Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Guess What? We Don't Need to Live in a Police State

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, the former Clinton and Obama administration power broker and macho-posturing one-percenter, is in trouble. As Monica Davey reported the other day, "Rahm Emanuel, Under Siege in Chicago, Shows Contrite Side":
Mr. Emanuel swept into the mayor’s office in 2011, helped in part by what black Chicagoans knew about him at the time: that Mr. Obama trusted him. Four years later, he faced a steeper climb in a city that had gotten to know him better. He was forced into a runoff with Jesus G. Garcia, a county commissioner who was seeking to become the city’s first Latino mayor, partly because of critics who said Mr. Emanuel was too brusque and more attentive to the wishes of downtown interests than the needs of residents from some poorer neighborhoods.
The mayor, whose clash with public schoolteachers helped set off the city’s first teachers’ strike in a quarter-century, drew special anger in 2013 for overseeing the closing of nearly 50 public schools, many of them in black and Latino neighborhoods. After winning the unexpectedly tense campaign in April, Mr. Emanuel promised that he had gotten the city’s message.
The start of Mr. Emanuel’s second term already was complicated by the city’s fiscal problems. Facing mounting pension payments and sinking credit ratings, Mr. Emanuel pushed through the largest property tax increase in the city’s modern history. Also, the possibility of another teachers’ strike looms.
The fatal shootings Saturday morning occurred on the city’s West Side, the police said, after officers answered a call about a domestic disturbance and were confronted by a “combative” man who relatives said was wielding a baseball bat. The man, Quintonio LeGrier, was shot dead, as was a bystander, Bettie Jones, a first-floor tenant who the police said was hit accidentally by officers’ shots. Mr. LeGrier’s relatives said that he had mental health problems and that the deaths raised questions about the Police Department’s handling of mental illness and about its use of weapons near bystanders.
Mr. Emanuel’s spokesman said the mayor was monitoring the events closely and had been in communication since early Saturday with the Police Department and his office. Mr. Emanuel spoke to the family of Ms. Jones on Sunday to offer his condolences, his spokesman said.
“Anytime an officer uses force, the public deserves answers, and regardless of the circumstances we all grieve anytime there is a loss of life in our city,” the statement from Mr. Emanuel said. “With that in mind, I have been informed that the Independent Police Review Authority has opened investigations into each shooting, and that all evidence will be shared with the Cook County state’s attorney’s office for additional review in the days ahead.”
But the focus of criticism against Mr. Emanuel has been the McDonald case. For months after Mr. McDonald, 17, was killed on the Southwest Side on Oct. 20, 2014, the city kept a police dashboard camera video of the shooting private. It showed Officer Jason Van Dyke firing at Mr. McDonald even after he lay crumpled on the ground. Mr. McDonald had been carrying a knife, but he appeared to veer slightly away from officers when Officer Van Dyke fired the fatal shots. 
Mr. Emanuel has said the city’s longstanding policy is to keep videos private until prosecutors’ investigations are complete. In Mr. McDonald’s case, the city announced in April that it would pay his family $5 million even before a lawsuit was filed. Yet the city refused to make public the video until a judge ordered it last month; only hours before the release, the Cook County state’s attorney, Anita Alvarez, charged Officer Van Dyke with murder in the shooting. 
Since then, Mr. Emanuel has fired his police superintendent, Garry F. McCarthy; replaced the head of an agency that investigates the most egregious complaints against officers; appointed a task force to recommend changes to the department; and met this month with Justice Department officials as they started a broad review of the Police Department. Mr. Emanuel, who says he did not view the McDonald video until the rest of Chicago saw it in November, made an emotional speech before the City Council apologizing for the death and pledging reforms. 
Yet demonstrators here complain that Mr. Emanuel should have released the video months ago. They question whether his stressful re-election bid played a role in the city’s quick settlement with the McDonald family and its efforts to keep the video private — claims Mr. Emanuel’s office vehemently denies. Regardless, the demonstrators say Mr. Emanuel should have demanded changes in the Police Department, with its well-documented history of mistreating black residents, long ago.
The problem for big city mayors, as New York City's Bill de Blasio discovered last year around this time, is any criticism of the "thin blue line" can lead to an open revolt. Then metropolitan citizens of the indispensable nation are confronted with the ugly realization that they actually belong to a banana republic. To question the sovereign infallibility of the police is to invite retribution. I saw it up close during the Seattle WTO when my neighborhood, home to a community college with a radical activist student body, was perceived to be a hotbed of protest and anti-police sentiment. For a week or two following the ministerial it felt like we were under quarantine.

Last week Naked Capitalism posted Matthew Haywood's helpful outline of the post-Ferguson state of affairs for American policing, "The Logic of the Police State in America," the gist of which is that police forces across the country, feeling the pressure of Black Lives Matter, are attempting to protect their "above-the-law" privileges.

The problem for the popo is in their main argument, which Haywood summarizes as follows:
If you’ve been listening to various police agencies and their supporters, then you know what the future holds: anarchy is coming — and it’s all the fault of activists.
In May, a Wall Street Journal op-ed warned of a “new nationwide crime wave” thanks to “intense agitation against American police departments” over the previous year. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie went further. Talking recently with the host of CBS’s Face the Nation, the Republican presidential hopeful asserted that the Black Lives Matter movement wasn’t about reform but something far more sinister. “They’ve been chanting in the streets for the murder of police officers,” he insisted. Even the nation’s top cop, FBI Director James Comey, weighed in at the University of Chicago Law School, speaking of “a chill wind that has blown through American law enforcement over the last year.”
According to these figures and others like them, lawlessness has been sweeping the nation as the so-called Ferguson effect spreads. Criminals have been emboldened as police officers are forced to think twice about doing their jobs for fear of the infamy of starring in the next viral video. The police have supposedly become the targets of assassins intoxicated by “anti-cop rhetoric,” just as departments are being stripped of the kind of high-powered equipment they need to protect officers and communities.  Even their funding streams have, it’s claimed, come under attack as anti-cop bias has infected Washington, D.C.  Senator Ted Cruz caught the spirit of that critique by convening a Senate subcommittee hearing to which he gave the title, “The War on Police: How the Federal Government Undermines State and Local Law Enforcement.” According to him, the federal government, including the president and attorney general, has been vilifying the police, who are now being treated as if they, not the criminals, were the enemy.
Haywood goes on to describe how violent attacks against the police are at all-time low. What is more problematic for the police state is the case of New York City, where the end of aggressive law enforcement, in the form of stop and frisk, led not to a spike in crime, as many pundits and cops predicted, but to a significant drop in crime. This from yesterday's unsigned editorial: "New York City Policing, by the Numbers":
The warnings began even before Bill de Blasio was sworn in as New York City’s mayor in January 2014. A safe New York depended on the aggressive policing tactics that began in the 1990s and flourished under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his police commissioner, Ray Kelly. Without those tactics, the doomsayers said, the city would be swamped by a 1970s-style crime wave. 
After a federal judge ruled in 2013 that the Police Department’s “stop and frisk” policy was so sweeping that it violated the Constitution, Mr. Kelly was furious. “Violent crime will go up,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “No question about it.” 
That prediction has, of course, been proved wrong, as crime in the city remains at historic lows under Mayor de Blasio and his police commissioner, William Bratton, even as arrests, stops and summonses continue to plummet after a peak in 2011. 
An illuminating new report released by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice provides the most comprehensive analysis yet of the numbers behind the rise and fall of police “enforcement actions” over the past decade. Between 2011 and 2014, the report found, the total number of these actions — defined as arrests for felonies and misdemeanors, criminal summonses, and stop-and-frisks — fell by more than 800,000, or 31 percent. 
The biggest drop was in street stops, which had skyrocketed to more than 685,000 in 2011 from 160,000 in 2003. Some officers admitted they felt constant pressure to meet arbitrary productivity quotas, but the effect was to disproportionately target young African-American men, most of whom were doing nothing wrong. By 2014, the number of stops was under 46,000 — a 93 percent decline in only three years, with stops going down most sharply in those poorer and minority neighborhoods where they grew the fastest over the previous decade.
Guess what? We don't need to live in a police state.

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