Reforming Police-Think and Practices

Across America, police are responding to peaceful protests with violence

(Bold font areas are my additions. These articles are clear suggestions for shifting from a 3-D scenario to a more enlightened paradigm ~ Don Chapin)

Nathan Robinson, Mon 1 Jun 2020 06.26 EDT Last modified on Mon 1 Jun 2020 10.27 ED

Police too often act like squads of armed thugs rather than compassionate and helpful community servants.

“The answer to police violence is not ‘reform’. It’s defunding. Here’s why,” Alex S Vitale (below)

‘American police have been brutal for a long time, and both Democratic and Republican presidents have failed to successfully reform them.’ Photograph: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Images

‘American police have been brutal for a long time, and both Democratic and Republican presidents have failed to successfully reform them.’ Photograph: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Images

The footage and photographs are disturbing. These lawless rioters are out of control. They have driven an SUV into a crowd, tossed journalists to the ground and pepper-sprayed them, beaten people with batons and even blinded a woman in one eye. They have been launching unprovoked attacks on peaceful, law-abiding citizens exercising their constitutional rights. The violent behavior of these mobs should be condemned by all. We need to restore order: someone must stop the police.

Around the US over the last few days, following the murder of George Floyd, there have been widespread protests against police brutality. But in city after city, law enforcement agencies seem determined to prove the protesters right, by responding with a hefty dose of police brutality.

There is no shortage of examples of police using excessive force against protesters. In New York, officers who had intentionally covered their badge numbers “pulled down the mask of a peaceful protester, who had his hands up, and pepper-sprayed him in the face”. In Salt Lake City, an older man with a cane was shoved to the ground. In Austin, police shot a pregnant woman in the stomach with a “non-lethal” round. There were scenes reminiscent of the infamously brutal suppression of demonstrators at the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention. As Reason concluded, officers around the country acted with “total disregard for protesters’ safety or rights”.

There was no real need for those New York officers to disguise their badge numbers. After all, even when police officers’ names are fully known, there is rarely any accountability. The whole reason protesters are angry is that it seems American cops can get away with almost anything. In 2016, an Arizona police officer executed a man who was pleading for his life. It was on video. The officer was acquitted. This was not an exceptional case; it happens over and over. If outright murder goes unpunished, no officer need every worry about getting in trouble for blinding and maiming a few protesters.

Of course, it’s the protesters who are called violent, even when the overwhelming majority do nothing but march and chant – though they do refuse to back down, and challenging authority can be a capital crime in a police state. There have certainly been plenty of instances of vandalism and theft accompanying demonstrations, but it’s important to make a clear distinction between acts of property destruction and actual violence. Setting a police car on fire is very costly to taxpayers, but harm to human bodies should be far more disturbing.

American police have been brutal for a long time, and both Democratic and Republican presidents have failed to successfully reform them. Barack Obama’s justice department was admirable for at least investigating a number of egregiously out-of-control departments, though outright criminals like Joe Arpaio managed to remain in power throughout Obama’s term. Donald Trump made it clear from the outset that if it was up to him, police could brutalize people with total impunity – he even explicitly encouraged cops to rough people up during arrests. According to the Trump-supporting head of the Minneapolis police union, the president has reversed Obama’s policies by “letting the cops do their job, put the handcuffs on the criminals instead of us”. But when cops kill, as in the case of George Floyd, they need to be the ones with the handcuffs on. Otherwise they have a license to freely murder citizens.

There have been commendable exceptions to the pattern of police misconduct. In Michigan, a local sheriff marched with protesters and in New York, several officers shocked protesters by joining them in taking a knee. But it seems to be that there are just a few “good apples” in a generally rotten bunch. The frequency of aggressive, militarized responses to civil demonstrations suggests there is something very deeply wrong with police culture and with policing as an institution.

At the very least, we need to seriously demilitarize the police, so that they do not appear to be an occupying army, complete with tanks. But there are serious criminal punishment scholars who have suggested we need to talk about “ending the police” altogether. By this, they do not mean allowing anyone to victimize anyone else without fear of consequences, or ceasing to protect the population from threats. Rather, they mean totally rethinking how laws are enforced and how social problems are addressed. Having a militarized force respond to situations that require social workers trained to deal with mental health issues has often made things tragically worse rather than better. Frankly, fire departments seem like they would do a much better job addressing many of the situations that police are now dispatched to deal with. Firefighters actually protect and serve, while police too often act like squads of armed thugs rather than compassionate and helpful community servants.

In theory, the police are supposed to protect the community. When they are whacking the community with sticks, and firing teargas into it, they are more like an armed gang than keepers of the peace. When police show no interest in obeying the constitution or treating protesters with dignity and care, then they should cease to command respect. A police force that runs amok does not deserve to be called “law enforcement”. They are rioters, plain and simple.

Nathan Robinson is a Guardian US columnist and the editor of Current Affairs

Minneapolis Police Rendered Dozens Unconscious With Neck Restraints

Minneapolis Police Rendered Dozens Unconscious With Neck Restraints

Minneapolis Police Rendered Dozens Unconscious With Neck Restraints

(David Gannon/Getty Images)
By Jason Devaney | Monday, 01 June 2020 07:39 AM

Police officers in Minneapolis have used neck restraints on people hundreds of times since 2015 and 44 people have been rendered unconscious with the tactic, according to a new report.

NBC News cited police data that showed the Minneapolis Police Department has employed that particular use of force at least 237 times in the last five and a half years.

A neck restraint, according to NBC, involves a police officer compressing someone’s neck with either their arm or leg. One week ago, Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin held his knee to the neck of George Floyd, who was lying on the street in handcuffs, for nearly nine minutes. Floyd lost consciousness and died, which has sparked nationwide protests.

Chauvin and three other officers who were on the scene were fired the next day, and Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

The use of force tactic that Chauvin employed is not approved for use in the Minneapolis Police Department, nor is it taught in any police academy across the country, NBC reported.

Chauvin is white and Floyd was black, which has inflamed racial tensions in several American cities.

The answer to police violence is not ‘reform’. It’s defunding. Here’s why

Bias training, body cameras, community dialogues – Minneapolis has tried them all. We need a better response (Bold font areas are my emphasis/additions ~Don Chapin)

Alex S Vitale, Sun 31 May 2020 05.13 EDT Last modified on Sun 31 May 2020 10.50 EDT

Police hold a line on the fourth day of protests in Minneapolis. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Police hold a line on the fourth day of protests in Minneapolis. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Every time protests erupt after yet another innocent black person is killed by police, “reform” is meekly offered as the solution. But what if drastically defunding the police – not reform – is the best way to stop unnecessary violence and death committed by law enforcement against communities of color?

Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed by a police officer who kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes, has tried reform already. Five years ago, the Minneapolis police department was under intense pressure in the wake of both the national crisis of police killings of unarmed black men and its own local history of unnecessary police violence. In response, the department’s leaders undertook a series of reforms proposed by the Obama administration’s justice department and procedural reform advocates in academia.

The Minneapolis police implemented trainings on implicit bias, mindfulness, de-escalation, and crisis intervention; diversified the department’s leadership; created tighter use-of-force standards; adopted body cameras; initiated a series of police-community dialogues; and enhanced early-warning systems to identify problem officers.

In 2015, they brought in procedural reformer and implicit bias champion Phillip Atiba Goff to lead the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, a three-year, $4.75m project to use data collection, social psychology and police community dialogues to repair and strengthen the frayed relationship between cops and communities.

Following that, Minneapolis implemented a series of training programs designed to professionalize policing in the hopes that it would reduce abuses that might trigger more protests. Officers were trained in how to respond to mental health crisis calls, how to de-escalate confrontations with the public, how to be “mindful” in dangerous circumstances, and how to be more self-aware of their implicit racial bias. In 2018, the department even wrote a report, Focusing on Procedural Justice Internally and Externally, to highlight the broad range of procedural reforms they had implemented.

None of it worked. (Obviously, from the articles above ~Don Chapin)

That’s because “procedural justice” has nothing to say about the mission or function of policing. It assumes that the police are neutrally enforcing a set of laws that are automatically beneficial to everyone. Instead of questioning the validity of using police to wage an inherently racist war on drugs, advocates of “procedural justice” politely suggest that police get anti-bias training, which they will happily deliver for no small fee.

What “procedural justice” leaves out of the conversation are questions of substantive justice. What is the actual impact of policing on those policed and what could we do differently? Over the last 40 years we have seen a massive expansion of the scope and intensity of policing. Every social problem in poor and non-white communities has been turned over to the police to manage. The schools don’t work; let’s create school policing. Mental health services are decimated; let’s send police. Overdoses are epidemic; let’s criminalize people who share drugs. Young people are caught in a cycle of violence and despair; let’s call them superpredators and put them in prison for life.

Police have also become more militarized. The Federal 1033 program, the Department of Justice’s “Cops Office,” and homeland security grants have channeled billions of dollars in military hardware into American police departments to advance their “war on crime” mentality. A whole generation of police officers have been given “warrior” training that teaches them to see every encounter with the public as potentially their last, leading to a hostile attitude towards those policed and the unnecessary killing of people falsely considered a threat, such as the 12-year-old Tamir Rice, killed for holding a toy gun in an Ohio park.

The alternative is not more money for police training programs, hardware or oversight. It is to dramatically shrink their function. We must demand that local politicians develop non-police solutions to the problems poor people face. We must invest in housing, employment and healthcare in ways that directly target the problems of public safety. Instead of criminalizing homelessness, we need publicly financed supportive housing; instead of gang units, we need community-based anti-violence programs, trauma services and jobs for young people; instead of school police we need more counselors, after-school programs, and restorative justice programs. 

A growing number of local activists in Minneapolis like Reclaim the BlockBlack Visions Collective and MPD 150 are demanding just that. They are calling on Mayor Jacob Frey to defund the police by $45m and shift those resources into “community-led health and safety strategies.” The Minneapolis police department currently uses up to 30% of the entire city budget. Instead of giving them more money for pointless training programs, let’s divert that money into building up communities and individuals so we don’t “need” violent and abusive policing.

  • Alex S Vitale is professor of sociology and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College and the author of The End of Policing


Comment by Don Chapin…my own suggestion on Facebook… a shorter-term improvement than the more lasting, better long-range suggestions by Alex Vitale, above:

YES, things have GOT to change…suggested examples:
1) ONLY police that pass RIGID psychological exams are permitted to carry guns, but
2) They ONLY carry snubnose .32 calibers in ANKLE holsters which AUTOMATICALLY activate shoulder cameras… special counseling training for those authorized for heavier weapons and back-up applications, and 3) CIVILIAN – CITIZEN review panels act as grand juries for ANY firearms usage.



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