the ghetto, the talk of guerrilla warfare is going to become much more real. The nation has not yet recognized the seriousness of it. Congress hasn’t been willing to do anything about it, and this is what we’re trying to face this spring. As committed as I am to nonviolence, I have to face this fact: if we do not get a positive response in Washington, many more Negroes will begin to think and act in violent terms.

I hope, instead, that what comes out of these nonviolent demonstrations will be an economic bill of rights for the disadvantaged, requiring about ten or twelve billion dollars. I hope that a specific number of jobs is set forth, that a program will emerge to abolish unemployment, and that there will be another program to supplement the income of those whose earnings are below the poverty level. These would be measures of success in our campaign.

Incidentally, here’s that Twitter thread on COINTELPRO I mentioned as well as the PDF on the practice she brought up. Here’s the link to that 20-minute video.

Modern history

The pain continues today.

Those who talk much more about looting and riots are also fairly suspect.

I also mentioned the Yellow Vests, a series of riots in France that follows the strong history of riots that France had. These were the most violent protests France has had since 1968. These protests resulted in a massive increase in minimum wage, a climbdown of a regressive fuel tax, cancelled a planned tax increase on pensioners and devolution of local responsibilities, like speed limits.

Incidentally, the 2017 Yellow Vest Riots were more violent than the 2005 riots, which resulted in resulted in more than 8,000 vehicles being burned and the 2009 riots, where 317 cars were burned. None of this is to say riots universally work either, even the most effective political action has drawbacks and particularly divisive ones like riots even more so.

The 2011 England riots seemed to result more in crackdowns than in reversals of austerity or material steps towards improvement in living conditions. $50 million worth of property was damaged — nor did it result in the conviction of the officers who killed Mark Duggan, the event that started the riot. That could be the result of the trigger and the larger underlying causes of the riots being somewhat disparate, but it is nevertheless the case that the riots were ineffective and may have moved things backwards.

Neither were the 2013 or 2016 Stockholm riots meaningfully effective at addressing the needs of the immigrant community in Sweden. It should be said however, that the discussion about systemic inequality in Sweden did advance during the 2013 riots.

We should not minimize the real costs of rioting. Anyone advancing violence as a political goal should also understand the victims of this violence.

Policing is broken


Policing did not exist evenly throughout the history of the United States, but rather emerged from the South and slave patrols who attempted to catch and control slaves.

“I [patroller’s name], do swear, that I will as searcher for guns, swords, and other weapons among the slaves in my district, faithfully, and as privately as I can, discharge the trust reposed in me as the law directs, to the best of my power. So help me, God.”

NPR has a seven-minute interview on the practice and history, if you want an audio version.

the most revealing aspect of the way slave patrols functioned is that they were explicit in their design to empower the entire white population with the duty to police movements of black people. So the tying together early on – the surveillance, the deputization, essentially, of all white men to be police officers or, in this case, slave patrollers and then to dispense corporal punishment on the scene are all baked in from the very beginning.

After slave patrols disbanded, there was not much in the way of formalized policing in the South (though vigilante groups like the KKK took up the mantle). Even in the North, the establishment of policing was a product of establishing a racial and class hierarchy — this is why many early police officers were Irish — to enforce that hierarchy on Poles from the Irish, who could use this to resist the xenophobic reaction to their own presence in America. Not only that, police broke up strikes in part by calling any act of striking against capital a riot. As the Milwaukee Independent explains:

The first police forces were overwhelmingly white, male and more focused on responding to disorder than crime. As Eastern Kentucky University criminologist Gary Potter explains, officers were expected to control a “dangerous underclass” that included African Americans, immigrants and the poor. Through the early 20th century, there were few standards for hiring or training officers.

And Community Policing explains that what they defined rioting was:

actually a primitive form of what would become union strikes against employers, [and] [t]he modern police force not only provided an organized, centralized body of men (and they were all male) legally authorized to use force to maintain order, it also provided the illusion that this order was being maintained under the rule of law, not at the whim of those with economic power.

From the NPR interview:

The irony about police professionalization that is occurring by the 1930s and will carry us into the 21st century is that part of police science begins to draw on crime statistics and sociological research about the innate or cultural tendencies of black people to criminality, which then legitimate racist notions of black people as a race of criminals. Part of this professionalization is to say, those are the only real criminals we have to worry about.

As the Guardian points out, the Dallas-area MLB team, the Texas Rangers, are named after “a group of white men of the same name who slaughtered Comanche Indians in 1841 to steal indigenous territory and expand the frontier westward. The Rangers are considered the first state police organization.” Slave patrols are historically considered the forerunner of modern American law enforcement in history texts as this text from Eastern Kentucky University elaborates.

White Supremacy

That history of Klan affiliation translates even today, with massive infiltration by white supremacists throughout law enforcement agencies across the country. The FBI warned police that this was a possibility back in 2006. In 2006, the warning was for all departments, but identified departments in California, Ohio, Illinois and Texas. Since then, police with ties to white supremacy have been found in North Carolina, Florida, Philadelphia and other states — and that just includes the officers found and fired for fairly obvious signs of loyalty, like swastika tattoos. The Intercept went into more detail:

In Chicago, Jon Burge, a police detective and rumored KKK member, was fired, and eventually prosecuted in 2008, over charges relating to the torture of at least 120 black men during his decadeslong career. Burge notoriously referred to an electric shock device he used during interrogations as the “nigger box.” In Cleveland, officials found that a number of police officers had scrawled “racist or Nazi graffiti” throughout their department’s locker rooms. In Texas, two police officers were fired when it was discovered they were Klansmen. One of them said he had tried to boost the organization’s membership by giving an application to a fellow officer he thought shared his “white, Christian, heterosexual values.

. . .

“Local, state, federal agencies, all to some extent have their hands tied, because it’s not necessarily against the law to be a member of a domestic hate group” said Simi, noting the military as the one exception because of its unique legal status. For instance, the U.S. government considers the KKK a hate group — but membership in the group is not illegal. That’s the case for all domestic hate or extremist groups, though authorities can choose to target their members under conspiracy statutes, Simi said.

Most police departments don’t screen prospective officers for hate group affiliation. The SPLC has reported that the number of these groups peaked at more than 1,000 in 2011, from less than half that in the late 1990s, though experts like Simi note that many of these groups “come and go” and membership between them is often fluid.

Although officers have been fired for expressing hateful views — sometimes to be re-hired by other departments, as happens regularly with officers accused of misconduct — some officers have also challenged those dismissals in court. Robert Henderson, an 18-year veteran of the Nebraska State Patrol, was fired when his membership in the Klan was discovered. He sued on First Amendment grounds and appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear his case. Last year, 14 officers in the San Francisco Police Department were caught exchanging racist and homophobic texts that included several references to “white power” and messages such as “all niggers must fucking hang.” Most of those officers remain on the force after an attempt to fire several of them was blocked by a judge, who said the statute of limitation had expired.

The Intercept went on to say that a 2015 document indicated that, “domestic terrorism investigations focused on militia extremists, white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists often have identified active links to law enforcement officers.” Even without that, police seem susceptible to tactics by white supremacists to control their movements.

In 2009, the DHS issued a report finding additional evidence for the claim, as Just Security points out:

“Federal law enforcement agencies in general — the FBI, the Marshals, the ATF — are aware that extremists have infiltrated state and local law enforcement agencies and that there are people in law enforcement agencies that may be sympathetic to these groups.”

Just Security goes on:

An investigation published in 2019 by the Center for Investigative Reporting found that hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers are members of Confederate-sympathizing, anti-Islam, or anti-government militia groups on Facebook. Within these private groups, members often are openly racist. Police officers have also been linked to groups like the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, who believe in defending white Americans from “enslavement” and are actively hostile to immigrants. The investigation identified active-duty and retired police officers as active members in explicitly racist Facebook groups such as “Veterans Against islamic Filth” (the group deliberately lowercases “Islamic” in its name) and “PURGE WORLDWIDE (The Cure for the Islamic disease in your country).”

This is persistent.

The Plain View Project, a database of public Facebook comments made by nearly 2,900 current and former police officers in eight cities, suggested that nearly 1 in 5 of the current officers identified in the study made public posts or comments that appear “to endorse violence, racism and bigotry,” as reported by Buzzfeed News and Injustice Watch in a study of the database. For example, there are 1269 identified problematic posts from active duty Philadelphia police officers on the site. Of the 1073 Philadelphia police officers identified by the Plain View Project, 327 of them posted public content endorsing violence, racism and bigotry. Of those 327, at least 64 hold leadership roles within the force, serving as corporals, sergeants, lieutenants, captains, or inspectors.

Police Violence

There have been an enormous number of videos of police engaging in unprovoked or unjustified violence against protestors. Internet Today, which mostly just covers what the internet has done that day, has a compilation that they compiled from this Google Doc of Greg Doucette’s thread of police violence these past two weeks. It’s over 300 videos long.

And this is the video (from Charleston, not Kansas City as I said in the podcast) is the one that struck me — a protestor on his knees who proclaims his love for the police (as a subset of all people) and his desire to understand them — “all of you are my family, I cry at night because I feel your pain. I feel the pain. We’re all scared; black, white, cop — doesn’t matter, we’re all scared. We’re living in fear. We’ve got to stop living in fear.”

Another particular case is the shooting death of David McAtee, the owner of the barbecue joint in Louisville. The police appear to be lying about the circumstances surrounding their decision to shoot him.

If you want to know what systemic defense of police officers look like, check out this video of police officers driving into a crowd of protestors and the mayor defending them or in Buffalo when police pushed over an old man returning a police helmet; his head hit the pavement and he started bleeding out of his ears. The video is brutal, made worse by seeing 57 members of the Buffalo Emergency Response Team resign from their positions in response to the suspension of those officers and applauding their colleagues. One that really strikes me is one I mentioned in the podcast, the video of the protestor kneeling on the ground, professing his love for all people and a desire to understand police.

I mentioned property destruction from police officers, and there are a few instances. Check them out here (25 seconds in), here, here, here and here. And here the police are breaking a patrol vehicle while the videographer claims they are also spraypainting “Fuck 12” on it.

One should also remember that the “nonlethal” methods of crowd control are more accurately “less lethal,” and the crowd control tactics used by police across the country can result in permanent disfigurement, scarring and disability.

We have five decades of evidence on this fact.

These articles included injury data on 1984 people, 53 of whom died as a result of their injuries. 300 people suffered permanent disability. Deaths and permanent disability often resulted from strikes to the head and neck (49.1% of deaths and 82.6% of permanent disabilities). Of the 2135 injuries in those who survived their injuries, 71% were severe, injuries to the skin and to the extremities were most frequent.

That 2017 study found that 3 percent of people hit by rubber bullets died from the injury and 15 percent were permanently injured.

Several people have lost eyes as a result of these rubber bullets, which are meant to be fired into the ground but rarely are in practice. Even tear gas can be deadly; at least one protester has died from its application — ProPublica warned about its use four days prior.

It has been found to cause long-term health consequences and can hurt those who aren’t the intended targets, including people inside their homes.

This would be enough of a problem in normal times, but now, experts say, the widespread, sometimes indiscriminate use of tear gas on American civilians in the midst of a respiratory pandemic threatens to worsen the coronavirus, along with racial disparities in its spread and who dies from it.

. . .

The most comprehensive studies were conducted by the U.S. military on thousands of recruits who were exposed to tear gas during training exercises. Afterward, it left them at higher risk for contracting influenza, pneumonia, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses.

The soldiers were generally healthier than the average person, with fewer underlying conditions like asthma or heart disease. Studies of civilians in Turkey found that people who are repeatedly exposed to tear gas are more likely to have chronic bronchitis or chest pains and coughing that can last for weeks. It may also be linked to miscarriages.

And the canisters themselves are potentially even more dangerous than rubber bullets — at least one protester has lost an eye to them. The industry of tear gas is virtually unregulated and there’s no federal tracking on the purchase or usage of tear gas by police departments.

Police Training

The New Yorker has a video on one of the most sought-after police trainers, David Grossman, who trains officers to constantly fear for their own lives and constantly be prepared to kill (the video is interspersed with police violence videos). That might be why an officer who asks someone to pull out their ID might interpret someone reaching for the glove box as someone attempting to pull a gun on them despite them merely complying with an order, a point the New Yorker makes clear with their video editing. He also reminds people that the decision not to shoot is cowardice and that one might be sued for not shooting just as much as shooting.

In fact, one officer was fired for not shooting on the job, when confronting a man who had an unloaded gun and wanted to commit “suicide by cop,” a phrase so distressingly common that it should itself raise some questions.

Some More News recently did a video on so-called “warrior training,” and how pervasive it is, not just in its specific techniques but on the culture it instills into the police force and how they should see themselves as constantly under threat.

The city of Minneapolis recently banned that style of training and the police union pushed back publicly and privately, offering it to their officers anyway. There are more details on the style of training in this Mother Jones piece. In those trainings, he lies.

“The number of dead cops has exploded like nothing we have ever seen,” he tells the armed citizens in Lakeport. (That is not true: The average annual number of police officers intentionally killed while on duty in the past decade is 40 percent lower than it was in the 1980s.) If emergency medicine and body armor hadn’t improved since the 1970s, Grossman claims, “the number of dead cops would be eight times what it is” today. It’s not clear how he arrived at these figures.

Mother Jones also covered a documentary on police militarization, a review you can read here. They interview the filmmaker and bring up the shootout I referenced.

SWAT and police officers always bring it back to the North Hollywood shootout in the ’90s, where you had two individuals who donned body armor and held a bank up. The police were so ill-equipped they had to go to a gun store to buy rifles that could take these guys out. Every law enforcement officer you meet takes you back to that day. And now, if it’s not Al Qaeda, ISIS is en vogue. When that guy said that to us—”Now we’re preparing for ISIS”—it was laugh-out-loud hysterical because at the time, ISIS was brand new.

They further talk about financial incentives, training and media messages as well as the impact the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — and their excess equipment — had on police militarization.

It’s fascinating to me that here I am in Ferguson trying to piece together why the community is so upset. There were plenty of people there to protest the Mike Brown shooting. But there was a massive community of folks just protesting the decades of mistreatment, of having to get ticketed in order to pay for the operating revenues of these cities. It begs the question: Why are these communities failing? Why is there no money for these communities? But then you go down to Texas and you see miles and miles of MRAPs costing the taxpayers $1.2 million a piece, and you start to understand why there’s no money in this country anymore. We’ve squandered it away.

Grossman is not the only trainer out there; there’s an entire cottage industry of shoot-to-kill training, and one of them even lends out an expert that professionally testifies across the country to exonerate cops implicated in police shootings, even in the rare instances they actually get taken to court.

When police officers shoot people under questionable circumstances, Dr. Lewinski is often there to defend their actions. Among the most influential voices on the subject, he has testified in or consulted in nearly 200 cases over the last decade or so and has helped justify countless shootings around the country.

His conclusions are consistent: The officer acted appropriately, even when shooting an unarmed person. Even when shooting someone in the back. Even when witness testimony, forensic evidence or video footage contradicts the officer’s story.

He has appeared as an expert witness in criminal trials, civil cases and disciplinary hearings, and before grand juries, where such testimony is given in secret and goes unchallenged. In addition, his company, the Force Science Institute, has trained tens of thousands of police officers on how to think differently about police shootings that might appear excessive.

He uses pseudoscience — the words of the American Psychology Association, not mine — in defense of officers, particularly when it comes to psychology. And he cribs research from other psychology studies and perverts them.

When an officer’s version of events is disproved by video or forensic evidence, Dr. Lewinski says, inattentional blindness may be to blame. It is human nature, he says, to try to fill in the blanks.

“Whenever the cop says something that’s helpful, it’s as good as gold,” said Mr. Burton, the California lawyer. “But when a cop says something that’s inconvenient, it’s a result of this memory loss.”

Experts say Dr. Lewinski is too sure of himself on the subject. “I hate the fact that it’s being used in this way,” said Arien Mack, one of two psychologists who coined the term inattentional blindness. “When we work in a lab, we ask them if they saw something. They have no motivation to lie. A police officer involved in a shooting certainly has a reason to lie.”

Dr. Lewinski acknowledged that there was no clear way to distinguish inattentional blindness from lying.

This is a common tactic, as the Scientific American points out:

On October 2, 2018, police psychologist Laurence Miller took the stand to testify in the defense of Jason Van Dyke, a white police officer who shot Laquan McDonald, a black teenager from Chicago’s West Side, in 2014. The facts of the case didn’t look good for Van Dyke. A 13-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, he had shot McDonald 16 times within seconds of exiting his squad car. Though McDonald was holding the knife he had reportedly used to damage a patrol vehicle, the 17-year-old was shot while walking away from cops in the middle of the street. None of these events were in dispute. The shooting had been captured by another police vehicle’s dashboard camera, and Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder, 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, and one count of official misconduct.

The 67-year-old Miller, who lives in Boca Raton, Florida, was not there to argue about external events. Instead, he asked jurors to focus on Van Dyke’s perception of the shooting. With the lights dimmed in the crowded courtroom, Miller presented a slideshow titled, “The Neuropsychology of Deadly Force Encounters.” In life-and-death situations, he explained, the body’s stress response can distort cognition, perception, and memory. For police officers, this can lead to a phenomenon he referred to as “deadly force mindset,” where the officer, flooded with neurotransmitters and hormones that ensure survival of the moment, feels his or her only option is to kill or be killed. Van Dyke, Miller argued, should be found not guilty of the charges against him. Jurors scribbled notes throughout Miller’s testimony.

This runs counter to what scientists in the field would do with their findings:

In the absence of rigorous science, psychologists are dubious of using the neurobiology of stress in defense of police officers who kill.

“The defense used what seems to be an exculpatory argument, though not actual data, to say, ‘You shouldn’t be responsible because this is the level of stress on the job,’” said psychologist Phillip Atiba Goff, a professor at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice and cofounder and president of the Center for Policing Equity, a think tank that studies racial disparities in criminal justice policy. “This is a bad area for science to be in.”

Before warrior training gained significant public scrutiny, Seth Stoughton, assistant professor at University of South Carolina School of Law and a former police officer, wrote in the Harvard Law Review that this warrior mentality is beaten into them constantly.

From their earliest days in the academy, would-be officers are told that their prime objective, the proverbial “first rule of law enforcement,” is to go home at the end of every shift. But they are taught that they live in an intensely hostile world. A world that is, quite literally, gunning for them. As early as the first day of the police academy, the dangers officers face are depicted in graphic and heart-wrenching recordings that capture a fallen officer’s last moments. Death, they are told, is constantly a single, small misstep away. A recent article written by an officer for Police Magazine opens with this description: “The dangers we expose ourselves to every time we go [on duty] are almost immeasurable. We know this the day we sign up and the academy certainly does a good job of hammering the point home.” For example, training materials at the New Mexico Police Academy hammer that point quite explicitly, informing recruits that the suspects they will be dealing with “are mentally prepared to react violently.” Each recruit is told, in these words, “[Y]ou could die today, tomorrow, or next Friday.”

This prevents them from forming true relationships in the communities they live in.

Imagine that you are a rookie police officer driving down the street, windows down, and looking for people in the community with whom you can begin building positive relationships. But you have been told (repeatedly) that your survival depends on believing that everyone you see — literally everyone — is capable of, and may very well be interested in, killing you. Put in that position, would you actually get out of your car and approach someone? And if you did, would you stroll up to start a casual conversation or would you advance cautiously, ask for identification, run a criminal background check, and request consent to search . . . and then, maybe, try to start that casual conversation? The latter, of course, is what many officers are taught to do. It is what I was taught to do as a rookie officer. My first ever “consensual encounter,” only hours into my first day of field training, followed exactly that pattern. It takes no great imagination to recognize how badly that approach, repeated over hundreds or thousands of police/civilian interactions in any given jurisdiction, hinders the creation of meaningful, collaborative relationships.

And oh boy does Stoughton hit the nail on the head

Consider that of the ten most destructive and violent riots in United States history, fully half were responses to perceived police abuses. An aggressive approach in individual interactions can exacerbate underlying social tensions in a way that fuels a dangerous fire. This is not a new observation. The Wickersham Commission, which investigated the failures of Prohibition enforcement, made exactly this point in its 1931 report: “High-handed methods, shootings and killings, even where justified, alienate[] thoughtful citizens, believers in law and order. Unfortunate public expressions . . . approving killings and promiscuous shootings and lawless raids and seizures and deprecating the constitutional guarantees involved[] aggravate[] this effect.” The expansive version of the warrior mentality promotes the use of tactics that needlessly create use of force situations, and the fierce rhetoric that follows further fans the flames.

There is some evidence that shifting towards “guardian” training rather than “warrior” training might result in a more communicative force and a less punitive one, but not many studies have been done on their effect.

The state of Washington seems to be implementing some of those tenets, using this 16-page document from the Harvard Kennedy School of Governance as a baseline:

Positive police contact facilitates public confidence. People tell good cops what is going on in their neighborhoods and work with them to keep it safe. They view good cops as part of their community — one of the key distinguishing characteristics between cops with a guardian mindset and cops who operate with a warrior mindset. The guardian operates as part of the community, demonstrating empathy and employing procedural justice principles during interactions. The behavior of the warrior cop, on the other hand, leads to the perception of an occupying force, detached and separated from t he community, missing opportunities to build trust and confidence based on positive interactions. Police leaders dedicated to establishing practices in their agencies based on procedural justice principles must ensure that their organizational culture is not in conf lict with these same principles. As Stephen K. Rice and Karen Collins Rice explain, “Organizational systems, such as training, are nested within cultures that tend to go under-acknowledged but have tangible, and even visceral, impacts on the people working within them and their likelihood for embracing change.

. . .

According to the lead author’s experience working with police academies across the nation, much recruit training focuses on physical control tactics and weapons, with less attention given to communication and de-escalation skills. The reasoning for this approach is the sacred mantra of officer safety. We train relentlessly — as we should — in physical tactics for the high-risk, low-frequency attacks.21 Less instructional attention is focused on human behavioral science. Yet seasoned cops and statistics tell us that the officer’s intellect and social dexterity are often the most effective officer safety tools. For the sake of safety, voluntary compliance should be the primary goal in resolving conflict, with physical control reserved for those who present an immediate threat and cannot be managed any other way.

This would take years of buy-in. As the Post article points out, “Not everyone is on board. Some accuse Rahr of promoting a “hug-a-thug” mentality that risks getting officers killed. About 20 percent of Rahr’s staff quit or was fired in the first year after rebelling against her reforms. Even today, Rahr estimates that two-thirds of the state’s 285 local police chiefs are either skeptical of her training philosophy or “think this is just dangerous.””

And of course:

In the meantime, even departments that support the new model are finding it difficult to implement in the real world.

In Pasco, a migrant desert town of 77,000 in Southeastern Washington, Police Chief Robert Metzger said he endorses Rahr’s approach. And each year, he adds a handful of commission graduates to his 71-member force.

But Metzger also defends as unavoidable the four fatal shootings by his officers over the past two years. The latest, in February, drew national attention: Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35, was unarmed except for the rocks he had been throwing at motorists and then officers.

We have to be concerned, however, with the idea that better training solves the problem. Despite the institution of multicultural sensitivity training, police officers are found to post — publicly — racist screeds and calls for violence against minority communities.

Incidents of officers being investigated or punished for their behavior online, in social media or on personal cell phones, have cropped up in IllinoisMissouri and Florida in recent weeks and months.

In a St. Louis suburb, for instance, an officer was fired after posting racist remarks about the protests in Ferguson. In San Francisco, eight officers were fired for exchanging racist and homophobic text messages.

And while it’s good that those officers were fired, it’s notable that they existed at all, and only got fired because they were bold enough to post or text them when they could be found. Often, officers are told by peers to ignore training they receive in seminars or Police Academies, unless those seminars reinforce their worldviews, as Peter Moskos and David Couper point out in their books Cop in the Hood: My Year in Policing Baltimore’s Eastern District and Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off about Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Necessary Steps to Improve our Nation’s Police.

More from Stoughton on that:

Within law enforcement, few things are more venerated than the concept of the Warrior. Officers are trained to cultivate a “warrior mindset,” the virtues of which are extolled in books, articles, interviews, and seminars intended for a law enforcement audience. An article in Police Magazine opens with a sentence that demonstrates with notable nonchalance just how ubiquitous the concept is: “[Officers] probably hear about needing to have a warrior mindset almost daily.” Modern policing has so thoroughly assimilated the warrior mythos that, at some law enforcement agencies, it has become a point of professional pride to refer to the “police warrior.”

There are calls for diversity in the makeup of police forces as well — particularly given the racial makeup of the Ferguson police force versus the makeup of the communities they policed. But there’s little evidence that diverse police organizations do any better. Vitale cited six studies on the impact the diversity of a police corps had on the rates of high-level usages of force and all of them found no effect. More diverse police departments don’t earn higher satisfaction from their communities, either.

He also cited three different studies that indicate that black officers may be more likely to use force against black civilians — quite possibly due to institutional pressure to not seem like “sellouts” — but certainly a product weak accountability and a culture that rewards aggressive policing.

Vitale also pointed out issues with community policing efforts by arguing that the inherent distance between violent, forceful enforcement of norms and those upon who norms are enforced creates its own issues — but also that communities are driven by community leaders or community meetings. Who attends community meetings? Business owners, home owners and landlords, rarely ever youth, homeless, renters or immigrants. They therefore focus on their own interests and care more about “order” and serious crime.

The tools that police have for solving these problems, however, are generally limited to punitive enforcement actions such as arrests and ticketing. Community policing programs regularly call for increasing reliance on Police Athletic Leagues, positive nonenforcement activities with youth, and more focus on getting to know community members. There is little research, however, to suggest that these endeavors reduce crime or help to overcome overpolicing.

Vitale’s criticism of defunding the police hits the point in its heart: “We must stop looking to procedural reforms and critically evaluate the substantive outcomes of policing. We must constantly reevaluate what the police are asked to do and what impact policing has on the lives of the policed. A kinder, gentler, and more diverse war on the poor is still a war on the poor.”

And what happens when you institute a police chief who strongly believes in police reform, diversity training and community engagement? Even when you see results, that police chief gets pushed out. From Citylab’s article on Cameron McLay, former police chief for Pittsburgh:

Two years later, McLay can hold up many signs of improvement within the Pittsburgh PD: a drop in crime across the city, along with a 42 percent decrease in complaints against police and a 51 percent decline in lawsuits against the department. But he lost his department’s support: In September, close to 60 percent of the police force voted “no confidence” in McLay. The publicly stated issues involved disagreements about overtime and off-duty work, but the vote was likely just as much about his focus on training in implicit racial bias, procedural justice, and non-lethal force. His chummy relationship with black community groups—an alliance police chiefs aren’t commonly known for—also seemed to reinforce a perception, crafted by Blue Lives Matter-types, that he valued African-American lives over police lives.

EDITED TO ADD: Outside of the two differing schools of thought between “guardian” and “warrior” training are more procedural justice considerations like the “8 can’t wait” campaign, that proposes eight reforms that are “proven” to reduce police violence by 72 percent. The foundation for the study, as Vox puts it, is “a big correlational study of the relationship between cities’ demographic characteristics, their use of force policies, and their level of police killings of civilians.” 

There is a bit of an issue with it:

As Doleac goes on to explain, “The “study” appears to literally just compare places that have particular policies w places that don’t. Maybe there are other factors that explain differences between, say, San Francisco and Birmingham, AL. Or maybe these policies make a difference! Right now we can’t tell.”

It is also likely that cities that implemented the policies already have stronger community relations and therefore fewer reasons to need to use force. It is also disheartening to go through the list and find cities with significant police violence problems that have already implemented most of these policies. Minneapolis has the first, second and fourth-most significant reforms in place. Los Angeles has five of them. Chicago has had the second-most officer shootings since January 2013 and has implemented the six-most important reforms, according to the site.

The data behind it is suspect.

Those reforms come with demands for better accountability, and that has fallen short as well.


It’s worth noting that one issue with accountability and the police is the close relationship that the district attorney has to maintain with the police in order to perform the functions of their job when not investigating a police shooting. As Vitale points out, an instructive example comes from the Ferguson case, where the officer, Darren Wilson, was not indicted for his crime of killing Michael Brown. Despite the fact that DA’s can “indict a ham sandwich” — that indictments are unbelievably easy to obtain (of the 162,000 federal cases prosecuted in 2011, 161,989 returned an indictment and 11 did not)– the grand jury did not indict Brown’s killer. As Vitale writes:

The Saint Louis County DA decided to use a radically different approach in this case. Usually, prosecutors make a short presentation of the evidence to the grand jury in which they call for specific charges to be considered. Given the low threshold of probable cause and the one-sided nature of the proceedings, successful indictments are the norm. In this case, the DA decided to provide the grand jury with a wide variety of conflicting evidence and little framework to evaluate it, and allow them to decide, without any prompting, whether an indictment was justified and for what offense. This allowed the DA to absolve himself from any responsibility for the outcome and served to confuse and undermine the confidence of the grand jury, gambling that it would be likely to err on the side of caution and hold back on an indictment. Normally, this body is given clear guidance and only overrules prosecutors in extreme cases.

This is in his section describing the usage of independent prosecutors that do not rely on their relationship with the police. One issue, however, is that even in cases where prosecutors bring their case to court, the law grants substantial powers to law enforcement, without much specificity on the parameters of that power — and the courts back them up.

In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that officers may use force to carry out their duties if they reasonably believe the person represents a serious physical threat to the officer or others. There is also the issue of qualified immunity, which doesn’t apply in the case of George Floyd but applies in a number of cases of police violence. As lawfare points out:

As a result, as Julian Sanchez wrote succinctly on Twitter, “the first person to litigate a specific harm is out of luck” since the “first time around, the right violated won’t be ‘clearly established.’” A recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit illustrates this point. In that case, a SWAT team fired tear gas grenades into a plaintiff’s home, causing extensive damage. And while the divided three-judge panel assumed that the SWAT officers had in fact violated the plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights, it nonetheless granted qualified immunity to the officers because it determined that the precedents the plaintiff relied on did not clearly establish a violation “at the appropriate level of specificity.”

Because every specific act of police violence might differ in circumstance from the other, it can be difficult for the court system to systematically redress grievances about abuses of power from the police — and the precedent has been made weaker in the last several years with rulings in 2001 and 2009 weakening protections for victims of police violence. As they say, “according to a recent study conducted by Reuters: “Plaintiffs in excessive force cases against police have had a harder time getting past qualified immunity since [Pearson v. Callahan (2009)].”

Not only that, once you get to a jury themselves, officers often escape accountability with the Fear Defense, as the New Yorker put it. Importantly, “Like most voluntary descriptions of emotional states, the fear defense is useful because it is opaque. It is built to resist scrutiny.”

That’s one reason Roland G Fryer’s study into police violence — which found racial bias in every element of a police interaction except for shooting — was so buggy. It is on-face difficult to accept that racial bias plays into every single police interaction except the decision to shoot unless one accepted the officer’s description of the event — which Fryer’s study initially did.

As Philip Stinson, an assistant professor at Bowling Green State University, put it, “None of these cases, cases involving police shootings, is ever easy or exactly the same,” Stinson told NBC BLK. “But today, an officer gets on the stand and says ‘I feared for my life,’ and that’s usually all she wrote. No conviction, more often than that, no charges at all.”

And, as Vox writes, there’s a societal preference — expressed in juries — to trust a police officer’s account over a defendant’s account:

”There is a tendency to believe an officer over a civilian, in terms of credibility,” David Rudovsky, a civil rights lawyer who co-wrote Prosecuting Misconduct: Law and Litigation, told Vox’s Amanda Taub. “And when an officer is on trial, reasonable doubt has a lot of bite. A prosecutor needs a very strong case before a jury will say that somebody we generally trust to protect us has so seriously crossed the line as to be subject to a conviction.”

These are the very same juries that often exhibit racial bias, leading to higher conviction rates and longer or more severe sentences. A reformed system would still be subject to these problems.

Cops regularly elide accountability, and there’s a lot of reasons to raise eyebrows. After former police officer Amber Guyger shot and killed Botham Jean in his own apartment after she mistook his apartment for hers, the police ran a PR campaign and depicted Jean as a drug user, releasing — for some reason — a warrant to the public for marijuana in his apartment. They didn’t release any of the results of any the other search warrants they conducted for the case. And of course, the key witness for the prosecution of Guyger was killed two days later in a purported “drug deal gone wrong,” which aligns with the police smearing him as a heavy drug user that for some reason had 12 pounds of marijuana in his apartment. Speaking of Guyger, uh:

Prosecutors sought to draw the jury’s attention to past social media posts by Ms. Guyger, including a post, “Kill first, die last” that she had saved to a page for “quotes and inspiration.”

The prosecution also highlighted a text they said Ms. Guyger sent while working at a parade celebrating the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. When asked when the festivities would end, she wrote: “When MLK is dead … oh wait …”

This goes hand in hand with the smearing of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, attempts to criminalize slain black men in an attempt to post-hoc justify their murders. And six of the Ferguson protestors have since died, some in explicit murders and others in relatively suspicious circumstances. Even recently:

At a baseline, Vitale points out, civilian commissions are critical parts of any reform. There need to be institutional checks on the institution of policing. But even civilian accountability is fraught with structural problems. Again, that Citylab article on the Pittsburgh police chief:

That chief got a lot of blowback from his mayor and from other politicians, and that speaks to the plight of chiefs who are trying to make important changes in this country: They try to take a stand, and those above them react to the angst and cries of “our morale is bad,” or “our chief was mean to us” from the rank and file. Then all of a sudden chiefs find themselves out of work on quite a regular basis as they try to effect the changes they were hired to do.

As the National Policy Chair for Black Youth Project 100, Janaé Bonsu, points out in a piece from Citylab on the defunding question: “Just taking body cameras for example, that’s been one of the go-to solutions for police accountability over the past few years,” says Bonsu, “but you’d be hard pressed to find instances where body camera footage, or even camera footage in general, has actually resulted in police accountability.”  

The media plays a critical role in this as well. We’ll repeat a section already printed above:

I mentioned that large media organizations normally do a great job sanitizing police action and deferring to their authority, even in instances where it’s baldly inappropriate. One Pittsburgh paper even deleted a story and replaced it with one that had the same headline without any of the same text, in response to outcry from a police union. Carlos Maza just released a video documenting exactly that. He mentions a New York Times piece on the persistence of police lying under oath — which of course hasn’t changed how the Times tends to trust police reports regardless — but it’s worth reading here.

The Washington Post recently published something along the same vein, in a piece titled, “In violent protest incidents, a theme emerges: Videos contradict police accounts”

On May 26, the morning after George Floyd’s last gasps underneath a policeman’s knee, the Minneapolis Police Department wrote he had “physically resisted” officers, who noted Floyd “appeared to be suffering medical distress.”

That news release went online hours before video revealed two things the public may have never learned otherwise: the source of his distress was nearly nine minutes of Derek Chauvin’s leg pressed into Floyd’s neck, and there is little evidence, if any, that Floyd resisted officers.

The pattern — video of violent police encounters that contrast sharply with accounts by the departments or their unions — has repeated with grim symmetry in the days since Floyd’s death. Numerous incidents have captured the rage of the public who point to inaccurate or outright misleading descriptions of what has occurred before their eyes.

Taken together, the incidents show how instant verification of police accounts have altered the landscape of accountability.

This includes the police murder of George Floyd, the police assault on 75-year-old Martin Gugino in Buffalo, the assault by police on a protest in Philadelphia and the Australian camera crew assaulted by the police in an effort to clear Lafayette Square in Washington DC.

Officers think the media handle them too harshly… but there’s not much evidence of that. The evidence that does exist only covers instances where the media is covering a case of police brutality, never covering instances where the media re-report the police report uncritically. More importantly, the media people consume tends to be entertainment more than news, and they tend to treat the police with significantly more reverence.

It should also be noted that in the current climate, the police seem to specifically be targeting journalists, implying either that they think doing so will reduce opportunities for accountability or that they think they won’t be held accountable at all.

The list of literal, physical attacks on journalists from the police these past two weeks is long.

The scale of the attacks is so large, it can be hard to fathom. At the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a project of Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Committee to Protect Journalists, we catalogued 150 press freedom violations in the United States in all of 2019. We are currently investigating 280 from just the last week.

. . .

This number also does not include police arresting journalists, which have occurred at least another 45 times.

. . .

Many of the attacks by police have been targeted. There are now literally dozens of videos showing journalists — sometimes live on national television — with cameras, microphones, and press badges, clearly indicating to police they are with the media, only to find officers purposefully firing dangerous projectiles at them anyway.



Defunding doesn’t mean eliminating police, so it stands in opposition to the “abolish the police” movement that’s also gaining popularity, but rather to return the expanded function of the police back to field-specific experts. As one activist put it to Rolling Stone magazine:

Defunding the police does not mean stripping a department entirely of its budget, or abolishing it altogether. It’s just about scaling police budgets back and reallocating those resources to other agencies, says Lynda Garcia, policing campaign director at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “A lot of what we advocate for is investment in community services — education, medical access… You can call it ‘defunding,’ but it’s just about directing or balancing the budget in a different way.”

Most of a police officer’s day is not spent on fighting violent crime.

If crime were dispersed evenly across the nation’s police, then this would mean that in 2011 each police officer would have been responsible for investigating just over a single violent crime. And since we know that a relatively small number of criminals are responsible for the vast majority of crime in society, each cop would be responsible for even fewer criminals.

Likewise, when we look at the different types of violent offenses, we find that the murder rate is .017 per officer, rape .09 per officer, robbery .4 per officer and aggravated assault .84 per officer. There would also be about 10.2 property crimes per officer, 2.5 burglaries, 7.9 thefts and .81 motor vehicle thefts. This of course does not mean that our average police officer would actually encounter or even arrest one of these offenders, just that these are the rates of crime reported per police officer. In fact, since many crimes never lead to an arrest, these figures drastically underestimate just how many criminals the police encounter every year.

An earlier article by Eastern Kentucky University’s Dr. Victor Kappeler, broke down the time involved in taking a call or investigating a crime from a police officer.

Wilson’s classic study of the calls received by the Syracuse, New York, Police Department found approximately 10% of the calls police received were related to law enforcement, 30% to order maintenance, 22% to information gathering, and 38% to service calls. Other studies of calls to the police in St. Louis and Detroit found only 16% were related to law enforcement functions. Research that examines official police records indicates only a small percentage of what the police do on a daily basis directly involves crime fighting or law enforcement activities.

So now we’re left with the paradox that police are trained to evaluate every interaction as one where they can be killed at a moment’s notice and the fact that they, on average, deal with one violent offense — and even fewer violent offenders — in a single year. This might be why sanitation workers face a higher likelihood of injury and death than law enforcement officers — along with loggers, pilots, miners, roofers, machinists, farmers, construction workers, taxi drivers, bartenders, landscapers, groundskeepers and mechanics. Imagine if bartenders were trained to treat every interaction as if it were deadly.

As Vitale writes, “As long as the police are tasked with waging simultaneous wars on drugs, crime, disorder, and terrorism, we will have aggressive and invasive policing that disproportionately criminalizes the young, poor, male, and nonwhite.” In addition to what Vitale writes, the police are often deployed to the front line with regards to mental health, homelessness, education, emergency medical services, domestic violence, victim counseling and so on.

The Rolling Stone piece points out that those with mental health problems are 16 times more likely to be killed by an officer than those without. Overresponse in general seems to be a big issue; the fact that four officers were called in to deal with a $20 counterfeit bill in the case of George Floyd in the first place is absurd.

Police are tasked with a wide variety of roles that require quite a bit of training and material equipment, but are often not given that material equipment or training — nor is it reasonable to expect every human to be trained in every aspect of all of those jobs. Imagine requiring that every police officer goes through EMT training in addition to drug-specific training to administer any number of withdrawal or overdose medications along with mental health counseling for people in crisis along with training. In a previously cited Citylab article, we brought up the former police chief for Pittsburgh, who had this to say:

But the problem is—and this is one of my favorite quotes from police chief Ed Flynn from Milwaukee, who said: “With all the disinvestment in social services and mental health, alcohol and drug treatment, it seems as if there’s no problem that’s so complex that it can’t be fixed by more policing training.” A lot of the problems left at the doorstep of the police are social issues, rather than problems with the police proper. We’re just that point of friction. [Policing is] a sub-system that has to be adjusted, improved, or fixed where necessary. But you can’t just fix that and think it will stay fixed. It won’t, because it’s just part of that larger system.

So where would funding go? In this context, to the broader social causes for crime.

Image courtesy of Forbes

Investments that provide people access to critical services and flexible incomes, as well as support for housing, legal and financial services and so on would do more to reduce crime than similar investments in policing.

Although community investment has not been part of our policy debates on violence in any real way, new research suggests that organizations such as CCSCLA — thousands of them — played a key role in bringing crime rates down. It wasn’t just policing and mass incarceration, in other words. In my research I found that in a typical city with 100,000 residents, every ten additional organizations formed to address violence and build stronger communities led to a 9% drop in the murder rate.

In recent years, rigorous evaluations of several types of community-oriented programs have shown that summer jobs programs and initiatives to clean up abandoned lots have had tremendous success in reducing violent crime. In Chicago, youth who were randomly assigned to take part in a program called Becoming a Man, which combined after-school sports programs and cognitive behavioral therapy, were half as likely as those who did not take part to be arrested for a violent crime.

The body of evidence suggests that investment in policing does very little to crime rates. As Citylab points out:

  • A 2016 report from the Sentencing Project found that incarceration accounted for maybe 25 percent of the drop in crime since the 1990s. Meanwhile, research “demonstrates that investments in drug treatment, interventions with at-risk families, and school completion programs are more cost-effective than expanded incarceration as crime control measures,” reads the report.
  • A report from the (Obama) White House’s Council of Economic Advisers last year found that “a 10 percent increase in wages for non-college educated men results in approximately a 10 to 20 percent reduction in crime rates.”
  • On June 19, public health experts of the Pew Charitable Trust’s Public Safety Performance Project penned a letter stating that “there is no statistically significant relationship between state drug offender imprisonment rates and three measures of state drug problems: rates of illicit drug use, drug overdose deaths, and drug arrests.”

For more on defunding, check out this 100-page document from the Center for Popular Democracy. They call for community-based participatory budgeting, modeled after what some portions of Brazil have done to manage city funds. Or this tweet:

That Citylab article is fairly extensive and certainly worth checking out in full.

While many who talk about defunding want to invest in other social services, there are a few who respond by asking for investment in other priorities as well as policing. The issue at the core is that policing as its currently constituted is also a problem, so defunding is an attempt to reduce violent interactions in day-to-day policing while solving the problems police are meant to solve. As MPD150 (who I found through an interview NPR conducted with one of their members, Tony Williams) puts it:

It’s not just that police are ineffective: in many communities, they’re actively harmful. The history of policing is a history of violence against the marginalized– American police departments were originally created to dominate and criminalize communities of color and poor white workers, a job they continue doing to this day. The list has grown even longer: LGBTQ folks, disabled people, activists– so many of us are attacked by cops on a daily basis.

And it’s bigger than just police brutality; it’s about how the prison industrial complex, the drug war, immigration law, and the web of policy, law, and culture that forms our criminal justice system has destroyed millions of lives, and torn apart families. Cops don’t prevent crime; they cause it, through the ongoing, violent disruption of our communities.

The way we see social problems as police problems, then deploy police to address those problems further exacerbates it. Here’s a cartoon.

This also requires decoupling budgets from police citations and fines, as well as eliminating civil asset forfeiture. This is often called Policing for Profit. Civil asset forfeiture is relatively new, pushed in the 1980s as a tool of law enforcement, and formally legalized through a bill introduced by… Joe Biden.

As Chris Calton of FEE points out in a striking example:

In 1991, Maui police officers showed up at the home of Frances and Joseph Lopes. One officer showed his badge and said, “Let’s go into the house, and we will explain things to you.” Once he was inside, the explanation was simple: “We’re taking the house.”

The Lopeses were far from wealthy. They worked on a sugar plantation for nearly fifty years, living in camp housing, to save up enough money to buy a modest, middle-class home.

But in 1987, their son Thomas was caught with marijuana. He was twenty-eight, and he suffered from mental health issues. He grew the marijuana in the backyard of his parents’ home, but every time they tried to cut it down, Thomas threatened suicide.

When he was arrested, he pled guilty, was given probation since it was his first offense, and he was ordered to see a psychologist once a week. Frances and Joseph were elated. Their son got better, he stopped smoking marijuana, and the episode was behind them.

But when the police showed up and told them that their house was being seized, they learned that the episode was not behind them. That statute of limitations for civil asset forfeiture was five years. It had only been four. Legally, the police could seize any property connected to the marijuana plant from 1987. They had resurrected the Lopes case during a department-wide search through old cases looking for property they could legally confiscate.

Importantly, police can seize any property that can be connected to any suspected — not proven — crime. The people who own the property are often never even charged and don’t see their property returned. Even on highways where drug running is more common, most seizures of cash do not result in criminal charges, and departments can keep the money. There’s also a federal loophole for any states that make laws about the use of seized property — they can turn in any seized assets to the federal government and receive 80 percent of the value of that property in cash. That’s 80 percent of cases nationwide.

According to one ACLU report on civil asset forfeiture in Philadelphia, African-American people account for 71% of owners who have cash forfeited without being convicted of a crime each year. Another ACLU report from Northern California found that 85% of the proceeds of federal asset forfeiture in California go to agencies that police communities that are majority people of color.

People more likely to carry cash, i.e. those in low-income communities, are more vulnerable because cash is the most common property seized.

As the Washington Post puts it, “Law enforcement took more stuff from people than burglars did last year” — which is to say the amount of property seized by law enforcement officials in 2014 exceeded the amount of property stolen in burglaries — $5 billion to $3.5 billion. That’s not necessarily a completely fair point, as WaPo indicates — sometimes federally seized assets go back to victims and sometimes civil asset forfeiture occurs with big chunks — both of which happened in the $1.7 billion Bernie Madoff case. It also doesn’t include property stolen in larceny, motor vehicle thefts and more, bringing up petty crimes to $12.3 billion in lost assets.

But then again, Washington Post’s statistics only count federal seized assets, no state-seized or locally-seized assets and it’s in comparison to all crime. The vast, vast majority of law enforcement activity occurs at the state and local level. Federal law enforcement makes around 100,000-200,000 arrests a year, compared to the 11,000,000 arrests made in total nationwide; which is to say 1.4 percent of all arrests in a given year are made at the federal level.

While one would expect that a higher proportion of seizures occur at the federal level than the state level given the cycling requirements at the state level to go through federal seizure programs, a more aggressive attitude about forfeiture from the Attorney General and the heavy federal involvement in drug crimes — what the laws were originally designed to cover — it would not be surprising to see the true cost of forfeiture from law enforcement to be 20 times larger than the $5 billion we saw in 2015 from federal enforcement alone.

We also have to look to fines, which are an enormous contributor to police budgets. In fact, fines are functionally a noncontroversial regressive tax. As elucidates:

Raising taxes is painful. That may be why, since 2010, 47 states and a number of cities have instead raised both civil and criminal fines and fees. These increases are often viewed as a conflict-free way to plug budget holes.

In the last decade, for example, New York City grew its revenues from fines by 35 percent, raking in $993 million in fiscal 2016 alone. The monies came largely from parking and red light camera violations, as well as stricter enforcement of “quality of life” offenses such as littering and noise. In California, routine traffic tickets now carry a multiplicity of revenue-boosting “surcharges.” As a result, the true price of a $100 traffic ticket is more like $490 — and up to $815 with late fees, according to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.

This increasing reliance on fines and fees comes despite what we learned following the shooting in 2014 of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. A federal investigation of the city’s police department subsequently revealed that as much as a quarter of the city’s budget was derived from fines and fees. Police officers, under pressure to “produce” revenue, extracted millions of dollars in penalties from lower-income and African-American residents. In 2017, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a follow-up report finding that the “targeting” of low-income and minority communities for fines and fees is far from unique to Ferguson.

That tax is paid by the cities least well-off. If it were evenly applied across the population it would operate as a flat-dollar (not percentage) tax — already regressive because of the smaller percentage applied to well-off areas, but policing concentrates on poorer and minority neighborhoods, meaning fines are applied much more often to those the least likely to pay off debts.

No true defunding can be done without critically evaluating how police budgets are boosted by policing for profit, which include heavy fines and gross violations of civil rights through asset forfeiture.

There is another “radical reform” that keeps policing in place but likely strikes most people as radical nevertheless — disarmament.

Since 1900, the police in Great Britain have killed a total of fifty people. In March 2016 alone, US police killed one hundred people.53 Yes, there are more people and more guns in the United States, but the scale of police killings goes far beyond these differences. US police are armed with an amazing array of weapons from semiautomatic handguns and fully automatic AR-15 rifles to grenade launchers and .50-caliber machine guns. Much of the militarized weaponry comes directly from the Pentagon through the 1033 Program, a weapons transfer program that began in 1997. This program has resulted in the distribution of $4 billion worth of equipment. Local police departments can get surplus armaments at no cost—with no questions asked about how they will be used. Small communities now have access to armored personnel carriers, assault rifles, grenade launchers, and a variety of “less lethal” weaponry, such as rubber bullets and pepper-spray rounds. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has also given out $34 billion in “terrorism grants,” a tremendous boon for military contractors trying to expand their reach into civilian policing markets.54

SWAT teams have become the primary consumers of militarized weaponry and tactics.55 These heavily armed teams are almost never used for their original purpose of dealing with hostage situations or barricaded suspects. Instead, their function is now to serve warrants, back up low-level buy-and-bust drug operations, and patrol high-crime areas. Much of this expansion was driven by federal policies that funded the equipment for such teams either directly or through asset forfeiture laws.

The increased use of paramilitary units has resulted in dozens of incidents in which police have wrongfully killed or injured people—including throwing a flashbang grenade into a toddler’s crib during a Georgia drug raid in May 2014.56 The child was severely burned and entered a coma. No drugs were found and no arrests made. One officer was charged with perjury but found not guilty at trial. In fact, the local prosecutor threatened to charge family members for the child’s injuries. This near total lack of accountability for botched raids, excessive use of force, and the dehumanization of suspects must be corrected. Getting rid of this military hardware would be a start, but even handguns pose a major problem. Are armed police really the most appropriate tool in most cases?

Even when officers are injured or killed, the officer’s possession of a weapon sometimes contributes to their victimization. Offenders who are committed to evading police are more likely to use deadly force precisely because they know the officer is armed. This means they are prone to escalate dramatically. An armed suspect is much less likely to shoot an unarmed officer. Does that mean that some people may evade capture? Yes. But it also means that many lives are saved, including the lives of officers, and police legitimacy is broadly enhanced. Traffic stops would be less deadly for officers and the public if police carried no weapons.

A much more gun-ready United States is not necessarily comparable to Britain, where guns were more concentrated in the hands of the police before they were banned — a feature that is untrue in the United States.

This is unlikely to go far, but as MPD150 puts it, could still leave room for dealing with particularly violent crimes. If most policing is done without a weapon — or at least a gun — there could still be a specialized group that deals solely with violent crimes. It would necessarily need to be small and independent from the other aspects of policing. It is rare that a police officer actually gets shot at during a traffic stop or a wellness check.

Nevertheless, critics of defunding are particularly concerned with social unrest as a response. One could wryly point out that “social unrest” has been the response to a lack of defunding, it could be worth examining — something I’ll do in more detail in the next section. For now, remember that defunding only emerged as a stronger movement as a result of the failure of reform.


One test case for abolition could involve the history of police strikes. In 1975, San Francisco police went on strike and saw no uptick in crime.

The department’s 24 ‐ hour crime sheet, a listing of major felonies, was actually shorter than usual today.  “There is no indication yet that anyone is seeking to profit in crime from the police strike,” said Lieut. Frank Jordan. In fact, most of the violent crime was performed by non-striking police officers against striking officers.

In 2015, a well-publicized police slowdown in the city of New York did not result in a spike in crimes, and even led to a drop in crimes — as reported by citizens, not an accounting of arrest rates. This serves as a rebuff of “proactive policing,” one that no one in New York apparently acted on. There is a concern about 2015 spikes in homicide, but those don’t line up with the slowdown. A New York slowdown in 1997 found a similar effect. A 1983 study on 11 different police strikes across American cities also found no spike in crimes. Increases in police manpower don’t result in deterrence or incapacitive (incarcerating criminals) impacts.

This book on Verso Books right now, called The End of Policing, that discusses this in detail. Right now, the ebook is free (just click to the ebook section). While it may be difficult to imagine a world without police, at the very least the author, Alex Vitale, makes a good case that police have an enormously broad mandate and have been stretched too thin while given the same playbook to deal with all of the things they’re asked to do, including mental health checks, welfare checks, homelessness policy, dealing with victims of abuse, rape, etc. Bolstering his case is the fact that police budgets have tripled since 1977.

For a much shorter version of his argument, check out this piece at NPR where he’s been interviewed.

Well, we’ve created this situation where our political leaders have basically abandoned the possibility of actually housing people. Which, of course, is the real solution, supportive housing for those who need extra support. But basically, we have a massive failure in housing markets that is unable to provide basic shelter for millions of Americans.

So instead of actually addressing that fundamental problem, we have relabeled it as a problem that is the fault of the disorderly people who we label as morally deficient. And then we use police to criminalize them, to control their behavior and to reduce their disorderly impact on the rest of us. And this is perverse and unjust. So then it places police in this completely untenable situation, because they completely lack the tools to make this problem any better. And yet we’ve told them it’s their problem to manage. …

Part of our misunderstanding about the nature of policing is we keep imagining that we can turn police into social workers. That we can make them nice, friendly community outreach workers. But police are violence workers. That’s what distinguishes them from all other government functions. … They have the legal capacity to use violence in situations where the average citizen would be arrested.

So when we turn a problem over to the police to manage, there will be violence, because those are ultimately the tools that they are most equipped to utilize: handcuffs, threats, guns, arrests. That’s what really is at the root of policing. So if we don’t want violence, we should try to figure out how to not get the police involved.

And honestly, the police do a consistently poor job filling out that mandate when it comes to violence.

One should be aware that the expanded power police have as social agents as arbiters of morality expanded as a result of broken window theory which emerged in force in 1982. One of the co-authors of the book Crime and Human Nature, ended up writing a racist book advancing eugenics and race science, The Bell Curve with Charles Murray. For more on that mess, check out the video by YouTuber shaun.

From the book the End of Policing, Vitale writes:

What was needed to stem this tide of declining civility, they argued, was to empower the police to not just fight crime but to become agents of moral authority on the streets. The new role for the police was to intervene in the quotidian disorders of urban life that contributed to the sense that “anything goes.” The broken-windows theory magically reverses the well-understood causal relationship between crime and poverty, arguing that poverty and social disorganization are the result, not the cause, of crime and that the disorderly behavior of the growing “underclass” threatens to destroy the very fabric of cities.

Broken-windows policing is at root a deeply conservative attempt to shift the burden of responsibility for declining living conditions onto the poor themselves and to argue that the solution to all social ills is increasingly aggressive, invasive, and restrictive forms of policing that involve more arrests, more harassment, and ultimately more violence. As inequality continues to increase, so will homelessness and public disorder, and as long as people continue to embrace the use of police to manage disorder, we will see a continual increase in the scope of police power and authority at the expense of human and civil rights.

The order to arrest Eric Garner came from the very top echelons of the department, in response to complaints from local merchants about illegal cigarette sales. Treating this as a crime requiring the deployment of a special plainclothes unit, two sergeants, and uniformed backup seems excessive and pointless. Garner had experienced over a dozen previous police contacts in similar circumstances, including stints in jail; this had done nothing to change his behavior or improve his or the community’s circumstances. No amount of procedural training will solve this fundamental flaw in public policy.

And what do you do with violent crimes? Many abolishment advocates — including Vitale and the people at MPD150 — aren’t calling for immediate abolishment. As Vitale pointed out in his NPR interview:

Well, I’m certainly not talking about any kind of scenario where tomorrow someone just flips a switch and there are no police. What I’m talking about is the systematic questioning of the specific roles that police currently undertake, and attempting to develop evidence-based alternatives so that we can dial back our reliance on them. And my feeling is that this encompasses actually the vast majority of what police do. We have better alternatives for them.

Even if you take something like burglary — a huge amount of burglary activity is driven by drug use. And we need to completely rethink our approach to drugs so that property crime isn’t the primary way that people access drugs. We don’t have any part of this country that has high-quality medical drug treatment on demand. But we have policing on demand everywhere. And it’s not working.

Writing in the Nation, Mychal Denzel Smith opens with an account of harrowing criminal violence in his own apartment complex before expanding the discussion to the police, who scared him more with their everyday presence than the fact of the criminal violence. His point is largely that, to the extent that police serve a security function, they fail to provide it.

We’re afraid of being attacked on the street, of having our homes shot at, and being left without access to equally violent retribution. But does this mean we want police, or safety and security? Safety and security are ideas, ones that may never be fully achieved, and the police are an institution that have proved themselves capable of only providing the illusion of safety and security to a select few. The bulk of their jobs has nothing to do with violence prevention. They spend most of their time doing things like Slager did in his initial contact with Scott—stopping people for broken taillights.

Police seem to do more to criminalize everyday life than they do to catch those who genuinely violate the social order.

The police spend very little of their time dealing with violent criminals—indeed, police sociologists report that only about 10% of the average police officer’s time is devoted to criminal matters of any kind. Most of the remaining 90% is spent dealing with infractions of various administrative codes and regulations: all those rules about how and where one can eat, drink, smoke, sell, sit, walk, and drive. If two people punch each other, or even draw a knife on each other, police are unlikely to get involved.

David Graeber, in that piece for Gawker, ultimately concludes that police are essentially “bureaucrats with weapons. Their main role in society is to bring the threat of physical force—even, death—into situations where it would never have been otherwise invoked, such as the enforcement of civic ordinances about the sale of untaxed cigarettes.”

Denzel Smith makes an important point in this discussion:

And when it comes to preventing heinous acts of violence (or holding the perpetrators accountable) that should be condemned by all, like domestic violence and sexual assault, the police are largely ineffectual. The police are not performing the function we say they are, and there are real ways to achieve a world with less violence that don’t include the police. We simply haven’t tried. Until we invest in full employment, universal healthcare that includes mental health services, free education at every level, comprehensive sex education that teaches about consent and bodily autonomy, the decriminalization of drugs and erasure of the stigma around drug use, affordable and adequate housing, eliminating homophobia and transphobia—things that actually reduce the amount of violence we witness—I don’t want to hear about how necessary the police are.

And abolishment cannot work without hand-in-hand broad scale reform. As Vitale points out in an interview with Mother Jones:

Reducing policing goes hand in hand with widespread decriminalization, then—of things like having an open container in your front yard or selling untaxed cigarettes.

Absolutely. It goes hand in hand with decriminalizing sex work, drugs, homelessness, mental illness. We don’t really need a vice unit, we need a system of legalized sex work that’s regulated just like any other business. We don’t need school police, we need counselors and restorative justice programs. We don’t need police homeless outreach units, we need supportive housing, community based drop-in centers, social workers.

His answers to questions about immediate problems can be fairly annoying because he doesn’t propose immediate solutions, but they are well worth thinking about.

What does this end up looking like on a practical level, say, if my car gets stolen?

A friend of ours, they had their car stolen. The police actually recovered it and arrested the driver. So they were like, “See? We need police.” And I said, “Well, let’s dig a little deeper here. What do we know about the person who got arrested that stole your car?” “Uh, the police said that he’d been arrested a bunch of times and there was drug paraphernalia left in the car?” And I’m like, Hmm. So we tried policing a bunch of times with this guy. Did it prevent your car from getting stolen? No. Is this person stealing cars because they have a drug problem? Probably. Is sending them to jail over and over again fixing their drug problem? No. Okay, if we want to reduce vehicle thefts, the first time that we come in contact with this person, we’ve got to start trying to address what’s driving their problematic behavior.

. . .

Like domestic violence, which goes grossly underreported because huge numbers of survivors feel that getting the police involved is just going to make the situation worse. Police come, either do nothing, arrest both parties, or arrest the man whom the woman was financially dependent upon. He’s pissed off when he gets out of jail, and he comes and beats her up again. Where’s the community resource center? Where are the supports for families, so that maybe they can fix their problems? Where are the outlets for women so that they can live independently, to get away from an abuser?

Rolling Stone had a piece envisioning what response teams would look like in a world without police. They include broad scale decriminalization of nonviolent crimes, like drug use, as well as unarmed mediation teams. There’s a documentary on one such team in Chicago and includes a number of scenes of these kind of “violence interrupters” putting their bodies between people with weapons ready to kill each other; as a result, they’ve saved lives. These teams also exist in Detroit and Los Angeles. As Rolling Stone puts it, “some of the most violent neighborhoods have found success through peace rather than war.”

Not only that, community courts that focus on restorative justice, rather than punitive justice, have been effective in a number of American cities, including Philadelphia. Community organizing is a critical component, and will require methods of direct democracy, particularly participatory budgeting.

Participatory budgeting (PB) is a democratic process in which community members decide how to spend part of a public budget. It gives people real power over real money.

PB started in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1989, as an anti-poverty measure that helped reduce child mortality by nearly 20%. Since then PB has spread to over 3,000 cities around the world, and has been used to decide budgets from states, counties, cities, housing authorities, schools, and other institutions.

The New York Times calls PB “revolutionary civics in action”—  it deepens democracy, builds stronger communities, and creates a more equitable distribution of public resources.

You can learn more about the idea — also proposed by some defunding advocates — at the linked participatory budgeting website above and this fact sheet.

In cases where nonviolent mediators don’t work and community investment hasn’t had enough time to take effect, it may be possible to engage in community patrols — something that would need to be approached with care, given that community patrols evolved into the modern police. They would need to be an explicitly temporary solution, but have worked in other areas — including towns in Mexico that have kicked out the police and military.

One particular city, Cheran, is worth investigating.

The municipal police arrived with the mayor, and armed men came to free their hostage-friends. There was an uneasy stand-off between the townspeople, the loggers and the police. It ended after two loggers were injured by a young man who shot a firework directly at them. And Cheran – a town of some 20,000 people – began its journey towards self-government.

“It makes me want to cry remembering that day,” says Margarita. “It was like a horror movie – but it was the best thing we could have done.”

The police and local politicians were quickly driven out of town because the people suspected they were collaborating with the criminal networks. Political parties were banned – and still are – because they were deemed to have caused divisions between people. And each of the four districts of Cheran elected representatives to a ruling town council. In many ways, Cheran – a town populated by the indigenous Purepecha people – returned to its roots: to the ancient way of doing things, independent of outsiders.

Cheran dispenses its own justice for minor offences. Many of those are alcohol-related. On a September Sunday morning, 18 young men are sobering up behind bars at the Ronda’s headquarters after being picked up for drinking in the streets or driving under the influence of alcohol.

Penalties include fines and community work – such as litter-picking.

Serious law-breaking is referred to the attorney general. But in the last year there have been no murders, kidnaps or disappearances.

If you live somewhere unaccustomed to rampant, violent crime, you might not find this surprising. But Michoacan is one of Mexico’s bloodiest states – where severed heads have been rolled across dance floors and grenades have been lobbed into crowded plazas. In July, there were over 180 murders in the state – the highest number for nearly a decade. And in the communities around Cheran – not even 10km away – stories of kidnap, extortion and murder are commonplace.

“In Cheran, I feel safe because I can walk the streets at night, and I don’t fear that something’s going to happen,” says Melissa, who’s now an 18-year old bio-medical student at a college just outside Cheran.

You can read more about Cheran here and here.