“To stop is unthinkable now; To give up is to break the old vow.”
How do you change something so irrevocably broken like American policing?
This week’s soundtrack: Konvent - “Fatamorgana”
I’m not an expert and I have little in the way of solutions, but the murder of Tyre Nichols at the hands of the Memphis police is another reminder of the dire situation in violent American policing. I’ve been struggling all week as to how to write about this in a way that isn’t a rehash of what you’ve already read/heard/seen. In a way, this is just a notes vomit of the things I’ve been thinking about and, if I’m honest, I know I’m not the best person to talk about this. That said, here are some vomited thoughts:
First and foremost: The response from everyone in the highest rungs of power was, is and probably always will be completely toothless. Yes, this is a long-term problem that will take at least a generation to fix, but the lack of urgency and clear mindedness from public officials suggests that no one actually wants to do anything about it.
At what point does anyone – the president, every fucking big city mayor, governors, cops themselves, any thin blue line types, whoever – understand that there is no ~training~ that’s gonna make cops realize that choking, shooting and/or beating the hell out of people is bad? Every cop on every police force knows this. We’re not talking about constitutional arguments here; we’re talking about kindergarten shit. If you’re a police officer and you think it’s OK to beat up or kill someone, no amount of training will fix that.
Second: Building off that, the police forces in the U.S. act with impunity and have created a self-sustaining culture of consequence-free violence only rivaled by the U.S. military (see: Abu Ghraib, Mỹ Lai, etc.).
“But, Ross,” you may ask. “What is it about policing that self-selects violent individuals?”
Qualified immunity. Public sector job security. A set of labor unions that fight for their members like no other. A popular culture of deification of troubled “bad boys.” A broad-based culture of glorification of gun violence and toxic masculinity. The elevated self-importance of cops themselves. And so on.
“But Ross, it’s only a few people who are doing this,” you might say. “Thousands of cops have interactions that don’t end in violence.”
Sure, but the “only a few bad individuals” – I don’t use the “bad apples” construct because the actual idiom proves the point that a single bad apple can spoil a whole bag of apples Consequently, this has happened to me with one of those bags of Galas from Safeway and it is fucking dispiriting to see a metaphor come to life – counterargument is fair insomuch as other jobs can have bad a percentage of fuckups. I had a plumber come to my place a few months back to fix a stopped up bathroom sink, but he only fixed it temporarily; within a few days, it was backed up again. He had to come back and fix it for real, making his failure rate 50%. That’s not great, but it’s a plumber and a bathroom sink: No one died or had their rights violated. The better analog is doctors or airline pilots: The failure percentage needs to be as close to zero as possible. The police failure percentage… is not that.
I’ve got a million other notes – lots of places keep empowering these “anti-crime” units (despite evidence showing they are dangerous), cries for a change in culture, the white patriarchal nationalism of it all, America’s reliance on men in uniform with guns to solve every fucking problem because the state has been dismantled, etc. – but I want to reiterate something I’ve said on various online places.
If we believe, culturally, that police are a necessity, we need to agree on what cops’ jobs are. The full breadth of the justice system is the place to judge people accused of crimes, it’s not the job of the dudes in blue. The job of the police is to get the accused to the justice system (fair trial and such) and investigate crimes that have already happened or are in progress (for the purpose of a fair trial). Otherwise, they are custodians. Well-armed custodians.
(Yes, I’m quite aware of the place of the justice system in the white patriarchal nationalist system, but I want to tackle just the first-exposure aspect of this: the custodians that we call the police. The whole system needs a revamp, but the immediate – and most violent – issue is policing.)
The broad-based notion that cops are the thin blue line keeping society from descending into violent chaos is nothing but fear-based gibberish. Unfortunately, fear works. “Defunding the police” is a phrase that’s been weaponized by those fear-stirrers, but the actual reality of it is very extensive and has seen results in bringing other resources into play.
David Roth wrote about how this culture of fear permeates our politics surrounding “crime”, via the lack of solutions in an advertising campaign that ran during the MLB playoffs.
“The obvious goal of all this is to get and keep people ready to do or think very strongly about how cool it would be to do some righteous violence against every other person and thing that exists.”
Because, ultimately, where is the solution in any of this? The perpetual motion of police violence just brings more cops, more weapons and more violence. How is that solving anything other than stoking fear and giving more power to the police?
At some point, this is the world we’ve created and to change it, there needs to be more serious conversations. Wishing for training, stoking more fear and misrepresenting the role of policing just keeps the cycle going. What good does that do?
One final final thought: This is hardly a new problem. I don’t say that to say – as I have before – that this has been happening since I was a kid and Rodney King was beaten to within an inch of his life by the LAPD. Instead, I say that to say that this is a century-old problem, at least. The Atlantic published “The Lawless Arm of the Law” by Ernest Jerome Hopkins in 1931.
In it, Hopkins wrote:
“Kidnapping, and assault and battery, are forbidden to the police by statute, no less than to the ordinary citizen. But just as policemen may speak with impunity against the Constitution, so they may safely violate the statute law.”
As true then as it is now.
My dog and I are in the middle of a conflict right now because she’s learned how easily manipulated I am by her making annoying noises. She cries or whines when she wants anything and those noises seem perfectly calibrated to stress me out. It’s not an optimal situation.
Click to listen to her whine via a two-year-old IG video.
She’s still cute as hell, though, and I love her very much.
Our second “Adam and Ross Discuss Stuff” (working title) episode came out, this time on CDC and the its failures during the pandemic. We’re still finding our footing in this format, but I think it’s coming along.
In another excellent episode, I talked last week with Doug Criscitello about the debt ceiling. Doug knows his macro economics –he used to work at OMB and CBO – and explained to me why this mess is happening as it is now and, more importantly, what it’ll mean later. It’s not good!
A Recommendation: Dry January
I quite enjoy alcohol, so I’m hesitant to dive too deep into my relationship with it. Americans, me included, have a tortured relationship with alcohol and the specter of alcoholism itself hovers over much of it. I’m not a psychologist or an addiction specialist, but in checking with some of the wider definitions (“do you drink to have a good time?” is one question I saw and “do you sometimes have two or more drinks in a night” is another), who knows? Maybe I am an alcoholic.
(An aside: Big data is relentless when it comes to owning me via Instagram ads. For ages, all my IG ads were baseball- and dog-related, along with some of the general “man” stuff [beard maintenance, boner pills, hair loss stuff, etc.] Then last year, I got a ton of ads on IG for addiction studies, thus making me self-conscious as to how much I was Googling drink recipes and looking at the hours for one of the local liquor stores. I now get a lot of ads for the fat guy t-shirts and “the ONLY cushion that brings comfort to a full-size bottom 🍑”
Because my views of addiction are somewhat defined by the ways late 1990s Loveline shows defined it, I figured it would be a good idea to try and stay away from alcohol for a while. As such, the Dry January thing was a pretty easy thing for me to take up and I can report that it has not been particularly difficult. I don’t really miss alcohol – for context, I have a glass of wine with dinner a few times a week, I have wine for shabbat (replaced by grape juice this month) on Friday nights and I sometimes have an after-dinner drink (Arak or sambuca, usually) while I relax at night – nor do I miss the ritual of it all. It’s just a thing I did that I’m not doing now and it does reinforce, generally, that whatever addiction I do or don’t have is not strong enough for me to worry about it.
I’ll say this: My sleep schedule has not been better because of this whole endeavor. Alcohol, famously, fucks with your sleep. I assumed that no alcohol would mean that I’d start sleeping better and I absolutely have not slept better this month. Some of that is Lulu being a pain in the butt, but more of it is just my screwy brain not letting me sleep through the night.
That said, I recommend Dry January if you’re wondering if you are a problem drinker. It can bring some clarity, if nothing else, and it’s cheaper than drinking.