Merrick Garland, Obama’s unlucky nominee for the Supreme Court whose seat was pulled away by Mitch “666” McConnell, will now be Biden’s nominee for attorney general. And now that it looks even more sure that the Democrats will control the Senate, fears about the lacuna he’d leave on the appeals court are waning.
While Garland has been a top contender for weeks, concerns about the vacancy his selection would create on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia raised alarm bells among Biden and many advisers who believed Senate Republicans would block any nomination to that seat. But with Democrats poised to control the Senate after two Georgia runoff races, those concerns were allayed. “Judge Garland will be viewed in a whole new light now,” a top Biden ally tells CNN.
I tell you: what with the vaccines and the new Democratic administration, and perhaps a Democratic Senate, 2021 is looking up. It would be lovely if Garland got to lead the prosecution of Donald Trump, but any prosecutions will be on the state rather than the federal level, especially if Trump succeeds in pardoning himself.
As I reported about a month ago, three federal executions were scheduled between then and Christmas, with three more on tap before Inauguration Day on January 20. This is a total of six, and clearly, because of their disproportionate number, Trump is rushing to get these people killed before Biden becomes President. (Presidents have the power to stay executions, and Biden has said he’s opposed to the death penalty.) I don’t expect Trump to exercise any empathy here: he reserves that for his cronies who have been convicted of federal crimes.
If all of these executions take place, as they surely will, this will make a total if 13 state-sponsored killings under Trump’s administration—the most under one President in over a century. As the Associated Press reports, this is a very rare year in another way: executions by the federal government outnumber those carried out by the states themselves. It’s usually the other way around, and by a huge margin. Here’s a graph, with the blue bars being federal executions and the orange ones state executions:
The first killing took place on Thursday, when Brandon Bernard, 40, was put to death. He was 18 at the time he committed two murders, had spent more than half his life on death row, and pleaded for clemency from Trump because he was a teenager when he did the crime. From the New York Times:.
Among his final words, Mr. Bernard apologized to the family of the couple he had killed and for the pain he caused his own family, according to a report from a journalist in attendance. For his role in their deaths, he said, “I wish I could take it all back, but I can’t.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, looking at the witness room windows. “That’s the only words that I can say that completely capture how I feel now and how I felt that day.”
Mr. Bernard did not appear outwardly afraid or distressed as he spoke. A minute after the lethal injection began, his eyes slowly closed, and his breaths became increasingly shallow, the report noted.
He was pronounced dead at 9:27 p.m. at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Ind., the Bureau of Prisons said.
As a lethal injection of pentobarbital began flowing through IVs into both of his arms, Bourgeois tilted his head to look at his spiritual adviser in a corner of the death chamber clutching a Bible. Bourgeois gave him a thumbs-up sign, and his spiritual adviser raised his thumb in reply.
Seconds later, Bourgeois peered up toward the glass dividing him from the media and other witnesses in adjoining rooms, and then grimaced and furrowed his eyebrows. He began to exhale rhythmically, and his stomach started to quiver uncontrollably. After five minutes, the heaving of his stomach stopped and his entire body became still. He did not move for about 20 minutes before he was pronounced dead.
Bourgeois had met with his spiritual adviser earlier Friday as he sought to come to terms with the possibility of dying, one of his lawyers, Shawn Nolan, told The Associated Press hours before the execution. He said Bourgeois had been “praying for redemption.”
Bourgeois took up drawing in prison, including doing renditions of members of his legal team. Nolan said he had a good disciplinary record on death row.
I am not saying that the executed should have been released, though at least for Bernard that might have been a possibility had he reformed, but I do insist that the death penalty is barbaric and unworthy of America. I won’t go into my arguments against it, but will mention one: if convicted people are later exonerated, as 167 death row inmates have been since 1973, there’s no bringing them back when they’re dead. And if they’re not exonerated, well, there’s always life without parole.
All First World countries save Japan, Taiwan, and the U.S. have abolished capital punishment (see below). Do we really want to be in the small group of exceptions? What about America requires us to retain the death penalty? Although numbers of countries alone don’t establish the moral rectitude of abolishing executions, they do show a consensus. For those who still want to have state-sponsored killings, I reply as Oliver Cromwell implored the Church of Scotland:
I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.
My impression of librarians is that they are sensible and anti-woke, at least in terms of their stand on free speech and free expression. After all, they are the guardians and disseminators of all knowledge, the opponents of censoring books, and I have respected them immensely. They’ve also been a huge help to me in my academic work as well as in writing my popular books. I guess I thought this admiring view would hold for their other opinions as well. But I was sorely disabused this week when I read two screeds by high-class librarians.
The first one, below, is from a group of 13 “Ivy League+” librarians—including one from the University of Chicago—who have signed a document calling for major changes in universities and libraries. The most important of these is a call for the complete elimination of the police. Not just campus police, but all police. This document, in fact, doesn’t materially differ from the unhinged manifestos and lists of “demands” regularly issued by students at American colleges. I am disappointed.
The Ivy+ manifesto begins with the requisite invocation of George Floyd as well as the required (but unevidenced) claim that their institutions are not only structurally racist, but complicit in sustaining that racism (emphases in the following are mine):
In early June, in the wake of the murders of George Floyd in Minnesota, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, library organizations and directors issued statements condemning racism and racial violence. A statement from the Association of Research Libraries [JAC: see below] implored that “[i]t is incumbent upon leaders of libraries and archives to examine our institutions’ role in sustaining systems of inequity that have left Black communities and other people of color in the margins of every aspect of our profession.”
. . . We recognize that librarianship, an overwhelmingly white profession, has systematically marginalized BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and librarians with disabilities. The conceptualization of our demands would not be possible without the labor and leadership of these very librarians, theorists, activists, and communities. We also recognize the privilege and power held by Ivy+ and other major research libraries, and thus, it is imperative that we use our privilege to speak out against library practices that cause harm. We build from and stand in solidarity with abolitionist movements happening in all library spaces. We believe in order to fully embody the ethics of librarianship it is necessary to align with the practices and aims of abolition. We hope many more voices will join us in signing onto these demands and in this bold and beautiful work of dreaming, demanding, and being in a better world. Reckoning with our own histories of and complicity in white supremacy and anti-Black racism is in the best interest not only of our institutions and patrons but our profession at large. Libraries are not neutral, nor should they be silent — but we’ve heard, seen, and spoken enough — solidarity is not found in statements, but in actions, and the time to act is now.
Have libraries really been this bigoted and nefarious?
And they’re also said to also sustain the police. The group says that they—the librarians themselves—have internalized their bigotry:
. . . we believe libraries have not gone far enough in this examination by refusing to fully consider our relationships with policing, surveillance, and the prison–industrial complex. These library statements do not explicitly name policing itself as the problem — an expression and exacerbation of racial capitalism and violence — despite it being a very real and dire existential threat to Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC), as well as those in the LGBTQIA+ community. Therefore, we find these statements morally and politically insufficient responses. Without naming the specific problem of policing, these statements not only let libraries off the hook for the many ways in which we have internalized the practices of the carceral state in our profession, but also leave the door open for “both sides’’ arguments or appeals to “law and order,” and encourage dangerous and ineffective reforms.
I won’t waste my time attacking this, for, according to Hitchen’s Razor, claims unsustained by evidence don’t need to be refuted by evidence. Perhaps these statements just constitute the necessary self-flagellation and moral preening needed before they call for the elimination of both campus and regular police . They never, of course, say what will replace the police.
The solution to police violence is not reform but an abolition of policing in all its forms. Therefore, we call on the leadership of our institutions and all of our colleagues to embrace an abolitionist vision of a hopeful, life-affirming future and to immediately begin the work of divesting from police and prisons with the ultimate goal of the complete abolition of law enforcement and surveillance from library spaces, campuses, communities — in short, everywhere.
No more cops! They’re not just talking about campus police, for they want the abolition of law enforcement and surveillance from EVERYWHERE. Who will enforce the law, then? Apparently, nobody. The attempt of students to disband the campus police at the U of C have already failed, but the librarians’ feeble attempt to adduce “evidence” for the ineffectiveness of campus policing is risible.
Many people will acknowledge the harm done by police and law enforcement but question the safety implications of defunding and divesting from policing on campus. But reporting from police forces shows that law enforcement and surveillance do not keep campuses safe. As Black organizers across the country have been declaring in the streets, “We keep us safe.” Therefore, we demand that library leadership remove any reliance on law enforcement as a means of addressing conflicts that arise in all library spaces by 2022.
I invite you to look at the link they give above. It goes to a Twitter thread from an associate professor at our University’s Harris School of Public Policy, a thread that uses our campus police database to show that black people get stopped disproportionately often by the campus cops, both in person and in traffic, compared to their frequency in the Hyde Park as well as in the University of Chicago student population.
That’s it: those data say nothing about the inability of campus police to keep the campus safe. And the disproportionality doesn’t point to any one cause; there could be more incidents involving black people, it could be genuine bigotry and racism, or it could reflect the fact that we’re surrounded by black communities and the campus police patrol a much larger area of the South Side than just Hyde Park. (Hyde Park extends south for 8 blocks, from 51st street to 59th Street, while the campus cops patrol 27 blocks—from 37th to 64th Street: more than 3 times the area of Hyde Park proper, with almost all of the additional area comprising black residents.)
Is this the best that librarians can do to support their claim? Librarians? They have all the research in the world at their fingertips, and this is what they do?
There are many other demands, of course, including eliminating video surveillance in libraries, divesting from companies that use prison labor, and so on, but I’ll let you read the document itself. (I myself happen to agree that prisons should not be privatized.)
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 124 researchlibraries at comprehensive, research institutions in Canada and the United States. ARL member libraries make up a large portion of the academic and research library marketplace, spending more than $1.4 billion every year on information resources and actively engaging in the development of new models of scholarly communications.
You can read their statement below. It’s mercifully shorter than the Ivy+ document, but still makes the unevidenced claim that libraries “sustain systems of inequity”. Some of the “demands” are reasonable, like ensuring that there be an equitable proportion of employees of color, but others, like “highlighting the work of theorists, educators, and other scholars who have been studying about these phenomena for decades,” represent an ideological position that is unseemly for librarians. They want to emphasize Critical Theory. (That alone has taken this group down a notch.)
But that’s just my view. It’s Friday, and I’d rather be walking along Lake Michigan (which I will) than calling out these endlessly circulating manifestos of self-flagellation and insupportable demands. So you can read this one for yourself:
It’s not, of course, that I’m in favor of racism. Rather, I’m against extreme and histrionic statements that included unfounded claims, and against proposals that restrict speech and action but do nothing to help solve the problem of racial inequality in America. And I can tell you one thing: eliminating all police, both campus and public ones, is not going to do what the proponents think it will do.
This law sounds good in principle, but seems impossible to use as a way of detecting racism in potential hires. The law and its problems are described in a long and poorly-written article in the Washington Post; I’ll have more to say about the writing later.
Click on the screenshot to read:
Here’s the skinny, and I’ve condensed an article whose published version is at least three times longer than it need be:
An ambitious new law in California taking aim at potential biases of prospective officers has raised questions and concerns among police officers and experts who fear that if implemented inadequately, the law could undermine its own mission to change policing and the culture of law enforcement.
The law, which was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Sept. 30, will expand the present screening requirements by mandating all law enforcement agencies conduct mental evaluations of peace officer candidates to identify both implicit and explicit biases against race, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexual orientation to exclude unfit recruits.
Experts, police unions and lawmakers agree on the value of identifying whether those who aspire to become officers carry considerable degrees of biases, yet it is the lack of clarity on what tools and measures will be used to look for implicit biases that is raising concerns and prompting questions.
“If police departments start to reject applicants because they have implicit biases there will be no one left to hire,” said Lorie Fridell, professor of criminology at the University of South Florida and founder of the Fair and Impartial Policing program, one of the most popular implicit-bias awareness trainings in the country.
That’s one problem with the implicit bias test: it shows that nearly everyone has implicit bias (the article mentions that 88% of whites and 48% of blacks have an implicit bias for white people (when I took the test, it showed I was “race neutral”: the optimal outcome). Not only that, but the IAT (Implicit Association Test) has been widely criticized on many grounds, not the least that it doesn’t seem to translate into measurable behavior, which is the reason you measure it. You can see The Replicability Index‘s useful summary of all the analyses by clicking on the screenshot below:
From the article’s conclusions:
An unbiased assessment of the evidence shows no compelling evidence that the race IAT is a valid measure of implicit racial bias; and without a valid measure of implicit racial bias it is impossible to make scientific statements about implicit racial bias. I think the general public deserves to know this. Unfortunately, there is no need for scientific evidence that prejudice and discrimination still exists. Ideally, psychologists will spend more effort in developing valid measures of racism that can provide trustworthy information about variation across individuals, geographic regions, groups, and time. Many people believe that psychologists are already doing it, but this review of the literature shows that this is not the case. It is high time to actually do what the general public expects from us.
(See also this article from the British Psychological Society’s “Research Digest.”) Based on the widespread criticism of these tests, it’s simply not valid to claim that everyone has implicit bias.
Now perhaps explicit bias is easier to assess, but it is of course subject to manipulation. If you want to be a police officer, and know you’re being tested for explicit bias as the law stipulates, then you can pretty easily make yourself look non-racist even if you are. Of course police should (and hopefully do) perform background checks, looking at your record in previous jobs, doing mental health screening and so on, but if your record is clean, and you’re an out-and-out bigot, you might not be detected. I also think that the IAT, which pronounced me “not a racist”, can probably be gamed as well (I did answer honestly, or so I think!), but that test is pretty much worthless. California is in for a long and frustrating period of hiring.
Now onto the writing quality of the article. It’s long, tedious, and the prose is convoluted and abysmal. There are also some errors. I’ll give a few examples:
The law comes amid a moment of social upheaval where police departments across the country are facing scrutiny. . . .
WRONG. A moment is a period of time, and so it should be “when police departments” rather than “where police departments”. This is a common mistake, but an editor should have caught it.
None of the experts interviewed by The Washington Post claimed to know of law enforcement agencies that screen for unconscious biases — those that people are unwilling or unable to identify — as a hiring standard.
This is awkward. Although the antecedent to “those that people are unwilling or unable to identify” should be “unconscious biases”, it could also be “law enforcement agencies that screen for unconscious biases.” The awkward sentence could easily be fixed to “None of the experts interviewed claimed to know of law enforcement agencies that hire using screenings for unconscious biases—those biases that people are unwilling or unable to identify.”
. . . . he is skeptical of taking implicit bias evaluations like IATs, as benchmarks of deep-seeded beliefs that would lead to discrimination.
These screenings vary agency to agency and often include review of social media postings for sexist or racist comments, interviews with acquaintances, past employers, family members and thorough mental evaluations.
That’s another awkward sentence implying that the review of social media posts includes “thorough mental evaluations”. This could have been solved by putting “thorough mental evaluations” before “review of social media postings.”
A shared concern among scholars is on the use of tools such as implicit association tests (IATs) — sometimes used in bias training — as a hiring tool or screening device due to the unreliability of its findings.
The bit after the second hyphen is confusing and hard to read. It would be easy to fix: “Because implicit association tests (IATs) have been found to be unreliable, scholars are concerned about their use to screen or hire applicants, or in bias training.” Further, the construction “a shared concern . . .on” is awkward and should be “Many scholars are concerned about. . . ” or some other construction.
Yes, these errors may seem minor, but don’t newspapers like the Washington Post employ line editors any more? What’s just as bad, or worse, is the painfully awkward prose, with long sentences, that pervades the entire article. Like this:
Kang said implicit bias tests provide useful, yet inexact information, which he compared to weather forecasts, about a person’s beliefs and stereotypes at a certain moment, but they ought to be used as road maps to help law enforcement agencies develop better methods and procedures, rather than as individual hiring tools.
UG-LEE! But examples are easy to find. One more and I’ll leave you:
Catafi said POST will be working with psychologists and law enforcement experts to incorporate these new required items to the current psychological screening manual, and they have until January 2022 to complete the process.
That one has a bad error as well: it’s incorporate INTO, not “incorporate to”.
But where are the editors? There ought to be editors. Well, maybe next year.
When a person or group cries “Defund the police!”, it could mean several things:
1.) Completely eliminate the budget of the police department, and hence the department itself. This is the demand that the University of Chicago’s #CareNotCops group makes for our campus police, saying they want the University Police gone by 2022. For a case like this, the police department (PD) isn’t supposed to be replaced with another law-enforcement organization.
2.) Reduce the police budget, spending the extra money either on social-service programs or grants given to minority or crime-ridden communities.
3.) Change the method of policing, for example eliminating no-knock warrants or chokeholds.
4.) Supplement police services with social services, like having psychologists or psychiatric social workers respond to calls instead of the cops. That’s not practical, but some places have “ride along” programs where social workers go to relevant calls (domestic violence, child endangerment) with police. Other places have services in which cops refer people to social workers or other helpers after the police visit, and in still in other places police get social-work and psychological training. Many people who argue for this don’t realize that this is already a practice in some places.
After the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, according to the New York Times article below, the Minneapolis city council voted to defund the city police department. I believe the text of the amendment is here, and does call for “the removal of the Police Department as a Charter Department.” The motion was passed by a majority of the Council, with some dissent, but what happened afterwards shows that such votes aren’t necessarily a good idea.
Click on screenshot to read:
First of all, options 1) and 2) above are generally bad moves, especially if you want to completely get rid of the police department, either replacing it with some kind of “community policing” (i.e., mob rule and possees) or getting rid of it entirely with no replacement. Both of these are boneheaded and disasterous moves.
But in Minneapolis the city council doesn’t even have the ability to get rid of the police department, so their resolution was toothless. Also, most of the citizens don’t want the police to be cut. A few quotes from the article:
In interviews this month, about two dozen elected officials, protesters and community leaders described how the City Council members’ pledge to “end policing as we know it” — a mantra to meet the city’s pain — became a case study in how quickly political winds can shift, and what happens when idealistic efforts at structural change meet the legislative process and public opposition.
The pledge is now no closer to becoming policy, with fewer vocal champions than ever. It has been rejected by the city’s mayor, a plurality of residents in recent public opinion polls, and an increasing number of community groups. Taking its place have been the types of incremental reforms that the city’s progressive politicians had denounced.
And of course the “defund the police” mantra plays right into the hands of the Republicans, for if most Americans want anything, it’s to feel that they’re safe, and cutting back on cops is not the way to do that. Perhaps if the “defunders” were more specific in what they wanted, they wouldn’t be energizing the Right so much.
At any rate, all Minneapolis has done so far is to ban chokeholds (a very good move) and “changed reporting measures for the use of force since Mr. Floyd’s killing.”
It’s striking that minorities, whom this issue is supposed to help, often object to “defunding”. (The “charter commission” described below is a group of citizens, appointed by a judge, to consider the legal and technical ramifications of amendments like the above before they go to voters for approval.):
As the commission weighed its options, evidence mounted that the public wanted police reform, but did not support the actions of councilors or share the aims of influential activists. A poll from The Minneapolis Star-Tribune found that a plurality of residents, including 50 percent of Black people, opposed reducing the size of the police department. Councilors said they repeatedly heard criticism from business owners and residents in more affluent areas of their wards who feared for their safety, as misinformation spread that the end of the police department was imminent.
In the charter commission, however, city councilors and their activist supporters found a common enemy.
“A majority-white, unelected board of people can’t decide that they knew better than the community,” said Miski Noor, the Black Visions organizer.
The charter commission voted down the “defunding” amendment 10-5, so it won’t be on the ballot this November.
The lessons here are threefold:
First, specify exactly what you mean when you say “defund the police”. If you envision a substitute kind of police, you need to specify what form. If you are vague about that, just shut up.
Second, consider the wishes of the community. They may not WANT less policing (if that’s what you intend by “defunding”). Here the “white savior” trope can be very real.
Third, consider the consequences. Reduced policing leads to increased crime, and, as one site reports, it already has in Minneapolis—not because the police were defunded, but probably because of “reduced policing”.
“…Just months after leading an effort that would have defunded the police department, City Council members at Tuesday’s work session pushed chief Medaria Arradondo to tell them how the department is responding to the violence…More people have been killed in the city in the first nine months of 2020 than were slain in all of last year. Property crimes, like burglaries and auto thefts, are also up. Incidents of arson have increased 55 percent over the total at this point in 2019.”
Bear in mind this is coming after just a few months of reduced policing, due in part to extra demands and difficulty and probably in part due to police pulling back either out of fear or reluctance (blue flu) as also happened in Baltimore after the Freddie Gray killing and consequent protests and riots.
Of course the police aren’t perfect, and they (and the law) need some serious reform, including more training in nonviolent intervention, making it illegal to shoot fleeing weaponless suspects, reducing the penalties for victimless crimes like drug use, having more programs that have police learn from social workers and psychologists, and so on. And of course more gun control would be immensely useful in reducing crime, but in America these days that is but a pipe dream.
But defunding as the first option? I don’t think so. We need better policing, not fewer police.
UPDATE: From Block Club Chicago (click on screenshot):
The action continued into Sunday with yoga, breakfast and organizing workshops. Students will remain there “indefinitely until we hear publicly” from Lee, CareNotCops organizers said in a tweet.
In a statement Monday, organizers said they would remain on the block until Lee agrees to meet their demands.
They’re going to be waiting a LONG time. . . . .
For some time now, I’ve been anxious about my University becoming more and more woke. That’s clearly happening to the student population, and there are signs it’s affecting some of the administration as well. This would break my heart, but I think the tide is unstoppable. I only hope that the highest administrators—the President and the Provost—will hold the line.
The latest instantiation of student wokeness, as reported by the Chicago Tribune (click on screenshot below) is a set of two demonstrations last Saturday for defunding and abolishing the campus police, a large and well trained set of men and women who help keep us safe on the South Side. I’ve met quite a few of them, and have found them professional and efficient. But then again, I’m not a person of color, for a lot of the protestors claim that the police are racist. As far as I know, while there may have been an occasional case of “profiling”, I haven’t seen evidence to buttress that strong claim. The case that’s always cited (see below) holds no water.
And of course it would be madness to abolish, much less disarm, the U of C campus cops. We are firmly ensconced in the South Side, not a particularly safe area, and there are lots of shootings there. If the campus cops were to go, I doubt that many parents would want to send their kids here, and the University knows that.
Nevertheless, the students demonstrated Saturday in front of the Provost’s house (Ka Yee Lee, a female chemist ofAsian descent), as well as of President Bob Zimmer’s house at the University, blocking traffic in both places. I was a bit upset at the demonstration at Zimmer’s, as he’s not been well: he had a brain tumor removed and is stepping down as President at the end of the upcoming academic year.
But here’s the Tribune report:
Here are the students’ demands and indictments from the Trib piece:
Those rallying demanded school leaders disclose the university’s police budget — and then cut it in half. The student group additionally wants the university to disband its police force by 2022 and to redistribute the remaining funding to support students of color and ethnic studies.
. . . Members of student groups UChicago United and Care Not Cops as well as the activist organizations Black Lives Matter Chicago and Good Kids Mad City were at the protest.
“I’m angry because the University of Chicago, you know, the one that loves buzzwords like diversity and inclusion, that puts Black kids on their postcards, is the same university that owns and operates one of the largest private police forces in the country,” Wright said.
The crowd shouted back, “That ain’t right.”
The students always cite this incident with Charles Thomas as the reason cops should be disarmed/defunded:
Speakers pointed to the 2018 shooting of fourth-year student Charles Thomas as an example of school police failing to protect the community. Thomas was in the midst of a mental health crisis in the 5300 block of South Kimbark Avenue when a university officer fired a shot and wounded his shoulder as Thomas advanced with a stake in his hand, officials have said.
Alicia Hurtado, another student organizer, said university police also racially profiled Black students and neighbors and upheld what she said was the university’s history of gentrifying Hyde Park and surrounding neighborhoods.
Thomas, a fourth-year student with mental problems, may have had a psychotic break: he went berserk and began smashing car windows with an iron bar (not a wooden “stake”). When the cops confronted him (you can see the video at my post on the incident), he brandished the bar and started running at the cops, whereupon they shot him in the shoulder, which I think was a deliberate disabling but not life-threatening shot. From the student newspaper:
Bodycam and dashboard footage released by the University shows officers confronting Thomas. As he walks toward them, an officer can be heard shouting, “Put down the weapon!” while Thomas shouts “What the fuck do you want?” and “Fuck you.” About a minute after the officers arrived on the scene, Thomas begins running rapidly toward the individual wearing the body camera, who commanded Thomas again to drop the weapon, and then fired a single shot into his shoulder.”
The cops had every right to disable Thomas, who would have bashed their brains in. Yet this is taken as an example of police “failing to protect the community” and of the University “not addressing mental health adequately”—as if one could prevent all students from having breakdowns. In fact, since the incident Thomas has had other episodes and is now in Cook County jail awaiting trial on felony charges. One can debate whether or not he belongs in jail, but that’s the call of the City of Chicago Police, not the University. What is the case is that without armed cops, Thomas might well have killed a policeman or two. Yet even now the students think the cops didn’t handle the situation appropriately. I disagree.
After Ka Lee (or someone) left the picketed house she lives in but drove off without talking to the protestors, they maturely made her a parking spot in both English and Chinese, labeling her a racist. This is shameful. I’ve never seen a scintilla of evidence that either Zimmer or Lee are racists (to me they seem quite antiracist), and the bandying about of “racist” in a situation like this is absolutely unconscionable. In fact, one could consider the Chinese writing racist since Lee speaks perfect English, and I have no idea if she speaks any dialects of Chinese.
But the good news: the University, which knows what would happen if the campus police force were to be cut in half or disappear, simply said “nope” to the demonstrators:
When asked for comment, a university spokesman referred to an Aug. 12 message from President Robert Zimmer and Provost Ka Yee Lee, who said they believe it’s necessary to examine public safety and how policing can be improved.
The message also said, “The University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) provides a vital service in helping to keep safe and support our campus and surrounding communities — a mission that the University has undertaken with the encouragement of community leaders and in accordance with Chicago City Ordinance. That role will continue.”
And so the students can keep griping, but it’s futile, as nobody running this University who’s in their right mind would bow to the protestors’ demands.
I’m reading the book below, which I found in a free book box, about the famous Leopold and Loeb murders of 1924. The murders took place in Hyde Park/Kenwood, just a few blocks from where I sit. Nathan Leopold (left on the cover below) and Richard Loeb, once University of Chicago students, 19 and 18 respectively, decided to commit the perfect crime—a murder. There was no obvious reason for it except for for their hubris, especially Leopold’s, for he was a fan of Nietzsche and thought he was exempt from ordinary moral strictures. That gave rise to the book’s title. (Click on the screenshot to go to the Amazon site, and I do recommend the book as a historical page-turner.) They planned the murder for six months, confident that they could kill someone (they planned to abduct a random child from a nearby school) and never get caught.
In May of that year, the pair abducted and brutally murdered 14 year old Bobby Franks, Leopold’s second cousin. They drove his body to Indiana and sequestered it in a railroad culvert. The pair then sent a ransom note to Franks’s family, though the child was already dead. They probably would have pulled off the crime, too, except that Leopold dropped his glasses near the body, and they had a special frame that had been sold to only three people in Chicago. The cops quickly traced the glasses and zeroed in on the pair, who promptly confessed everything in great detail. And they confessed without ever having talked to a lawyer, which of course is a serious mistake.
Leopold and Loeb’s families were wealthy, and engaged three lawyers to defend them, including Clarence Darrow, the most famous lawyer in America. (The next year he was the major defense attorney in the Scopes “Monkey Trial”.) Darrow, who also lived near me in Hyde Park, is a hero of mine: dedicated to fighting for the underdog, fiercely smart and eloquent, and an outspoken determinist and atheist.
The boys changed their plea from “not guilty” to “guilty”, therefore giving up a jury trial as well as the possibility of a verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity”. The only courtroom proceedings, then, were the lawyers’ arguments before the judge to determine what sentence the boys got (hanging, life without parole, or 14 years or more in prison).
Even Darrow admitted that the boys should be in jail until they died, but argued fiercely before the judge that the boys had no choice but to commit the crime—they were conditioned by their genes and environment to murder Bobby Franks. Darrow considered this mitigation, and was arguing for a prison sentence rather than hanging. Much of the book is devoted to the testimony of neurologists and psychologists who argued whether or not the boys were mentally ill, even though they couldn’t plead insanity. Darrow argued that both had mental disorders, and these played a major role in the crime.
In his summation and plea that the judge impose prison rather than the noose, Darrow made a famous twelve-hour argument, some of which you can read here. It was heavily deterministic, to wit:
This terrible crime was inherent in his organism, and it came from some ancestor … Is any blame attached because somebody took Nietzsche’s philosophy seriously and fashioned his life upon it? … It is hardly fair to hang a 19-year-old boy for the philosophy that was taught him at the university.
. . . Why did they kill little Bobby Franks? Not for money, not for spite; not for hate. They killed him as they might kill a spider or a fly, for the experience. They killed him because they were made that way. Because somewhere in the infinite processes that go to the making up of the boy or the man something slipped, and those unfortunate lads sit here hated, despised, outcasts, with the community shouting for their blood. Mr. Savage, with the immaturity of youth and inexperience, says that if we hang them there will be no more killing. This world has been one long slaughterhouse from the beginning until today, and killing goes on and on and on, and will forever. Why not read something, why not study something, why not think instead of blindly shouting for death?
Darrow won. To everyone’s surprise, the judge gave them both life sentences. In 1936, Loeb was murdered in prison with a razor by a fellow inmate who claimed that Loeb made homosexual advances (Leopold and Loeb had a homosexual relationship). Leopold was actually paroled in 1958, moved to Puerto Rico, and died in 1971 at the age of 66.
I’ve digressed, but the story is a fascinating one, seen at the time as the crime of the century, with worldwide interest and publicity. Thousands of onlookers tried to rush the Chicago courtroom to hear Darrow’s summation, and finally had to be beaten back by the police.
When reading the book, I discovered that the standard for “insanity” at the time, which if proven by the defense would get you a “not guilty by reason of insanity” verdict (and likely a shortish stint in an asylum) was that the defendant did not understand that his conduct was criminal. That is, he didn’t know the difference between right and wrong (in the law).
Darrow argued that although Leopold and Loeb were not “insane” by these standards (he knew that such a plea wouldn’t fly), they were nevertheless suffering from mental illness, and it is on this issue that his speech centered.
While thinking it over, I realized, as I’ve said here before, that understanding that your crime was against the law is a lousy criterion for “insanity” mitigation in these cases. That’s because, as a determinist, I think that to some extent everyone who commits a crime is “insane” in the sense that they could not help themselves. As for Illinois’s insanity defense, there may be those, including some serial killers, who know that their deeds are criminal and illegal, but are under such delusions or compulsions that they cannot help themselves, even though they know about conventional and legal morality.
Is “a knowledge of criminality”, then, to be the line that divides a gentler, more rehabilitative punishment from one that throws you into jail with other criminals, a dreadful fate if you’ve committed a capital offense? I can’t see why. Why is “mental illness that blinds you to criminality” so different from “mental illness that compels you to do murder, even though you know it’s wrong?” In fact, as a determinist, I don’t think that the criminal, at the moment of the crime (and oftentimes before, as with Leopold and Loeb) could have chosen to behave differently. Regardless of your views on punishment, if you agree with me—and I think all science-minded people must)—then you have to take determinism into account when weighing punishments.
My own view, which I’ve expounded here over and over again, is that even “hard” determinism mandates punishment for three reasons: to keep a dangerous person out of society (sequestration), to rehabilitate them if possible (so that sequestration can end), and to deter others (deterrence). But none of this justifies any punishment, like the prosecutor in the Leopold/Loeb case argued repeatedly, based on the fact that the criminal made the wrong choice. (The State’s Attorney repeatedly argued for the death penalty because Leopold and Loeb, not being insane, could have realized the criminality of their act and refrained from it.)
And although both Darrow and I are determinists, he went even further than I, arguing that prisons were superfluous. But perhaps we do agree on this: “prison” shouldn’t be an exercise in horror, but a removal from society (which is punishment itself and a deterrent), combined with whatever therapy necessary to ensure that the criminal can be returned to society. If there is no such therapy, then sequestration for life is mandated. In Norway, you’re examined for rehabilitation every five years, and if you’re judged un-rehabilitated, you stay in jail for another five years. But Norwegian prisons are far less brutal than American ones.
In other words, I don’t like the insanity defense, which offers true rehabilitation only to those deemed “insane”. My view of criminal trials is that there should be two phases:
A. Was the criminal “responsible” for the deed? That is, did he do the act, period? That can be decided by a jury.
B. What is the best way to treat a convicted criminal in light of the three rationales for punishment given above? What sequestration is an appropriate deterrent? (That is something that can be decided empirically.) Is there a form or rehabilitation that will allow the criminal to return to society and pose no more danger than that of an ordinary citizen? If there is, that therapy should be given. The sentence, then, should be imposed not by judges or juries, but by a panel of experts, legal, medical and psychiatric.
I know that this mandates an extensive reform of the American penal system, and will be costly and will involve trial and error for a long time to come. And many people who are libertarian free-willers, and who think that criminals could have decided otherwise, will oppose reforms that take determinism into account. But I can’t see any good argument for keeping the present system, which is cruel, retributive, and yields a high rate of recidivism.
Here are Leopold and Loeb’s mugshots taken when they entered prison (Leopold is at the top
In the past couple of weeks I’ve written about the views of the African-American English and Comparative Literature Professor John McWhorter (e.g., here and here) on whether the higher per capita rate of deaths of black people at the hands of police implicates racism. His view was “not necessarily,” and he posed an alternative hypothesis. His hypothesis is based simply on the fact that arrests for violent crime in America is higher for blacks than for whites; the article below, from the Boston Globe, says 3.6 times as often.
Now if presuppose that there is no racism as the null hypothesis, and then posit that there is a probability x, identical for blacks and whites, that an encounter with the police will lead to police murder of the suspect. If this is the case, and blacks encounter police more often, then one can still get a higher per capita death rate of African-Americans than of whites even with identical “x”s. So the higher per capita rate does not in itself implicate racism (n.b., McWhorter does highlight that there are data, like those from traffic stops, that do indicate racism on the part of police).
Of course these are just parallels and don’t answer the question we want to know: are black people more likely to be murdered by cops on a per capita basis, in a given set of encounters, with controls from white suspects in similar situations, with all other things roughly equal? If that’s the case, then racism is implicated. Anecdotes like those above won’t answer that question.
The same point is made by Aubrey Clayton, a mathematician and author, in this Globe article (click on the screenshot below). I think he makes the point unnecessarily complicated because he uses math and many American are innumerate, but the point is pretty much the same as mine:
Here’s Clayton’s analysis, which is further complicated because he doesn’t use equal number of incidents for whites and blacks, so you have to multiply up:
Could the reaction to high-profile killings like those of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd be a matter of confirmation bias? Could the narrative of police racism be disproved with a tweet-sized calculation?
These statistics are consistent with excessive use of deadly force against Black people, due to a mathematical phenomenon called Simpson’s Paradox.
The key point is that not all encounters with police are equally deadly. In any given kind of encounter with the police, a Black person can be likelier to be killed than a white person even if the overall rate of deaths per encounter appears lower for Black people. This would happen because Black people have many more interactions with police in non-deadly situations — a dynamic exacerbated by racism. And all those extra encounters dilute the rate.
Consider two extremes of police encounters: traffic stops and active shooter scenarios. Suppose, hypothetically, that a white suspect is killed by police in one out of 100,000 traffic stops and nine out of 10 shootings. And imagine that Black suspects are killed by police after 20 out of 1,000,000 traffic stops and in 10 out of 10 active shooter incidents. In each kind of incident, Black suspects are killed more often than white suspects. In aggregate, though, the percentage is higher for white people: 10 out of 100,010 white people are killed vs. 30 out of 1,000,010 Black people, because the white people tend to encounter the police in more grave situations.
He could have given the per capita death rate here, which is 0.01% for whites and 0.003% for blacks, despite the higher per capita death rate of black suspects in both traffic stops and shootings. This depends on the particular figures chosen, of course, but the upshot is that if encounters with the police have different death rates for different races, and those encounters have substantially different frequencies among races, then one is not justified in imputing different death rates as a statistical result of number of police encounters. In other words, higher crime rates of blacks than whites doesn’t take racism off the table as a cause of higher per capita death rates of black suspects. In fairness to McWhorter, I don’t think he makes that argument, but broaches it as a possibility that needs to be considered, and I agree.
(Note, though, that the 3.6-fold difference cited by Clayton is “arrests for violent crimes”, not traffic stops.)
Getting the right data, however, involves more than just calculating homicides in traffic stops versus active shootings. If someone stopped in traffic has a gun, or refuses to obey police orders to show their hands, those factors may differ among groups and also lead to differential death rates in very similar kinds of arrests. Getting the right “controls” here may, I’m starting to realize, may be impossible, as each encounter has its unique aspects. Clayton realizes this:
There are, of course, more than two types of police encounters in reality, and whether any of them involves deadly force will depend on many factors, such as whether the suspect is armed and making threats, how many officers are on the scene, and so on. The actual data is far more complex than in this simplified example, and there isn’t consensus over whether clear evidence of encounter-specific racial bias exists. There are just too many variables for the data to be definitive on its own.
That’s why one study, frequently cited as evidence that Black people are killed just as often (or less often) as others in similar situations, has been critiqued by other researchers who noted that “its approach is mathematically incapable of supporting its central claims.”
So give credit to Clayton as well for saying that we just don’t know the role racism plays overall in the disparity between death rates between whites and blacks in police encounters. And perhaps we can’t settle that with data (remember that the race of the police officers must be considered as well, assuming that blacks can’t be racist against blacks nor whites against whites).
And here’s Clayton’s conclusion, which seems reasonable. It’s not really a conclusion but a caveat:
The inflated number of non-lethal encounters Black people experience due to racial profiling could be what shifts the balance, perversely using one kind of discrimination, over-policing, to mask another: the greater use of deadly force against Black suspects. Simpson’s Paradox predicts these counterintuitive results whenever data is averaged over inconsistent group sizes. Here, the inconsistency lies in the types of interactions Black and white people have with police. Since these are distributed differently, the pooled numbers can get the story backwards.
. . . as they do in Clayton’s example above. The lesson for us: while in certain cases racism is clearly involved in the murder of black suspects (police remarks on the scene, differential deaths due to racial profiling in traffic stops, which is a fact, and so on), we cannot say, as so many are doing now, that the disproportionate number of deaths of blacks at the hands of police is prima facie evidence of structural racism in the police. We need controlled data to say that. We may not get that data, but at least we can do things to try to eliminate anything that smacks of racism in police departments, like getting information on traffic stops and other stops for nonviolent crimes like drugs.
Although John McWhorter, a professor of English and linguistics at Columbia University, is also a contributing editor at The Atlantic, his new essay on police violence was not published there. Rather, it’s in Quillette. Given that in length, style, and quality (it’s very well written and makes cogent points) it would be suitable for The Atlantic, I’m guessing that he didn’t even try to publish it there. That’s because it makes an argument that is politically uncongenial to The Atlantic and to much of the Left: that perhaps the claim that black men get shot by police at a rate higher than their frequency in the population is not a function of police racism, but of a greater frequency of interactions between blacks and police due to a higher crime rate in black communities.
This idea is heterodox, contrarian, and is suitable for Quillette. But no mainstream Leftist media would ever touch it, even though it might contain some truth. It’s not ideologically acceptable to say that while there are some racist cops, the difference in the relative frequency of blacks versus whites killed by cops could be due to a higher crime rate among black males and in the black community, perhaps itself a function of poverty that breeds crime. This is a valid hypothesis, but it taboo for most of us to discuss. As black men, however people like McWhorter and Glenn Lourycan say this without fear of being deemed “racists”.
Read for yourself (click on screenshot).
First, the disproportionality:
. . . .it remains true that black people are killed at a rate disproportionate to their percentage of the population. Does this decisively demonstrate racial bias or murderous animus on the part of American law enforcement? Blacks represent about 13 percent of the US population but about a quarter of victims in cop killings. Whites constitute about 62 percent of the population but only half of those killed by the police. With slight fluctuations, these trends have been broadly consistent.
But you can’t say that this itself is prima facie evidence that cops are racist, and that they murder men like George Floyd because they’re black. As McWhorter notes:
However, these figures are not necessarily evidence of police racism. According to the Washington Post‘s database, over 95 percent of the people fatally shot by police officers in 2019 were male, and no serious-minded person argues that this is evidence of systemic misandry. So what, then, accounts for the disproportionate representation of black men among those killed by cops?
McWhorter gives lots of examples of both black men and white men killed by cops in nearly identical circumstances, but the deaths of whites gets much less attention because it doesn’t play into a narrative of police racism. One is Tony Pimpa, a 32-year-old white man who suffocated in 2016 when a cop put a knee on his back for 13 minutes. Timpa’s crime was calling the cops himself for help because he feared he might be a danger to himself when he was drunk. That’s just the first example, and McWhorter gives others:
Timpa was, of course, just one case and might be dismissed as an anomaly. On the other hand, we are told that what happened to George Floyd is what happens to black people “all the time.” But because the killing of black suspects by white police officers receives more media attention and elicits more outrage, such instances leave us vulnerable to the availability heuristic—a cognitive bias that leads us to form judgements about the prevalence of phenomena based on the readiness with which we can recall examples. Had Tony Timpa been black, we would all likely know his name by now. Had George Floyd been white, his name would likely be a footnote, briefly reported in Minneapolis local news and quickly forgotten. In fact, white people are victims of police mistreatment “all the time” too. And just as the Timpa case tragically parallels the Floyd one, there are countless episodes paralleling those we hear about involving black people.
In 2014, John Crawford, black, was shot dead by police while waving a BB gun. In 2016, Daniel Shaver, white, was waving a pellet gun out of motel window and suffered the same fate. In 2015, officer Michael Slager shot Walter Scott, black, in the back and killed him as he was running to evade a traffic ticket; the following year, Andrew Thomas, white, was shot in the neck by a police officer and killed as he climbed out of the SUV he had crashed trying to evade arrest. In 2015, Sam DuBose, black, was shot dead as he tried to escape a traffic summons in his car; the same year, Michael Parker, white, was shot dead in the same way while trying escape a ticket for a moving violation. In 2016, Philando Castile, black, was shot dead in his car by a cop as he reached under his waistband for his license and registration during a traffic stop; the same year, Dylan Noble, white, was shot dead under almost identical circumstances. Also in 2016, Alton Sterling, black, was shot dead in front of a convenience store as he was being detained for unruly conduct; the same year, Brandon Stanley, white, was shot dead in a convenience store for trying to avoid a warrant.
Of course these are just parallels and don’t answer the question we want to know: are black people more likely to be murdered by cops on a per capita basis, in a given set of encounters, with controls from white suspects in similar situations, with all other things roughly equal? If that’s the case, then racism is implicated. Anecdotes like those above won’t answer that question.
But the point McWhorter is making is that there are other causes for higher per capita rates of blacks being shot by police, and we have to work out why this is the case. He mentions some alternatives (I’ve bolded the crux of his thesis).
The socioeconomic gap between blacks and whites is doubtless an important contributing factor. Police are called to poor neighborhoods more often, so poverty makes someone more likely to encounter law enforcement. From the 1970s through the 1990s, many conservatives argued that too many black people were on welfare. Liberals and progressives replied that, firstly, more white people were on welfare and that, secondly and more importantly, a greater proportion of the black population is on welfare because a greater proportion of black people are mired in poverty. In this context, former Washington Post journalist Wesley Lowery observed that black people are about two-and-a-half times more likely to be killed by cops than their representation in the population would predict. Today, the percentage of black people living in poverty is about two-and-a-half times that of whites (22 percent and nine percent, respectively, in 2018).
This disparity in poverty rates means black people are also disproportionately represented in rates of violent crime. Poverty can lead to dangerous survival choices that include lucrative criminal activity. Furthermore, outstanding warrants can cause suspects to flee law enforcement when stopped for other trivial infractions. This disparity cannot explain every fatal police shooting, including some of the most notorious examples, such as the shootings of Tamir Rice and Philando Castile. Nevertheless, the tragedy remains: Higher aggregate crime rates lead to more encounters with police officers overall which increases the likelihood that a proportion of those encounters will get out of hand. Entrenched socioeconomic disparities should concern us all, and are as intolerable as cop murders. But the idea that the police murder out of racist animus is much less clear than we are often led to suppose.
This is not to say that McWhorter thinks that no cops are racists, or that there isn’t a systematic form of racism among some police departments. He notes, for example, that blacks are disproportionately pulled over by cops for drug searches, and that must be due to race since the disparity with whites disappears after dusk when race is harder to identify. Further, blacks are more likely than whites to be handcuffed, put up against a wall, or confronted with drawn weapons. If one can indeed show that the same disparity holds for murder with the appropriate controls, then, Houston (and Atlanta and Minneapolis), we have a problem.
Here’s McWhorter’s ending:
Police officers are too often overarmed, undertrained, and low on empathy. Some police officers are surely racist and act like it. But it does not follow that white cops routinely kill black people in tense situations out of racist animus. This scenario may seem plausible—I believed it until only a few years ago. But there are times when facts are counterintuitive, and it is important to get the facts right and to analyze them with clear eyes and a clear mind (the enlightening work of criminologist and ex-cop Peter Moskos is helpful in this regard). Rhetoric has a way of straying from reality, and to get where we all want to go, it is reality that we must address.
McWhorter’s message is that we shouldn’t rush to judgment about racist killer cops. It may be too late: the claim is largely taken for granted by many. But McWhorter can get away with saying this only because he’s black, and thus can’t be called a racist (I suspect he’s already suffered that, though). That only African-American can argue this way without opprobrium is, as they, problematic. To paraphrase Dr. King, the validity of an argument should not depend on the pigmentation of the person who makes it.
There’s been some discussion about what the demand for “defunding the police” really means. To some it means cutting police budgets in ways to minimize their brutality, and the example often used is their acquisition of discarded equipment from the U.S. military, or more training in social work by cops. To others it means deeply slashing police budgets, although where the cuts are to go isn’t often specified. Often the slashed funds are to be diverted to social programs whose existence, they claim, will severely reduce crime.
And to others in the “disband the police” camp, it means, as adherent Mariame Kaba says in the New York Times op-ed below, the literal abolition of police departments. And that’s what she argues (click screenshot to read). There was a lot of criticism about what Tom Cotton said in his NYT editorial, because his call for putting the military in U.S. cities to police demonstrations was just dumb. Well, Mariame Kaba’s op-ed seems just as dumb to me, but it meets with no criticism because it’s woke.
Kaba is a writer, organizer, and activist advocating for abolition of the police and the prison-industrial complex. Here are her arguments for disbanding the police:
1.) Most cops don’t spend their time going after bad guys, but writing traffic tickets, fielding noise complaints, ad other issues. She quotes someone saying “The vast majority of police officers make one felony arrest a year. If they make two, they’re cop of the month.” This, of course, overlooks the deterrent effect of simply having a police presence. If there weren’t cops on the street, people would be running red lights and stop signs willy-nilly, and traffic accidents would increase. Likewise with crime in general, as the Montreal police strike of 1969 showed.
2.) The tendency of cops to “keep black and other marginalized people in check through threats of arrest, incarceration, violence, and death” does not create a safer society. To the extent that this is true (and tomorrow we’ll see a dissent by John McWhorter), this needs to be stopped. Police should not be treating people differently based on their race. But before we make this assertion, we need evidence that it’s the case. I suspect it is for many interactions between police and citizens, but it’s not so clear for things like cops killing people. The solution is not to abolish the police, but to train them better, and to ruthlessly weed out the bad apples. Bodycams must be turned on at all times, and so on.
3.) “Police officers break rules all the time.” Kaba mentions slashing tires, shoving people unnecessarily, arresting journalists, and so on. Again, the solution is to instill police officers with a respect for the rules, which includes the threat of firing and, if they break the law, of arrest.
Kaba’s error here is to propose complete abolition of police departments in a naive faith that people who aren’t policed will act well, eliminating the need for cops. But if you live on planet Earth, this is palpably ridiculous. Alternatives to cops, she says, are more social work, health care, better housing, and so on. And yes, these are things we must do to eliminate the inequalities created by history, and surely will help eliminate crime, a lot of which stems from poverty. But not all of it! We will still have crimes not motivated by poverty (this is assuming we can get rid of it, which is a long way off): murders, rapes, white-collar crime, terrorism, and so on. And of course many of these crimes have nothing to do with social inequality.
But here: read what Kaba wants:
But don’t get me wrong. We are not abandoning our communities to violence. We don’t want to just close police departments. We want to make them obsolete.
We should redirect the billions that now go to police departments toward providing health care, housing, education and good jobs. If we did this, there would be less need for the police in the first place.
We can build other ways of responding to harms in our society. Trained “community care workers” could do mental-health checks if someone needs help. Towns could use restorative-justice models instead of throwing people in prison.
What, no sequestration of dangerous people, sequestration that not only keeps the baddies out of society, but could also act as a deterrent and, in an ideal world (not the U.S.!) help reform people? Restorative justice, in which offenders meet with those they’ve harmed and work out resolutions, can work in some cases of nonviolent crimes, but will it work with armed robbers, rapists, or people like the Unabomber, Timothy McVeigh, or other sociopaths? What would Kaba do with a serial killer, or someone who murders a bank clerk while committing a robbery? And even with restorative justice, how do you catch the offender in the first place without police? Are they just going to come forward and confess?
And what about rape or sexual assault, crimes not clearly connected with poverty? Kaba’s solution to this seems heartless; she simply claims “but cops rape, too, and, anyway, most rapists are never caught.”:
What about rape? The current approach hasn’t ended it. In fact most rapists never see the inside of a courtroom. Two-thirds of people who experience sexual violence never report it to anyone. Those who file police reports are often dissatisfied with the response. Additionally, police officers themselves commit sexual assault alarmingly often. A study in 2010 found that sexual misconduct was the second most frequently reported form of police misconduct. In 2015, The Buffalo News found that an officer was caught for sexual misconduct every five days.
Got it? Because there’s still rape, police are useless against the crime. True, it’s hard to catch and successfully prosecute rape, but, according to the Department of Justice, “About 234,000 convicted sex offenders are under the care, custody, or control of corrections agencies on an average day.” 5% of the U.S. prison population consists of sexual offenders. What would Kaba do about this? She has no solution.
Instead, she counts on people’s goodwill to ensure that a world without cops would largely be a world without crime. I think she’s sorely mistaken. And her palaver about “restorative justice”, and the feel-good sentiments below, don’t make a good case for abolishing the police. By all means reform police departments, and by all means ensure that more money flows to the root causes of crime, including inequality, poverty, and lack of opportunity. But seriously, abolish the police? Who would you call if you were raped, or if someone is trying to break into your house? A social worker?
When people, especially white people, consider a world without the police, they envision a society as violent as our current one, merely without law enforcement — and they shudder. As a society, we have been so indoctrinated with the idea that we solve problems by policing and caging people that many cannot imagine anything other than prisons and the police as solutions to violence and harm.
People like me who want to abolish prisons and police, however, 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.
Holy Kropotkin, Batman! A vision entirely without police? Does any country in the world lack police? I don’t think so—even the most progressive ones, and even countries far more racially homogeneous than the U.S. Until I see a convincing case for why a country without police would be better than one with police, and some concrete plans for how we replace the cops but ensure people’s safety, I’m not signing on.
By the way, this is also happening at the University of Chicago (and other schools as well), where some faculty and many students want the large University of Chicago police department to be disbanded. There was in fact a demonstration for this yesterday, and you can read their “demands” on the Facebook page below (click on screenshot).
This won’t work either, especially because they explicitly say that they’re not trying to replace the University of Chicago police with the City of Chicago’s police. No, they just want no cops on or around the campus (the U of C police patrol an area much larger than the campus, and although some of them have harassed black students, by and large they’re a potent force keeping our campus safe. Without them, we’d suffer an attrition of faculty, staff, and students, who depend on campus police to help keep the area safe. Sometimes I wonder if people who make demands like this are thinking clearly. No, let me be a bit stronger: I think people who make demands like this are not thinking clearly, or perhaps are involved in some kind of performative virtue-flaunting. I will have no truck with them.
But no worries: our University is not stupid enough to get rid of its police department.