If the abolition of policing has been giving you trouble, try this Derecka Purnell piece for The Atlantic in which she explains going from growing up in a Black neighborhood that “called 911 for almost everything except snitching” to thinking of abolition as “white and utopic” to becoming an avowed abolitionist.
Police couldn’t do what we really needed. They could not heal relationships or provide jobs. We were afraid every time we called. When the cops arrived, I was silenced, threatened with detention, or removed from my home. Fifteen years later, my old neighborhood still lacks quality food, employment, schools, health care, and air—all of which increases the risk of violence and the reliance on police. Yet I feared letting go; I thought we needed them.
Until the Ferguson, Missouri, cop Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown. Brown had a funeral. Wilson had a wedding. Most police officers just continue to live their lives after filling the streets with blood and bone.
Governor Kate Brown earlier today issued a statement about confrontations between the Portland Police Bureau and local protesters.
I am disturbed by what appears to be a pattern of escalation between the Portland Police Bureau and this group of protestors, and by the Police Bureau’s use of crowd control munitions. Use of force, regardless of its legal justification, will do nothing to solve the underlying concerns of racial justice and police accountability raised by the protests. I strongly urge the City of Portland to be proactive in using strategies focused on de-escalation and dialogue in order to prevent and avoid this senseless cycle of violence.
If she’s looking for escalation, she need look no further than this afternoon’s Twitter thread by Major Ted Wheeler about the clashes, in which he fabricates an incident in which protesters set fire to a building and then locked the doors, trapping people inside.
This never happened.
There have been incidents involving fire or fireworks and a separate incident — drawn entirely from a Bureau press release — of protesters apparently tying shut a precinct door with the rope from a flag pole. Even the police didn’t claim a fire had been set inside with people locked in.
I’d initially joked on Twitter that Wheeler’s tweet was like Trump telling a story his friend Jim told him, but the reality is that this sort of disinformation endangers protesters by creating a false narrative about them that only will play into the hands of an increasingly-violent police department.
In the final tweet of his statement, Wheeler concludes with four words: “Lives are at stake.”
They are, Ted.
You’re the one putting them at risk.
Whether or not this Oregon State Police fuckhead is right that “Governor Brown has no authority to take our civil liberties”, I hope she at least has the authority to take his job. Knowing police unions, alas, probably not. What bothers me the most, though, is this bit.
Three other law enforcement officers entered the business moments later and also refused a request to wear masks, Boss said. Boss said he felt compelled to fulfill their drink orders because they were in uniform, even though he said he had sent other patrons away earlier for not wearing masks.
This coffee shop’s assistant manager was afraid to enforce mask compliance in his store when the customers in question were uniformed police officers. That’s profoundly not okay.
Jonathan Levinson writing for OPB has a good look at the Portland Police Bureau terrorizing protests with so-called “less lethal” munitions; Levinson gets some pretty blunt descriptions of what these weapons do to people. Some of the munitions used here in Portland were used in Boston until they decided they were too dangerous; they melted them down into sewer caps.
Jonathan Foiles somehow wrote an entire piece about how “we can’t just replace cops with social workers” despite the fact that no one talking about defunding police and refunding communities is talking about it in such simplistic terms. So what, exactly, was the point of writing this?
Musa al-Gharbi outs the hidden problem within the “bad apples” excuse for abuses in policing: police culture both officially and unofficially punishes any purported “good apples” for stepping up or coming forward.
So, yeah, I’ve dropped The End of Policing, although I’m keeping it in my to-read list for now in case I feel like I can get back to it. It reads like a real slog of a textbook, with little to no humanity in it, and I feel like this is a topic which cries out for it. It needs representative stories about real and actual human beings whose lives have been impacted by each way in which we do policing wrong. Facts and figures alone don’t carry. It’s a book that should have been written by someone out in the world when it reads instead like a book written by someone at their desk. I’ll be moving on to Your Brain Is a Time Machine; I’m curious to see if it informs any of my thinking about aphantasia, severely deficient autobiographical memory (which really needs a better name), and my inability to truly picture past or future.
There is nothing about this Van Jones story from The Daily Beast that is good. Holy hell.
CNN, meanwhile, wouldn’t comment on the network’s failure to disclose Jones’s behind-the-scenes advisory role in shaping Trump’s executive order while offering accolades for an initiative he helped create.
The End of Policing is not in any way an engagingly written book and I am struggling mightily to stick with it.
The rules “governing” police are never not ridiculous. Any police jurisdiction that invites on-the-ground enforcement assistance from other jurisdictions can’t be allowed simply to close the case and pass the buck on complaints when the behavior of another jurisdiction’s officer is at issue. “What the…?” indeed.
Hundreds of mathematicians have signed a letter to appear in Notices of the American Mathematical Society calling for the field to cease collaborating with police departments, engage in public audits of algorithms, and to incorporate “learning outcomes that address the ethical, legal, and social implications” in data science courses.
By now you’ve read Nikole Hannah-Jones’ call for reparations, but I wanted to highlight just a couple of things that should inform the context in which we white people discuss any of these issues.
It has been more than 150 years since the white planter class last called up the slave patrols and deputized every white citizen to stop, question and subdue any black person who came across their paths in order to control and surveil a population who refused to submit to their enslavement. It has been 150 years since white Americans could enforce slave laws that said white people acting in the interest of the planter class would not be punished for killing a black person, even for the most minor alleged offense. Those laws morphed into the black codes, passed by white Southern politicians at the end of the Civil War to criminalize behaviors like not having a job. Those black codes were struck down, then altered and over the course of decades eventually transmuted into stop-and-frisk, broken windows and, of course, qualified immunity. The names of the mechanisms of social control have changed, but the presumption that white patrollers have the legal right to kill black people deemed to have committed minor infractions or to have breached the social order has remained.
On income and wealth:
As we focus on police violence, we cannot ignore an even starker indication of our societal failures: Racial income disparities today look no different than they did the decade before King’s March on Washington. In 1950, according to a forthcoming study by the economists Moritz Schularick, Moritz Kuhn and Ulrike Steins in The Journal of Political Economy, black median household income was about half that of white Americans, and today it remains so. More critical, the racial wealth gap is about the same as it was in the 1950s as well. The typical black household today is poorer than 80 percent of white households. “No progress has been made over the past 70 years in reducing income and wealth inequalities between black and white households,” according to the study.
And yet most Americans are in an almost pathological denial about the depth of black financial struggle. That 2019 Yale University study, called “The Misperception of Racial Economic Inequality,” found that Americans believe that black households hold $90 in wealth for every $100 held by white households. The actual amount is $10.
“The cause of the gap must be found in the structural characteristics of the American economy, heavily infused at every point with both an inheritance of racism and the ongoing authority of white supremacy,” the authors of the Duke study write. “There are no actions that black Americans can take unilaterally that will have much of an effect on reducing the wealth gap. For the gap to be closed, America must undergo a vast social transformation produced by the adoption of bold national policies.”
When the current head of Portland’s police union says the union isn’t “the evil empire”, remember that a prior union chief awarded gift certificates to officers identified as the most frequent users of force.
I’ll not offer justification for the cognitive dissonance of supporting calls to defund the police while also being a fan of Brooklyn Nine-Nine; I’ll just note it and say that I’m curious to see what the show does now, having scrapped already-written scripts for its eighth season (link via Andy Baio).
The cast has been talking about how to address the issues of systemic racism and police brutality in the upcoming season as well, Crews added: “We’ve had a lot of somber talks about it and deep conversations, and we hope through this, we’re going to make something that will be truly groundbreaking this year. We have an opportunity, and we plan to use it in the best way possible.”
What if they decide they’re going to set the new season in a New York that in fact has begun defunding the police in favor of other community and social services? What if they decide to show us what we could do?
Courtney E. Martin, writing for Reasons to Be Cheerful and noting that it was just over year before Rosa Parks’ refusal to move became the Supreme Court’s ruling desegregating public buses, reminds us that it’s been only a month since the police murder of George Floyd — yet small steps already have been taken on the road to defunding the police.
These wins matter, not because they mean the work is done, but because they mean the work is working. Abolition is a long game. You don’t just wave a magic wand and create a society where harm is handled using restorative, rather than punitive, practices, not to mention where the sources of so much harm (alienation, poverty, disinvestment) are eradicated. Or, as Reverend William Barber puts it: “While realism cannot determine the goals of our faith, it must shape our strategy in movements of moral dissent.”
Abolition is not just about police. It’s about a different world. And building that world is going to take sophisticated strategies designed by the wisest movement minds we’ve got. As longtime abolitionist Mariame Kaba writes in The New York Times: “People like me who want to abolish prisons and police… have a vision of a different society, built on cooperation instead of individualism, on mutual aid instead of self-preservation. What would the country look like if it had billions of extra dollars to spend on housing, food and education for all? This change in society wouldn’t happen immediately, but the protests show that many people are ready to embrace a different vision of safety and justice.”
Emphasis added, and repeated: the work is working.
“We need to celebrate these moments in the midst of so much tragedy,” she writes. “Joy is the lifeblood of a movement, just as much as rage.” I said something similar just yesterday, in fact while I was reading Rampant‘s list of wins so far.