Categories
society

The Scientific Approach to Reducing Police Violence

I don’t know what combination of changes will reduce police violence. But I do know:

  1. It will take some combination of changes. One change will not do it.
  2. There is a way to find that combination of changes.
  3. Changes to policing will make the job of policing itself safer.

I can come up with plausible ideas, like an alternative to jury duty (those who are called in for it would skip their next jury call) where members of the public are tasked with hanging out with cops from their community (in a group of up to six (yeah, I know it won’t work at the moment due to the pandemic)) for an hour or two and engaging in some activity where they talk. Bowling or a shared meal, whatever.

But all the plausible ideas that might build connective tissue and bridge the gaps that have contributed to the problem, along with the other ideas, may sound fine, but will they actually work?

Have the federal government pass a law. The law will condition existing funds or new funds to communities that try some change that is intended to reduce policing problems. Think of it like opportunity zones, but without all the greedheads twisting it to only enrich themselves.

Anyway, if you have 500 municipalities with significant data available across the country, and they all try some changes, some of those will yield what at least smells like progress. And then those changes can be adopted in other localities, and sooner or later we’ll find some things that help.

It’s the scientific method, applied to a problem in the real world!

Now the changes can’t be anything. Having all police wear green shoelaces isn’t (or would it?) going to make the nut. There would need to be some reasonable review process for developing and vetting the ideas. Possibly—depending on the change—an ethics review (like the above idea of conscripting civvies to hang out with cops—is that a kosher use of their time?).

But one plausible prediction is that a good portion of places that do make some change under such a program would see positive results. That is to say, sometimes doing something visible and meaningful is enough to change the attitudes that have long-persisted and wrought harm. Not always, but sometimes. Even if it’s just wearing green shoelaces.

Set that aside, as it could be temporary. But even accounting for a kind of social placebo effect, some places will make changes that have a bigger effect than that. And we can replicate. And we can mutate the changes to see if we can get a stronger effect.

Or we can wait for the next act of violence and throw up our hands again and feel fucking impotent and dread hearing from the right-wingers who want to blame anything but the broken fucking record of the system that is incapable of change.

Other cities haven’t waited. There were diamonds in the rough of these protests, cities that have better records currently. The rest should emulate the ones who get it right.


Given the plague is still around, local governments should be coordinating with protesters more closely to both avoid these horrid incidents of violence by police against peaceful protests and to minimize the opportunity of transmission of a deadly disease.


The election is in 21-ish weeks. You should register to vote! You should plan to vote! You should close your eyes and visualize yourself voting! You should go to the mirror and look yourself in the eyes and say, “I’m gonna vote.”

Categories
unAmerican

What to Do If Your Leader is Racist?

There are a few different elements to the recent racist display by the president. For one, it was an offense against Massachusetts’ 7th district, Michigan’s 12th district, Minnesota’s 5th district, and New York’s 14th district. The people there chose these representatives, whom the president is free to have political disagreements with, but he’s injuring the basic principles of the nation when he disrespects their constituents.

More importantly, the president is supposed to serve those constituents as much as anyone, so his disrespect is doubled (once for the direct offense and again for the failure as one of their leaders). While some representatives sometimes have reason to be condemned by colleagues or the president, those condemnations must always be careful not to diminish the rightfully owed respect to the constituents.

There are a few noble Republicans who have stood up in objection to the president’s racism. Good on them. Whatever your politics, it’s self-evident that racism has no place.

The racism of the president and the support of those Republicans who backed his statements including Lindsay Graham and Kellyanne Conway are unacceptable. All people have the right to criticize the government. They have the right to prefer different policies, even communism if they choose. While the racists have every right to be racist, racism is stupid and they are stupid for being racist.

The third set of Republicans bothered to condemn the racism but stopped short of calling it racist or pulled out the same both-sides-bullshit that Trump has used before. This is also wrong. It is wrong not to recognize it as racist, because it disconnects the act from the series of acts that constitute the racist legacies of the nation and the world. It is wrong to engage in both-sides because it pretends that the president’s offense was at all justifiable. There is no excuse for his stooping.

The final group of Republicans have stayed silent. This is the group I find most curious. The title of this piece poses a question that I mean. The prospect of confronting a racist president of their own party is not what anyone imagines going into politics. It is surely a difficult position to be in.

As we have seen with the likes of Paul Ryan, once out of office the attitudes of Republicans tend to shift in curious ways. But while in office, for a variety of reasons, they tend to be comfort creatures, closely following what they believe is the politically correct path. I honestly believe most Republicans would jump at the chance to change course, if they knew how and if it weren’t particularly risky to their careers.

Doing the right thing is often risky. It means, for example, that you might end up with a racist president when you share the choice of government with your fellow man and they completely fuck it up. But there is justice in error, that sooner or later the mistakes will cause sufficient motivation to correct course. Which doesn’t answer the question. What do you do?

Quit the party? Go the way of Justin Amash (who also condemned the president’s racism, but had earlier quit over the president’s well-documented instances of obstruction of justice in the Mueller Report)? He’s lonesome, for now. Maybe he’ll be in a position to redecorate the Republican cloakroom when the party finally collapses.

You could seek legislative common ground with Democrats focused on issues of racial and economic justice. Find ways to fight racism one paycheck, one housing bill, one voter registration measure, one educational program at a time.

What else? Ask your colleagues. We know you talk. Talk to the Democrats. Tell them you can’t but you want to do something. I’m sure they’ll be sympathetic, if not a little pissed off you won’t condemn racism. Politics is hard, but the alternative is monarchy, which sucked far worse.


I was reading a ProPublica piece with some first-hand color from a border patrol agent (ProPublica: Ginger Thompson: 16 July 2019: “A Border Patrol Agent Reveals What It’s Really Like to Guard Migrant Children”), and it reminded me a lot of George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” (maybe it was the reference in the piece to Benjamin the donkey in Animal Farm).

I think that’s a lot of what the Republican problem is. While they’re in office, they’ve got that elephant rifle, and there’s the elephant. They do not know better than to shoot the elephant. The lack of imagination, of any other option that they have any idea how it could turn out. They shoot the elephant.