A Rare Moment of Almost Agreement

I’m pleasantly surprised that so much of the Right appears to agree that the police in Ferguson were out of control. There was a time that anything cops did in a black neighborhood got an automatic seal of approval, so that’s something.

There also appears to be a broad consensus that it’s a really bad idea to give military surplus equipment to police departments. I learned from TPM that this practice began in 1992, so there’s no point blaming the current crew in Washington about it. But we can demand that it end.

Even though there is broad agreement that militarizing cops is a bad idea, there is still a lot of denial about the root causes of police violence in Ferguson and elsewhere. Rand Paul primarily blames Big Government, for example. (To his credit, Paul does make one mention of “racial disparities in our criminal justice system.”) But it wasn’t Big Government that gave some Ferguson cop the notion that it’s okay to shoot and kill an unarmed black man who, according to eyewitnesses, had raised his hands.

And do remember that the bullets that killed Michael Brown were fired from a standard police revolver, not some military assault weapon. Steve M reminds us of recent and notorious incidents of police brutality in which cops used just their hands.

I’m not going to say it’s all cops or all police departments. But there does seem to be a widespread pattern of racism and, shall we say, poor impulse control in many of our nation’s police departments. And that will still be true if we take away their military equipment.

According to some on the Right, however, we are not to speak of race or engage in dialog about problems based in racism at all, because doing that is just shameless pandering and politicizing. Power Tool Paul Mirengoff says,

[Rand] Paul uses the occasion of the Brown tragedy to say that “given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.” But Paul makes no attempt to show that the disparities in question — presumably pertaining to conviction rates — are the result of “government targeting,” as opposed to disparities in the commission of crimes. Blacks may feel targeted, but U.S. Senators shouldn’t lend credibility to that feeling by disparaging our justice system unless they provide meaningful analysis to back it up.

The fact that we’ve seen several recent incidents of white police harming and killing black men who were not committing crimes seems to have escaped Mirengoff’s notice. Or else he think the actions of “bad cops” don’t count as “government targeting.” But police are agents of government, and in too many police department there’s a pattern of police engaging in racial “targeting” behavior and not being held accountable for it. So in my book, government ultimately is responsible.

And that means we are ultimately responsible.

Yesterday Governor Nixon finally acted and turned command of the police over to the head of the state highway patrol, Captain Ronald Johnson, a native of Ferguson. By all accounts Ferguson is now less militarized and more peaceful.

20 thoughts on “A Rare Moment of Almost Agreement

  1. Well, before we start to celebrate what seems like Pax Bipartisanus on this issue, give it some time.

    Between the MIC, and police boys and girls getting used to really cool hand-me-down military toys, I’m not sure how long our conservative Reich-Wingers will be able to hold the line on this one.

    Their base doesn’t care about this militarization of police, because I think many of them don’t think it’ll never ever be used on people in that base – only on “THEM!”
    And they like the idea of a force of “Robocop” storm troopers keeping “THEM” contained, and threatened.

    So, let’s see what happens.

  2. I think the sight of civilian police in military uniforms, lobbing gas grenades and “flashbangs” at protestors, scared the bejeepers out of every sensible American. And for those of us who can remember, say, 1970, it felt like an old recurring nightmare.

    1992 doesn’t seem like a watershed year for anything that would require gearing up Your Local P.D. I suppose back then such foolishness would have been a “war on drugs” (terrible) response. However, if The Wire has taught us anything, it’s that there’s been no “war on drugs” since Sept. 11, 2001. The stuff we saw in Ferguson, Mo. this week was pure Homeland Security whackjobbery. Dig deep enough, and you’ll find Halliburton making a profit somewhere.

    Anyway, bravo Gov. Nixon for finally putting a sane person in charge. Now I want to see the Justice Dept. come down on the Ferguson P.D. like a ton of bricks.

  3. Gov. Nixon is a Democrat, seemingly the only visible one in Missouri. Sometimes the guy does the right thing. I just hope it helps.

  4. Dig deep enough, and you’ll find Halliburton making a profit somewhere.

    Don’t forget that Rudy and Bernie cornered the stun gun market. 🙂

  5. Three points:

    1) The racism of many police officers, particularly conservative whites, is rampant. There’s no getting around that. But I don’t know the percentage that are racist and how much such and such a percentage would abuse their office. I don’t even know what percentage would even realize they were abusing their office. And it may vary from department to department.

    2) The key is leadership and community policing. We saw good evidence of that on Thursday night. Community policing works but you need professionals committed to it.

    3) For various reasons, too many police departments in recent years have been moving away from community policing and in some cases towards a centurion attitude. I don’t know exactly why but large parts of our country have been moving further rightwards in recent years, largely because of news outlets like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and the new political style among right wing conservatives of manufactured anger (and, well, the cowardly policies of the main networks that emphasizes stenography rather than reporting). Police tend to be authoritarian by temperament and take conservative news outlets way too seriously.

  6. One thing I never understood was why the police are wearing camouflaged fatigues? I could understand it if cities were in the jungle, but I remember learning in science class that a city and a jungle cannot occupy the same space at the same time..
    Maybe if the police changed the colors in their camouflaged color pattern to black, charcoal, and shades of grey it might make more sense for at least an asphalt jungle.

  7. Community policing works but you need professionals committed to it.

    Community policing requires restraint, intelligence and good judgment. Too many cops are dull-witted thugs who are just itching to beat people down. And there are plenty of authoritarian teabagger types who are all too happy to see this happen to Those People, smugly knowing police violence will never be directed at their group.

  8. I don’t think cops should be armed at all, except under extraordinary circumstances. I’d go with only the military being armed, like, you know, it says in that 2nd Amendment.

  9. Swami, the cops in camo are a psy-op thingie for the people they are terrorizing, for the cops, its like a 6 year old putting on his superman underoos.

  10. I think I’ve mentioned at this site that I have cops help me with traffic control. Sometimes they are really cool guys, sometimes they send me a world class asshole. Luck of the draw.

  11. I saw that Ferguson Police Chief this afternoon on the TeeVee, what a tool! I predict he’ll be over at FAUX with Mark Furman after he is forced to resign later this weekend.

  12. I’m a bit less leery of the military items per se. I’m very, very leery of the attitudes.

    I mean, part of it is, “we have this nifty *toy*, let’s *use* it.” (This is probably not thought consciously, but subconsciously? Tell me there’s not an underlying thrill for a bunch of cops to be bringing out some big, bad tools, and I’ll say 90% of them are lying. (The other 10% are the kind of cops who people complain about as having “no (f-ing) sense of humor!”)

    But I think part of it is the whole mindset. I remember some cop shows in the 70s, where they’d have cops say “Oh, hell, I draw my gun twice a year. At the firing range when I re-qualify.” They take pride in realizing that a scared punk ain’t gonna use that switchblade, he just needs a chance to drop it. They were willing to use force, but the *good* cops didn’t need to, unless there weren’t any other good options.

    And times have changed. I remember hearing a nation wide story of a cop shot at a flippin’ *traffic* stop. And it was a *big* deal. And times kept changing, and okay, some changes may have needed to happen, but somewhere along the line, there’s this balance point.

    It’s like: if a cop was told by a fortune teller that there was a very great possibility of his either shooting early, and killing an unarmed person, or shooting too late, and being killed… I don’t want either to happen.

    But the men and women I want with a badge are the people who take that message and take pop-up training, where you have to avoid hitting a target tagged as “innocent” – identify “whoops, that’s a camera, not a gun” before firing.

    Not the ones who practice quick response, “ain’t no criminal gonna gun *me* down.”

    (A pro-gun guy can now point out that such pop-up training might be useless in a real, live fire situation. Who cares? The point is one of *attitude*. If you’ve sworn to protect the people, that includes protecting them from your own use of force (that turns out to have been needless). )

  13. Swami,
    Thanks for the link.
    Looking at that article, I ask, “Where are the feckin’ editors?”
    “…just deserts…?”
    Now, people are so poor that they’re eating sand as a ‘dessert?’
    “…just deserts…”
    I mean, come on!

  14. Gulag, errors like that in my local paper are very common. The local talk radio station I listen to is mostly staffed by young people ; the errors they make in pronunciation are funny and sad at the same time. Their knowledge of people, places, and things of generations past is disturbing.
    Gee, sounds like I’m a certified geezer…….

  15. Me too, erinyes.
    Me too.

    And, I’m no one to criticize anyone, really, with my well-known problem with these damned “‘s!”
    Or not…


    Driving While Black in Ferguson

    By Victoria Bekiempis

    Filed: 8/14/14 at 9:10 PM | Updated: 8/15/14 at 1:08 PM

    Filed Under: U.S., Police, Police Shooting, Missouri, Michael Brown, Ferguson

    “You go to all of these damn courts, and there’s no white people,” one defendant, slated to appear before a municipal court in St. Louis County, recently said.

    Another complained that North St. Louis County municipalities such as Ferguson, which attracted national attention after a police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American high school graduate, on Saturday, prompting days of protests, profile minorities when it comes to traffic tickets.

    “In Dellwood, Ferguson, basically, in North County, if you’re black, they’re going to stop you,” the resident said according to a new report on policing in the area.

    For residents of Ferguson, Missouri, and surrounding municipalities in St. Louis County, it’s not surprising that racial tensions have boiled over.

    In a town of 21,000, two-thirds of the residents are African-American, and many reports have highlighted a fraught relationship between Ferguson’s residents and its mostly white police force. Only three people in the 53-member police department are black, according to the Washington Post, and the Ferguson Police Department disproportionately stops and arrests black drivers.

    “Everybody in this city has been a victim of DWB, [driving while black],” Anthony Ross, 26, explained to the Post.

    A paper published Thursday by the ArchCity Defenders, a legal aid organization representing indigent defendants in the St. Louis metropolitan area, offers another insight into why residents’ resentment of law enforcement officials run so deep: They don’t just feel that they are getting stopped because of the color of their skin. Rather, they feel like they are getting stopped because of the color of their skin so that the city of Ferguson can profit off of them—for traffic tickets.

    ArchCity Defenders, which has tracked ticketing of St. Louis area residents for five years and focused primarily on vehicle violations, started a court-watching program because so many of its clients complained of traffic prosecution wreaking havoc on their lives. Defendants routinely alleged that a racially-motivated traffic stop led to their being jailed due to inability to pay traffic fines, which in turn prompted people to “los[e] jobs and housing as a result of the incarceration.” In other words, defendants alleged that racial profiling, for traffic tickets, propelled them deeper and deeper into the cycle of poverty. The ArchCity report does not allege racial profiling; however, it is clear that many of the people stopped for traffic violations feel that they were targeted for their race.

    Of the 60 courts St. Louise County municipal ourts observed by ArchCity, 30 were accused of engaging in illegal or harmful practices. “Three courts, Bel-Ridge, Florissant, and Ferguson, were chronic offenders and serve as prime examples of how these practices violate fundamental rights of the poor, undermine public confidence in the judicial system, and create inefficiencies,” according to the report.

    The paper points out that in Ferguson, 86 percent of vehicle stops “involved a black motorist, although blacks make up just 67 percent of the population.” In addition, blacks stopped in Ferguson “are almost twice as likely as whites to be searched (12.1 percent versus 6.9 percent) and twice as likely to be arrested (10.4 percent versus 5.2 percent)”. Searches of blacks only results in discovery of contraband 21.7 percent of the time, whereas contraband is recovered from their less frequently stopped white counterparts 34.0 percent of the time.

    Municipalities’ seeming willigness to profit off of minorities has undoubtedly fueled the flames ignited by Brown’s shooting. One resident quoted in the study said, “It’s ridiculous how these small municipalities make their lifeline off the blood of the people who drive through the area.”

    Twenty-two percent of Ferguson residents live below the poverty line, and 21.7 percent receive food stamps. The unemployment rate in the town is 14.3 percent, or more than double that of St. Louis County and Missouri as a whole.

    “Despite Ferguson’s relative poverty, fines and court fees comprise the second largest source of revenue for the city, a total of 2,635,400,” according to the ArchCity Defenders report. And in 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court issued 24,532 arrest warrants and 12,018 cases, “or about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household.”

    Exacerbating the problem, the report says, are “a number of operational procedures that make it even more difficult for defendants to navigate the courts.” A Ferguson court employee reported, for example, that “the bench routinely starts hearing cases 30 minutes before the appointed time and then locks the doors to the building as early as five minutes after the official hour, a practice that could easily lead a defendent arriving even slightly late to receive an additional charge for failure to appear.”

    Thomas Harvey, co-founder and executive director of ArchCity Defenders and one of the paper’s authors, says that residents’ perception that the system is unfairly stacked against them gives important context for the depth of the present outrage.

    “There are 90 municipalities in St. Louis County that range from 12 people to 50,000 people. Eighty-six of them have their own courts. They have their own police forces,” he explains. “What ends up being the product of all that is just a low-level sense of harassment on a daily basis. The clients that we represent feel that. It’s palpable for them.”

    “They resent it because it’s not about public safety,” he adds. “These aren’t violent criminals. These are poor people.”



  17. Just saw another presser by the gov. he is a major tool as well? What is the deal down there? They have instituted a curfew that seems like an invitation for more police-demonstrator confrontation? It’s a bad situation down there, the police and authorities seem completely incompetent and many of the demonstrators are there only to engage in tom-foolery. If they don’t arrest the kid-killing cop soon this thing has the potential to get real ugly and more widespread? They need to arrest that cop immediately and take the entire investigation away from the folks that are in charge right now.

  18. I won’t drive in California or buy stuff there any more. With the latest round of austerity, more and more of the policing agencies there are self-funding at the expense of out-of-state drivers (I’m sure it is rampant pretty much everywhere).

    Obviously, blacks are more susceptible to this type of behavior, but in many rural areas that have few black residents or visitors, the coffers are being filled at the expense even of whites.

    The biggest mistake California ever made was giving the CHP radar guns.

  19. I think that rampant excessive police force is in part because there’s a crime shortage.

    Crime rates have been falling since the early 90s, despite wars, recessions, natural disasters and the W administration. (I credit the banning of leaded gasoline 20 years earlier.) But though crime has been falling for 20 years, still we have a bloated police state, still defending us from crime rates that no longer exist.

    There’s no longer enough crime to justify the crime-control. Thus, a crime shortage. Nonetheless the war-on-crime continues, despite the crime shortage. The warrior-cops just make do with inferior targets, like the innocent, or the compliant, or protesters, or journalists, or the family dog, or… anyone.

    Similarly, there’s a terrorism shortage, and a war shortage.

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