Militarization of Police

Police Reform is Essential

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

It seems hard to imagine that it is possible to watch the videos of the events that have unfolded over the past few days and not think that substantial reform of American policing is desperately needed. Of course, this is not a new development. But one hopes that greater public and political consensus can emerge out of the present situation on the need for change.

The George Floyd incident that set current events in motion was itself illuminating. The video stripped away the common uncertainties and doubts that surround particular cases of alleged police abuse. There were no decisions that had to be made in a blink of an eye. There were no conflicting witness statements or complicating context. There were no mitigating dangers faced by a lone officer. There was just a deliberate and drawn out excessive use of force that cost a man his life. It is somewhat heartening, therefore, that the vast majority of the American public reacted with alarm to what happened to George Floyd. It is an encouraging sign that police unions and police chiefs and conservative commentators were unusually vocal in denouncing the police conduct that the video showed.

The subsequent public protests could have built on that momentum, and they still can. But there is certainly a risk that the initial consensus that something had gone wrong in the Floyd case and that it exposed the need for further action could be lost in the civil unrest that has followed. Riots and uncontrolled looting understandably drive a public and political desire to do what is necessary to restore order. Those who would wish to empower the strong arm of the state can win favor when the alternative is rampant lawlessness. Protests have raised public consciousness.  The opportunistic criminal activity that has followed those protests threaten to do something else.

But if the video evidence of the past few days has shown that there are those who would like to hijack this moment for their own anarchic ends, it has also shown that the problems in America's police departments are not limited to the four officers in Minneapolis who assaulted George Floyd. Over the course of the past few days there have been far too many examples of officers violently assaulting the very citizens that they are sworn to protect, deliberating attacking members of the media, recklessly lashing out in ways that escalate rather than deescalate tensions, and unnecessarily initiating conflicts.

Having lost control of many urban spaces, law enforcement is now in a difficult position in trying to restore a sense of order. There have also been moving examples of heroic protesters attempting to reclaim the streets from those who hope to instigate chaos. The increasingly bold factions on the political extremes who have spent the past few years encouraging street violence are genuine problems that need to be addressed.

But the faults that can be found elsewhere cannot be used to conceal the need for better training, more careful management, and more accountability in police departments across the country. There are, to be sure, some bad apples, but rooting out a few bad apples will not be sufficient.

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  1. The video stripped away the common uncertainties and doubts that surround particular cases of alleged police abuse.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    I’m too lazy to look it up myself but I heard there was a long clip and the cause of death is up in the air so there is quite a bit of significant uncertainty still left in this case, or at least more than the the Court of Twitter and this posting indicates.

    1. Here you go:

      BBC News – George Floyd death homicide, official post-mortem declares
      https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-52886593

      1. The initial autopsy report was very revealing to those who have seen this all before.

        “No signs of asphyxiation” he says.

        Good lord. I mean, I know they always protect the cop. But that doesn’t pass the giggle test. Even if it hadn’t killed him, there is zero chance there would not have been significant bruising on his neck. “No signs” huh? Underlying cardiovascular disease…

        They always play that game. But with a video to refute that argument, he looked like an idiot.

        Unfortunately, since we’ve decided to make this about riots and race instead of police reform, nobody is going to notice that this is SOP in cases like this. “Nope, the 5 of us sitting on his chest for 15 minutes didn’t cause his death…. it was his obesity.”

        Luckily he came to his senses and ruled it a homicide. But what it does reveal is that the instinct to present the narrative that the cops want is very strong in the ME’s office. This should be a powerful argument for divorcing forensics from the police department and creating an independent standard of evidence that sees seeking the truth as its highest objective, not getting convictions or protecting the police.

        But we won’t get that. Instead, we’ll get a discussion about racism. Because that’ll be productive.

        1. Why not start by requiring that MEs are actual medical doctors? Crazy idea, I know…

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnoMsftQPY8

          1. For one thing, it would be a massive waste of medical training. Most of what a doctor learns is irrelevant to the daily responsibilities of a forensic coroner. And a lot of what an ME needs is outside the scope of training of a regular doctor. There is some overlap between the two disciplines but if you drew it as a Venn diagram, I’d say the overlap is less than 50%. Maybe a lot less.

            1. The range from pathologist to forensic coroner doesn’t seem too big. Medical doctors spend a good deal of their professional training focused on keeping a living body alive. Some of them move their focus to studying why a formerly living body is no longer living. This seems like an excellent use of medical training for those who fail to master the psychology aspects of medical practice. What we used to call “bedside manner”.

    2. The guy has a long string of arrests and convictions including one in 2005 for cocaine. If you bother to read the reports filed that day (which the media never did) it said they believed he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol. It would seem the toxicology will back this up to some extent.

      Now that doesn’t raise a whole host of questions about how did a knee get on George’s neck? Why? And how did the officer not notice about four minutes into it that he stopped breathing?

      But questions and investigations get in the way of stoking race riots. So let’s just not bother with those. Looting is lots more fun.

      1. The he was no angel BS is not flying anymore, chief.

        There will be a trial, Jimmy.

        But the protests are not really about this one killing, are they?

        And these are not race riots; police is not a race and white people pretty clearly on both sides.

        1. Yes they are race riots. If you can’t see that you are either an ignorant idiot and drank ALL the kool aid.

          The protests are being agitated using race as the main motivator and the biggest justifier for them.

          And as I said, there are lots of questions that need to be answered. Race riots are going to provide those answers though. But, it makes for great news coverage so why not stoke ’em, eh? Because it is really about something something something else, right?

          1. I think most Americans have lost their interest in appeasing right-wing bigots — racists, misogynists, gay-bashers, etc.

            Being on the wrong side of history is going to be expensive and painful for Republicans in this context.

            1. Just for the record, you are all for stoking race riots then AK? Because you know “right side of history” and all, right? And these riots stick it to Republicans, right?

          2. “Yes they are race riots. If you can’t see that you are either an ignorant idiot and drank ALL the kool aid.”

            Alternately, they clearly are not race riots and the fact that you insist they are is because either you are an ignorant idiot or because YOU drank all the Flavr-Aid (the actual brand used by the Jonestown cult in Guyana).

        2. A pity = There will be a trial, Jimmy.

          Just put this murdering cop in the general prison population. Karma will take care of the rest. No need to spend beaucoup bucks for a prolonged trial.

          1. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it…

            1. You mean, this murdering cop gets shanked and we are spared the time and expense of a useless trial? Well….I think I am gonna take that wish and not really regret it.

              1. I feel like I need to point out that in the course of history this has been a way of punishing those who have wronged society. We just tried to do away with it. But perhaps there is a place for the old fashion lynch mob in the American justice system….

                Just don’t be surprised when the application these solutions you are looking to deploy ends up not being the desired setting…

                1. Yes Jimmy, it is called street justice = But perhaps there is a place for the old fashion lynch mob in the American justice system….

                  No need for street justice? Well, in that case, I am perfectly fine with the death penalty and all. The lawyers can do their thing, the jury will find him guilty, and the Judge can solemnly intone sentence. Heck, whether it is the needle, Old Sparky or a shank in his side is sort of immaterial. That murderer is gonna be just as dead. I have a feeling his afterlife is going be a bit warm, too.

                  Personally, I think there is more here than meets the eye between this cop and the guy he murdered.

                  1. Yes and as I said don’t be surprised if the desired remedy does not end on the desired setting.

          2. So your takeaway from all of this mess is that all of the human rights violations in America’s prison system are somehow a good thing, because you’ve spotted someone who deserves to have their human rights violated?

            1. No Martinned, my takeaway here is that Jimmy and Sarcastr0 don’t get along.

                1. I actually like Sarcastr8. That is why I am trying to save his soul.

                2. I have my moments. heh heh

        3. Sarcastro wrote: “But the protests are not really about this one killing, are they?”

          I don’t completely disagree. Yes there are bad apples. And yes there is the blue wall of silence. And yes there is qualified immunity, and harassment, and all the rest.

          But. Last year the WaPo police killings database found that nine unarmed African Americans were killed by police. Nine. Along with 19 whites, six Hispanics, four “other,” and three “unknown.” It’s not the slaughter of blacks that the narrative describes. And it’s fallen by some 75-80% across the past five years. How much lower can it go? It remains to be seen, but there actually has been progress.

            1. Your data source only counts shootings, so George Floyd’s murder, for instance, would not be included. It also uses the cops’ definition of “unarmed,” so that someone driving a car, or carrying pretty much anything more deadly than cotton candy, is deemed “armed.”

              1. Nieporent, don’t be so quick to exclude cotton candy. In the dark, it’s the same color as a gun.

          1. Pox, the Guardian for several years tracked cop killings of unarmed people. Maybe they still do it. I checked it last about two years ago. If last year’s number was 9, it would be a tiny percentage of the number the Guardian presented annually—complete with names, and incident descriptions for each case.

            As I recall, the Guardian compiled its list by reading newspapers from all over. Apparently, police are not required to report killings by officers. It is a statistic which the federal government does not try to keep accurately. One Guardian story reported that FBI records for years reported no cop in Florida had killed anyone.

          2. This issue is not about the statistics, though. The number of blacks killed is very small, I agree.

            But this is violence by state-sanctioned actors. Against black people. Actors who don’t seem very into showing remorse or changing what they do.

            That’s a story being told for a long time. A powerful one. About America. Narratives matter.

      2. “If you bother to read the reports filed that day (which the media never did) it said they believed he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol. It would seem the toxicology will back this up to some extent.”

        When did we change the law to allow summary execution of persons believed to be under the influence of drugs and alcohol? I ask because if we haven’t, this detail is absolutely not relevant to the question of whether or not this individual should have had a fatal result from interacting with law-enforcement personnel.

  2. There is no national police force in the US. Policing is done by either city or county, through the sheriff office. Each location is run differently, but legal immunity and police unions act together to protect those very bad actors who make the news.
    Those areas of greatest interest to the protesters have had Democrat control of the city, county, and police for several generations, yet conditions still exist allowing bad actors to stay on the force, which encourages even more bad acting.

    1. Right. Whether you identify the cause of the riots as oppression, or you identify it as the police being ordered to let them riot, the answer is the same: Democrats are the guilty party, because these riots are happening in places the Democratic party has controlled for decades, and where the Democratic party is responsible for everything.

      1. According to this logic any problem of rural America is therefore a Republican problem, no? Even if the rural area is in a state controlled at the state level by Democrats?

      2. Most urban area replaced their holdover DA’s from the “law and order” 90’s and 2000’s with the progressive version from 2016 and on. If you are sitting in the middle of a city right now scared for your life, think about that time you vote for a guy who wants to let all the criminals out of jail…

        1. The Democrat areas are rioting because the officials there are a. too police friendly b. too the accused friendly!

        2. “If you are sitting in the middle of a city right now scared for your life”

          I think you’re likely overestimating the number of voters who are as cowardly as you are.

      3. Or maybe there are more important interests at stake than Blue Team Bad, Red Team Good.

      4. Brett, are you somehow getting dumber?

      5. ” Democrats are the guilty party, because these riots are happening in places the Democratic party has controlled for decades, and where the Democratic party is responsible for everything.”

        By this logic, banks are responsible for bank robbery, because 100% of bank robberies occur in banks.
        Or, if you prefer, it’s all Trump’s fault, because it’s happening in America, which he is currently in charge of.
        #MakeAmericaRiotAgain

    2. “Those areas *of greatest interest to the protesters* have had Democrat control of the city, county, and police for several generations”

      My emphasis added points to something likely important: where people feel they can push back more is not necessarily where the problem is the worst.

    3. Just a minor quibble re: “There is no national police force in the US.”

      The FBI, Treasury (including the Secret Service) and the US Marshal Service would tend to disagree. But the rest of your comments are still true if you change it to “Most policing is done by either city or county…”

      1. You have something against the state police(s)?

    4. You’d have to be an idiot to think this is a partisan issue.

  3. They don’t root out the bad apples. That’s the problem. They circle the wagons to protect the bad guys over and over.

    1. I wonder: Given that that is the plot of pretty much every other episode of Blue Bloods for 10 seasons now, why on earth is this news to so many white people?

      1. willful blindness.

        1. Martinned — “. . . why on earth is this news to so many white people?”

          Because too many cops treat black people much worse than they treat white people. White people don’t get the news first-hand, and what they don’t see they discount when they hear about it. To figure out why so many whites won’t listen to blacks is the crux of the problem.

          1. “Because too many cops treat black people much worse than they treat white people.”

            Depends on what group of white people you are talking about. The police don’t treat “poor white trash” much if any better than the blacks, but that doesn’t get much if any media coverage.

          2. So treat white people worse?

            That’s the problem with this sort of talk. Cops should to treat all non-police like they’d want other cops to treat their favorite family members. Everyone should, but cops have a specific role as government agents.

            If everyone was treated well by police, we’d still hear complaints. But it would be some lame microaggressions stuff and we could address it with micro-serious, micro-apologies.

      2. No man is as blind as he who will not see.

    2. Well, duh; Remember that old series, “Cops”? The few times I watched it, my reaction was, “If they’re this bad when they know a camera is running, just how horrible are they when they don’t think there are witnesses?

      1. Cops from the late 80’s is almost like it was portrayed in the movies. One difference from the first few seasons of COPS though that changed come the late 90’s was that there were relatively few arrests in the earlier seasons. Saw an interview with one of the camera guys from the first season. He said “plenty of street justice” was handed out and they were asked politely to turn off the camera for those sessions. My guess is as the ad hoc system of street justice became unpopular the options became use the more formal system. Hence more arrests. Not saying either is right, but that was just reality back then.

        But I don’t think the people who are now calling for street style justice completely understand the irony of their wishes…

        1. Nah….Jimmy, we know exactly what we are asking for. 🙂

          1. Well then, be my guest,saunter on over to 4Chan and see what ideas some folks have for liberals stoking these race riots….

            1. Oh, please.
              If anyone’s stoking “race riots”, its those cops that have chosen to show up in riot gear, launch the tear gas, and shoot people with non-lethal ordnance in between whacking at them with batons.

      2. “Cops” had very little to do with actual police work, because actual police work is mostly boring and things that are mostly boring make poor television. Most people get their idea of police work from television, and television is absolutely unrealistic.
        It’s a mixed effect… most American nine or ten year olds can recite a Miranda warning from watching TV programs, but many Americans believe that an arrest without a Miranda warning is an invalid arrest because that’s what television writers believe.

    3. I understand that the main cop involved had a significant history of abusing his position, including excessive force. So I agree with you that that is a significant part of the problem — no way to weed out the bad ones, until something very dramatic happens.

    4. Why do u think that is? If (say) 90% of the typical force are non-bad apples, why do they put up with all of the grief and expense and – well – bad caused by the BAs? Is it too dangerous to advocate against the union leadership-BA symbiosis? Are they actively benefiting from the BAs’ existence? Do they not care enough?

      1. Or is it that even if they are not actively bad, a majority of the typical force believe that support for one’s fellow officers trumps the elimination of bad behavior?

        1. “Or is it that even if they are not actively bad, a majority of the typical force believe that support for one’s fellow officers trumps the elimination of bad behavior?”

          They’re trained to believe that the only thing between violence and chaos in the streets is the work they do. If you don’t have the support of all the other officers, you are risking your health and life because all the bad guys are just waiting for a chance to pounce. Just look to see what happens to officers who report misconduct by other officers. They get told (explicitly) that they’ll be on their own on the streets. Calls for assistance may or may not result in any other cops actually showing up to help.

      2. The main problem is that police work is demanding in terms of instantaneous decision-making, and one bad decision can have catastrophic results. A good many officers believe that they’re just one bad day away from being considered a “bad apple”.

        Additionally, all of their training prioritizes “officer safety” over all other concerns. Sure, you could get off the guy complaining that he can’t breathe with your body weight on his neck, but if you got off him and he somehow then got his hands on a weapon, he could harm or kill your fellow officers or even you! So the training says to keep him down and fully subdued. To the training cadre, Mr. Floyd’s case is a success. Yes, admittedly it turned out poorly for him, but none of the officers on the scene were injured. “Officer safety” for the win. You also find that “officer safety” tells them to shoot the bad guy if there is any possibility that he might be dangerous. If it turns out he was never actually a threat, that doesn’t change the desirability of keeping the officers safe.

        1. The public really needs to fix that officer safety above all else mentality. It’s supposed to be “protect and serve” the community, not “protect and serve” police.

          Protecting the community seems to be in third place after officer safety and making the arrest. It needs to be tied with first. And the arrestee counts as part of the community.

      3. Because of the “us versus them” attitude. If you think you always need to fight “them”, you need effective allies more than you need virtuous allies.

  4. https://twitter.com/mattgaetz/status/1267513356853919744
    Some would say terror, being evil, should be fought with any force necessary for it’s elimination. Wouldn’t that be a pretty sight to see in America’s streets?

    1. “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible. “

  5. It is an encouraging sign that police unions and police chiefs and conservative commentators were unusually vocal in denouncing the police conduct that the video showed.

    We’ve seen genuflects like this since Kent State, and here we are again. Count me as not encouraged.

    1. Throw this guy under the bus to avoid major reforms.

  6. So the latest talking point from the Left is “Trump hid in the basement” when a mob tried to rest the White House perimeter. They do so in a way that treats the mob as being virtuous and by way of intonation suggest “too bad they were stopped…”

    Just keep in mind liberals that if you want to normalize this kind of this there are a LOT of people on the right who are going to be very happy you did. Cross the red line but beware what it will bring…

    1. “Just keep in mind liberals that if you want to normalize this kind of this there are a LOT of people on the right who are going to be very happy you did. Cross the red line but beware what it will bring…”

      They’re too busy muttering in the corner about implementing “second-amendment solutions” to all their problems.

  7. In the 60s, government documents delivered a new term into public discourse, “Police riot.” Trump wants more of that. He kicked it off himself, apparently. Yesterday, peaceable demonstrators occupied space Trump wanted to pass through. The police attacked the demonstrators with tear gas, to convenience Trump’s desire for a photo op showing him brandishing a bible in front of a church.

    1. Donald Trump ordered jack-booted mounted Cossacks to attack peaceful protesters in order to provide himself with a photo-op standing with a bible in front of a Church one block from the White House.
      ENOUGH!!!!!

      1. There is no “ENOUGH!!!!!” to get Trump fans to see the reality of their man.
        The guy can actually come out in favor of telling private businesses what they can or cannot do with their private property and his fans still want him to stand up to the “radical leftists” and their “plans to interfere with liberty”. He’s a corrupt tyrant, but he’s THEIR corrupt tyrant.

      2. Biden should be President because you have teh bad feels about a photo op? I seem to remember someone having teh bad feels about something Biden said last week.

        Maybe we should choose leaders based on something besides whether some drama queens have teh bad feels…..?

        1. Right. We should pick Trump because…

          we want to prove that America is so great a country that we believe even putting a completely incompetent in charge of running it can’t break it, and we want to make clear the concept that “anybody can be President”.

          Other than that, I got no argument in Trump’s favor.

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