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Thoughts on the Acquittal of Philip Brailsford

A rare window for police reform has closed.

As those of you who follow these things may have heard, Philip Brailsford, a former Mesa, Arizona police officer, was acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges after shooting Daniel Shaver.  The details of the shooting itself are disgraceful.  Acquittal came despite the fact that the senselessness of the incident was captured on another officer’s body camera.  The graphic video is available here, and shows Shaver crying and begging for his life.  Ultimately Shaver is shot to death while attempting to comply with a barrage of aggressive, confusing commands.  However, unlike many highly publicized episodes of police shootings since the killing of Michael Brown provoked unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, there were no allegations of racism.  Both the officer and the victim were white.

Also unlike the incidents in Ferguson, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Cleveland and many other places where (usually white) officers have killed unarmed black (mostly) men under at best highly questionable circumstances, there is no protest or threat of unrest in Mesa, Arizona, or anywhere else.  With activist energy focused on Donald Trump, and no interest in change among the Republican Party, reforming police conduct and criminal justice policy is indefinitely on hold.  From my vantage point, this shows that the Black Lives Matter movement and its allies have failed, at least for now.

Let me unpack that a bit.  First, I think it’s only natural that disproportionately impacted communities would rally together in protest of police violence.  Self-interest is the mother of all political activism, and I place no fault on those that tried to take action against a problem that for a variety of reasons is much more visible in poorer, predominantly black neighborhoods.  However, I believe our media’s hyper-focus on the racial angle of these killings has had the perverse effect of compartmentalizing the problem.  After all, the police kill about twice as many whites as blacks, and, as writers like Radley Balko have shown, many cases of unjustified (albeit lawful) uses of deadly force involve white victims.  Instead of debating substantive, race-neutral policy proposals (many of which are endorsed by Black Lives Matter) that might alleviate the problem of unjustified-but-lawful police violence, police reform remains, at best, a special interest of little relevance to policy-makers.

Where did things go wrong?  It’s tempting to place all of the blame on the populist right that now dominates conservative culture and media in the United States, and no doubt they deserve their share.  Of all the political factions, these were always the most likely to oppose reform or accountability of any kind.  From their perspective, law enforcement agents are perpetually assailed guardians of safety in a dangerous world.  Those who end up on the wrong side of the law did something to put themselves there, and the police can’t be blamed for not taking any chances.  That these arguments have no real basis in crime statistics or the relative safety of a career in law enforcement are ignored, or dismissed, sometimes with emotionally charged but unrepresentative anecdotes.

The mainstream, culturally liberal media has unwittingly played a role as well.  Dominated by the blue-state professional class, the easiest narrative for these reporters to focus on is racism.  It plays well to its increasingly “woke” audiences, and is easier than trying to help people navigate Graham v. Connor and related jurisprudence, the slow but sure militarization of the police over the last 35 years, mass criminalization, and bad incentives in law enforcement and public bureaucracy.  These last two I think are the most difficult for our media class.  Grasping the scope of the problem would require them to question basic progressive assumptions about the effectiveness and efficacy of legislative and administrative action, not to mention the competence of public servants sent out into the world with license (and often a gun) to fix our social ills.

As the media narratives on the right and left have taken on a predictable form, so too has the popular face of the Black Lives Matter movement, which had the best chance in recent memory of building a political coalition capable of creating change.  However, instead of broadening its appeal, BLM has increasingly gone down the rabbit hole of the post-modern identitarian left.  Its activists post demands that might make a race studies professor gush, but which alienate and make no sense to those outside of a certain cultural and class bubble.  Even the most obvious allies in the struggle to reign in police violence are targeted for insufficient ideological purity.  While success was never guaranteed, a prescient movement that makes its case across not only racial but also cultural and class lines might stand a chance of moving the needle on the larger problem of police violence.  Instead BLM is marginalizing itself into just another faction of the jargon spouting, inward looking activist left.

Before concluding, I think it’s important to state that the judiciary, law enforcement, and legislators remain first and foremost to blame for the sorry state of policing in the United States.   They are the ones who have written more and harsher laws, armed police like soldiers, and treated the 4th and 5th Amendments as no more than refuges for murderers and rapists.  However, while it would be naïve to pretend racial animus played no role in creating modern America’s approach to law enforcement, the focus on race has become self-defeating.  This isn’t to say that unjustified killings of black citizens by law enforcement don’t deserve attention.  They do.  But if we’re ever to do better, the public needs to start understanding that these events stem from a huge web of bad decisions.  Fixing them requires a broad coalition willing to address the problem in legislatures and court rooms, not just picket lines and social media.

Without addressing the larger context of failed public policy and jurisprudence, great and small injustices like what happened to Daniel Shaver (and Freddie Gray, and Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner, and Philando Castile, and Justine Rusczyk and on, and on) will persist.  For now, the problem has been safely put on the back burner.  A moment where reform may have been possible has passed.Image by Elvert Barnes


Guest Author

I'm an attorney in the greater Washington, DC area. When not busy untangling obscure questions about the American healthcare system I spend my time pondering law and public policy, working on the perfect dead-lift form, and praying that my dedication to the Washington Redskins doesn't result in a heart attack.

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103 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Acquittal of Philip Brailsford

  1. Without contextualing against relative population rates, the notion that whites are killed more often than minority citizens is simply a nonsensical smokescreen designed to confuse. How do those numbers you cited shake out when compared to the total population?

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    • As I said in the post there’s disproportionate impact. Blacks are killed by police at roughly twice their share of the population. My point isnt that there’s no race problem, but that there’s more than a race problem. Failure of the most passionate advocates to grasp that is part of why movement for reform has been so ineffective. I thought the OP was pretty clear about that.

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      • Ignoring the inability of a social movement to change American policing within a few years of its inception, there remains the point that those numbers are presented as though they should be understood that as whites suffering greater impact of policing than minorities all, and we know, simply, that this isn’t true.

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    • “Total population” is irrelevant. Violent crime esp. homicides are disproportionately the province of black and Hispanic minorities and not the province of whites and Asians. So in this sense, police are ventilating a disproportionate share of whites, including complete innocents like Daniel Shaver.

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  2. The response of BLM and ther allies would be that the American police started off as a slave patrol and continue to act as a slave patrol in many ways. They will point out that our out of control policing is because they are designed to make sure people of color get kept down and that unless you deal with the original sin your not going to solve the problem.

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    • And my response is that sounds like an interesting topic for a term paper but what about making things better now? In fairness I think parts of the movement see the bigger picture. The problem is lack of cohesion and message control. There’s no leadership enforcing discipline.

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    • Well, they’ve got a point. Police have always been used as an arm of social policy, to make sure the “wrong sort” didn’t get “the wrong ideas”.

      Those were often blacks, especially during Jim Crow, but over the last 250ish years, a lot of groups were in the barrel. Irish, for a time. Asians, for a time. Gays, for a very long time. Hippies, of course. Immigrants of any stripe.

      Police in America have always had those “extra” duties, beyond their legal ones. Of putting the boot in to any group in disfavor with the local leaders. Whether it’s rousting and rolling gays, ensuring minorities or immigrants don’t “linger” in areas they “don’t belong” — none of this is new.

      We’ve trained cops for generations to be extra rough with the “wrong sort”, that a few deaths or beatings will “send a message”. What’s changed is we see it on camera now.

      The beneficiaries of this policy — the middle and upper classes, who used to be able to pretend it never happened — are being forced to face it on camera, and the old excuses for such behavior are slowly wearing thin.

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      • The beneficiaries of this policy — the middle and upper classes, who used to be able to pretend it never happened — are being forced to face it on camera, and the old excuses for such behavior are slowly wearing thin.

        It’s worse than that.

        The middle and upper classes are now having the cops deal with *THEM* like that.

        Luckily, the middle and upper classes are the classes most likely to actually inspire the police to actually change. (See also: Marijuana laws.)

        Now the question is how bad it would be if things change because of this and whether it’s worth fighting against changing things if a prerequisite is not arguing with someone who has realized that it’s bad that police are treating all citizens like this.

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        • It always happened, but absent cameras it could be…excused. “Wrong part of town”, “was in with the wrong crowd” — add in whatever the police came up with, and it was a sad, isolated tragedy.

          I’ve said it before, but it’s a real pity that Robert Peel was born after the American Revolution.

          Peelian principles seems like a good start for policing reform in the US.

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          • Oh, I agree. We should have instituted Peelian principles contemporaneously with their creation (or discovery or composition or whatever the right term would be).

            There does seem to be a problem with the whole issue of people arguing that we need to institute Peelian principles being challenged on whether they acknowledge that we should have instituted them earlier.

            That’s a strange dynamic.

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            • I think you get into strange arguments with strange people and extrapolate that out onto the normal folks.

              The most common objection to instituting Peelian principles I’ve run into is, basically, “How would you get the necessary police buy-in”?

              Peel basically built British policing culture up around them, but here? I’m afraid it’d be more like a mission statement. Vague, meaningless pablum.

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              • Dude. Just scroll up and down on this page.

                You will see people arguing with the OP even though they agree on the outcome that he is arguing for.

                Now, maybe that’s exactly the kind of thing that you’re talking about…

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                • Bluntly, it’d take a lot of people being fired, or going to jail. You’d need prosecutors, judges, local government –all on board.

                  You’d probably need a change to laws, as well, because the massive legal bias in favor of cops does policing no favors these days, covering up and abetting corruption and abuse.

                  Also, you’d need a special device of some sort, for people (often officials and leaders) who excuse problems as “a few bad apples”. I envision some giant rubber hand that just smacks them on the back of the head until they finish the saying.

                  Seriously, every time some idiot says “oh, it’s just a few bad apples” it makes me grind my teeth. What do a few bad apples do, if you ignore them like you’re saying we should?

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                  • No one has pushed back on what this would mean in practice (much less how it’d be represented politically), so I’ll give it a whirl (someone needs to take the other side of the conversation or it’s dull).

                    Phillip Brailsford is certainly an example of police-incompetence-killing-someone. Ideally he’d go to jail, but he’s been fired and lost his gun and badge. That’s sub-optimal as an example to his fellows, but it’s still a step in the right direction.

                    Thing is, for every one(1) Brailsford-style killing, we have what… 100(ish) thug on thug shootings? I’ll support police reform if I think it will help me, but I’m strongly opposed if it allows the urban war to spill onto my doorstep.

                    So, having said that, how does Peelian interact with the whole “multi-cultural” problem we have?

                    We go to “by consent” policing. Does that mean some other neighborhood’s kids can come into mine and deal drugs and have gun battles because by the standards of their neighborhood, that’s an acceptable activity? Aren’t I better off if they’re arrested in his own neighborhood before it becomes my problem?

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                    • Thing is, for every one(1) Brailsford-style killing, we have what… 100(ish) thug on thug shootings?

                      One of the things Peel was big on is that the sign of police success is absence of crime, not presence of police activity. So yes all that violent crime is evidence of a problem, but I am not convinced that police unloading a magazine into anyone who looks at them funny is doing much to aid the situation.

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                      • not convinced that police unloading a magazine into anyone who looks at them funny is doing much to aid the situation.

                        The topic at hand is police reform and why it’s so hard.

                        Normally when something like this is hard, what we should ask is “who benefits”. Certainly the police do, but does my segment of the public? Making things suck for other people and great for myself is one of the big flaws of a democracy.

                        Have any cities tried fixing this via those methods and been successful? Failed?

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                  • Yeah, sounds about right. And that raises the question: What cultural changes would be required to allow that to happen?

                    Seriously, every time some idiot says “oh, it’s just a few bad apples” it makes me grind my teeth.

                    As an aside, whatever happened to the expression “one bad apple spoils the barrel”?

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  3. 1. Final name reference should be Daniel Shaver, not David Shaver.

    And more to the point, 2. When you write:

    It’s tempting to place all of the blame on the populist right. … . From their perspective, law enforcement agents are perpetually assailed guardians of safety in a dangerous world.

    Time to catch up to the current year. The populist right realizes that the police are often the enemy in a sense of all of us except the elites (cf., Charlottesville) and mainly exist in a sense to protect urban criminals from long-overdue mob justice.

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    • Between your name and the idea that anyone deserves mob justice, let alone that the police exist to prevent “long-overdue” mobs and that is part of what makes them the enemy, you’re doing a good job of putting me (a moderator) on notice that you may not meet our expectations for civility.

      Please be thoughtful about that in your future comments.

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  4. My god(ess?)! That list of demands is so tone deaf and idiotic I think it killed some cells in my retinas. Are you sure it’s not a caricature?

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    • I believe the author walked it back a bit after it became a punchline in right wing media. This is part of my point though. A successful movement wouldn’t make unforced errors like that. This is really frustrating because it helps Fox News and the like discredit the kinds of demands in the second link in paragraph 3.

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      • Yeah but that would need miles and miles of walking back. I mean for goodness sake! An article demanding that white people hand over their homes to black people, especially an article where they forget half way through to keep adding “if you can afford to” and then ends with twitter tags that boil down to “Gimmie our money” and wrap up with calls to physically assault racists? My initial reaction was that this was a parody.

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        • MLK was hated by white people until he became the safe alternative to Malcom X.

          Its good to have someone push the window a bit to make space for more achievable goals.

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          • Have you watched “Dear White People”, the Netflix spinoff of a movie of the same name? It’s interesting in many ways and, at one point, makes this very point when one character points out that the black student body President/son-of-the-dean who largely wants to work within the system to affect change and resists the efforts of more provocative students needs one particular provocative student to remain provocative because it is what makes him palatable to the powers that be.

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          • I think this is very fair but this is what I mean about message discipline. MLK was seen as having a distinct following/agenda from the Nation of Islam, whatever the overlap in the broader civil rights movement. No one knows who speaks for BLM and the consequence is that everyone who slaps the hashtag on their activities ends up associated.

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          • I think that’s a strong point.
            I’m far from an expert on civil rights or Malcolm X so my impression here could easily be wrong but as I understand it part of what made Malcolm X so terrifying to the powers that be was that while he was an extremist they also considered him a genuine threat. In contrast the demands the article in question made were so nonsensical as to be comical. I wouldn’t think the powers would find them remotely threatening since they seem so juvenile.

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            • I’m wonder if Malcolm X would have been seen a threat if he didn’t live during the height of the Cold War and the ending of white colonial rule in Africa and Asia. Malcolm X’s rhetoric could be seen as a direct threat to white rule in America by white racists because of what was happening elsewhere. Without that, he might be a lot less scary.

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              • I was very young, but from what I could tell from newspaper coverage, Malcom X was the epitome of what white suburban people like my parents thought of as the “Black Radical” and it revolved around domestic American politics.

                It was the years 1965-1970 that America seemed to be coming apart at the seams with cities in flames, National Guardsmen with bayonets, campuses in a haze of tear gas, the 1968 Democratic Convention, the Manson murders and then Kent State.

                Even MLK was viewed with suspicion and fear by anyone to the right of the Eugene McCarthy. There wan’t any room in the middle, there wasn’t anyone who wasn’t viewed as a threat by the FBI.

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      • Isn’t there a general problem that most movements these days are highly decentralized? Plus anyone can publish anything on the net. I think this is why nutpicking is a term

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        • Yes there is. Social media and the outrage cycle make activism harder. Google up any cause and you can find someone affiliated who has said something dumb or crazy. Still there are ways to address it and still be successful.

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        • Which is why occasionally, I switch my nym to The Left, so it is clear that it is for instance, The Left that wants to confiscate guns, or denounce Stalin/ Franken/Enemy Of The Week.

          Its kind of like the Pope speaking ex cathedra.

          Otherwise its well,y’know, just some rando on the internet.

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  5. Yes there are times that BLM can be kind of silly with their demands but I don’t think that is the real problem police reform is so hard. I think the reason that police reform is so hard in the United States is because there are a lot of Americans out there who have bought whole hog into Dirty Harry/Lethal Weapon mode of cop. These Americans think that the kind of actions done by the cops in the Mesa video are the only thing that keeps them face.

    Focusing on the news media is a red herring I think. I think the real culprit here is entertainment media (including reality TV like Cops). For decades, entertainment media has praised vigilante cops and/or heroes. In entertainment TV, criminals don’t face justice from cops doing shoe-leather investigations and prosecutors following due process. They face justice from cops who break the rules, commit torture, and bristle at liberal weaklings who insist on going by the books as a mad killer goes on a spree and gets away.

    One of the things I’ve noticed over the last decade is that there is still a lot of fear about cities in the United States and I don’t know how you can not disconnect this from racism. For every person who complains that cities are becoming antiseptic playgrounds for the rich and tourists; there is another person or two who still thinks NYC is trapped in the amber of the bad old days from the 1970s when it was crime ridden, every subway car was decked in graffiti, and Times Square was known as place to solicit sex workers, not visit the Disney or Hershey stores.

    This holds for all cities across the United States.

    The problem here is that there is a large chunk of Americans that are either so scared about their personal safety (despite crime rates plummeting) that they are willing to let cops do anything in order for them to stay safe. The problem is that about a third of the United States seems to have absolute contempt for liberal democracy and are actively authoritarian and they are concentrated in the GOP now. This is what gave us Donald Trump and Donald Trump is pure and unbridled racism and always has been. The contempt for liberal democracy might also give us Senator Roy Moore.

    I don’t know what to do about this fear, it seems pernicious to me and it defies reality.

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    • Yeah, I was at a dance event in Albany earlier this year. A woman from New Jersey was explaining that she didn’t go into the city to dance because it’s too dangerous. She still thought that crime ruled the streets.

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    • . I think the reason that police reform is so hard in the United States is because there are a lot of Americans out there who have bought whole hog into Dirty Harry/Lethal Weapon mode of cop

      I don’t think you’re cynical enough. That doesn’t help, but the real problem is we’ve been training cops for generations to do this. They’re supposed to put the boot in to the wrong sorts, send a bit of a message. They’ve always done it — gays, Irish, hippies, blacks, immigrants, just depends on who the locals find “undesirable”.

      The problem is now we’re forced to actually see the act, not just the results.

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        • Short term, that’s a problem, because more people will get hurt than ever before.

          Long term it may be what leads to society rejecting the concept of ‘the wrong sort’.

          Or we might end up in a Judge Dredd society.

          But that’s more of an open question than a foregone conclusion.

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  6. “However, while it would be naïve to pretend racial animus played no role in creating modern America’s approach to law enforcement, the focus on race has become self-defeating.”

    But why did it become self-defeating?

    Unjustified use of force by police is an issue.
    Unjustified use of force by police against people of color — particularly Black and Hispanic folks — is an issue, which overlaps with the above issue greatly but not entirely. Many of the root causes are shared but not all.

    Addressing the latter issue should, in part at least, help address the former issue. Pursuing the latter only becomes self-defeating if folks are willing to ignore/perpetuate both issues because they are uncomfortable with what makes the latter somewhat different from the former. If someone’s response is, “I’ll double-down on my support of the police because I don’t like the racial angle being pursued by those folks,” it is hard to make that about the folks seeking change. Yes, we can argue tactically and strategically what might be more effective, but ultimately blame for that lies on the person who, in their own way, cannot see beyond race and responds accordingly.

    I don’t know if I’m articulating this well so please ask for clarification if this makes no sense.

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    • I think its self-defeating to the extent it becomes a special interest and/or attaches itself in people’s minds to activist groups that a plurality of the public think are crazy/don’t take seriously.

      If you want to see a blueprint for success, read about Maryland’s SWAT tracking law. Its a very minor piece of sunshine legislation passed after a town mayor was the victim of a botched raid. In that instance you had a broad group of people, including local NAACP chapters, working together to get some traction on helpful legislation. To actually make a difference you need to go out and do things like that thousands more times at the state and local level with each success slowly chipping away at the status quo.

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      • Practically speaking, yes. I don’t disagree with that. But that practical reality is unfortunate.

        I can think of two primary reasons people may not support what they perceive as a special interest issue:
        1.) That interest is not special to them. This isn’t ideal but isn’t unreasonable. We only have so much time/energy/money/brain power and can’t attend to all matters.
        2.) They actively resent or resist the special interest. How we feel about this will depend on the particulars of the special interest group. This will obviously expose my own priors and biases, but I think much of the resistance to BLM and other recent efforts to specifically address police reform by focusing on the impact on communities of color is rooted in racial bias.

        So, to the extent that BLM et al. has failed because of other folks’ racial bias, I’m reluctant to put that on BLM et al.

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        • I listed them last for a reason and added in the second to last paragraph for the same reason. There are things I think they could do to be much more successful but that shouldn’t imply everyone else is off the hook. They got the issue in the national headlines and deserve credit for that.

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      • The fact that, anything which can be painted as a “black issue” can be safely ignored, IS the problem that needs to be addressed.

        The strategy of dividing the population into Stuff That Affects Us versus Stuff That Affects Them is the strategy of unjust regimes.

        Even if the list of demands is silly, it is critical to keep the profile high of the constant state of injustice being inflicted on the weak and vulnerable.

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        • Even if it detracts from the non-silly list of demands that would help everyone? I feel like this is illustrating my point. We’re spending way more time talking about the silly list I linked to and not the non-silly list I also linked to.

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          • You can see how this can very easily be read as, “Stop distracting everyone with your black stuff…”?

            I know YOU aren’t saying that… but some folks actually are and when all that gets mixed together…

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            • If people want to percieve me as saying something I’m not there’s nothing I can do about it. I thought really hard about that when drafting this (see the first part of paragraph 3 and the others I referenced). At some point people are going to think what they think. If that stopped us from posting OT wouldn’t exist.

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              • Please allow me to clarify as I did not mean to imply that you were making arguments you weren’t or hold ideas I trust you don’t.

                I guess what I’m getting at is that white folks — even well intentioned white folks who know what they’re talking about — telling BLM or any other special interest group they are not a part of what they are doing wrong is a really fraught path.

                My personal preference is when that feedback can come from those within a particular movement/group or at least closely associated with it.

                I’m sometimes asked why I focus on the role of white people in racial issues in our country. To me, the answer is obvious: I am a white person and I’m raising white children and I interact with a lot of white people. My ability to impact change with regards to racial issues is much higher among white people than other groups. So, that is where I focus my attention. Do I have opinions and feelings about what BLM et al. are doing or should be doing? Of course. But these opinions and feelings aren’t particularly well-informed and I’m ill positioned to make them known in a way that will effect positive change. So I focus on the group I’m a part of and hope/leave space for other groups to engage in similar self-reflection.

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                • Plane is about to take off, so this will be brief.

                  My criticism of the messaging of a group like BLM is important and valid because it is how I say to them, “Your messaging is falling flat with me, here is how I believe it will strike home with me/people like me.”

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                • A couple points:

                  1. I never said ‘wrong.’ I said ineffective.

                  2. I don’t think this is only a racial issue. It’s a public policy issue. The sooner more people see it that way the better chance I think we’ll have of doing things about it.

                  3. I reject the idea that there are some kind of rules around who can say what to whom, especially when we are talking about ideas and politics. If there’s a hole in my argument by all means hammer me for it (you, Chip, Lee and Saul have made some interesting counter points). If the best someone can come up with (and to be clear I understand this isn’t what you are saying) is ‘this can’t be taken seriously because of the author’s race’ then thats great because it means they can’t find a logical flaw. I just do not find appeals to identity to be convincing without someone doing the work to show why they should be.

                  4. I am posting anonymously which means I forfeit the right to play this card but I’ve done my due diligence on the issue. This place is too smart for me to do a piece where I haven’t. Unfortunately I get that I don’t get credit for that unless I get the balls to put my name on the byline. My hope is that I’ve been thoughtful and engaging enough in the post and the comments to show that I’m not pulling my opinions out of my ass but ymmv.

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                  • @oscar-gordon

                    First, I hold both of you in high esteem. Trust that I read all you offer — agree, disagree, or in between — with good intent and offer my own contributions with the same good intent.

                    And to be clear, I was speaking specifically about my own general approach and did not mean to offer anything broader prescriptively or draw any firm black lines. There absolutely is a place — and a need — for white folks when discussing the matters that BLM et al. are attempting to address and that may include messaging and strategizing. My point is that — here on the internet, where I do post anonymously and folks don’t know my specifics and I’m likely to come across as Just Another White Dude — I personally focus my attention in a particular direction most of the time because I don’t think being Just Another White Dude with Just Another Opinion on BLM et al’s strategies is going to do a bit of good in actually addressing BLM et al.’s strategies or effectiveness. In other contexts, I often employ a very different approach.

                    In a way, InMD, I’m offering you feedback on your particular strategy: an essay like this, while clearly thoughtful and well-considered, is likely to serve as a Rorsach test for most folks. Which means it is unlikely to actually move anyone. Is it inaccurate? Flawed? So steeped in priors and bias as to be useless? No. No. No. As a recap of where things stand, it is a good piece. But… as anything in the way of offering guidance in where we ought to go, I do think it fails.

                    Maybe you didn’t intend to offer any guidance (the OP doesn’t seem to but follow up comments go more in that direction) and if so, that obviously changes things.

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                    • I wrote it out of frustration and as a lament that I think we (as a country) missed a really great chance to do something to address a problem I care a lot about.

                      Edit to add, I appreciate the feedback. Maybe for my next piece I’ll draft the policy paper. :)

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          • Maybe!

            I remember these same sorts of discussions about the Black Panthers, about Afro-Centrism and Black Is Beautiful in the early 70’s, when black people started giving their kids non-Christian names like Tariq or Muhammed.

            Or the Gay Pride parades where mustachioed men wearing pink tutus danced thru the streets.

            Maybe that stuff provoked a backlash, or widened the scope of acceptable discourse. Or both.

            I am thinking about how politics is often asymmetrical warfare, where a small weak movement can benefit from refusing to fight on the enemies terms.

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            • Hey I’m all for widening the scope of acceptable discourse. For me this is a discussion about tactics for advancing a particular policy outcome. It definitely is not about telling people what they can and can’t say.

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      • There’s a weird thing where the teams thing shows up in the weirdest places.

        “Hey, I just saw this awful police video and the police are out of control!”

        You’d think you’d see “hey, yeah, that was awful, we’ve been dealing with this sort of thing for a while and we have a handful of suggestions that we think will work including body camera reform and transparency reform” but, instead, you sometimes see stuff like “YOU WANT A COOKIE FOR FINALLY NOTICING? I WAS AWARE OF POLICE BRUTALITY BACK BEFORE THEY WERE COOL!”

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        • I don’t think it’s that weird if the subtext is “BECAUSE SOMEONE I LOVED DIED THAT WAY / SOMEONE THAT SOMEONE I LOVE LOVED DIED THAT WAY / I’VE BEEN AFRAID OF DYING THAT WAY SINCE MY DAD SAT ME DOWN FOR THE TALK WHEN I WAS SEVEN”.

          I mean, effective no, but weird, also no. People have feels.

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  7. I really enjoyed this post for the balance I can tell you are trying very hard to provide. I think you very accurately describe the way that both Left and Right have contributed to the problem. I’m also very familiar with the pushback you are getting from a couple of commenters, but the rebuttals you made are also on-point.

    Police departments have understood that they needed to formalize their strategy towards minority populations for decades. Whether they have been generally effective is debateable, but my question for you is whether you think focusing on improving police responses in ALL situations will address all of the problems that groups like BLM complain about, or if there is room for any race-specific training?

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    • Glad you enjoyed!

      I think thats really a community by community question. What makes sense in one place won’t necessarily in another. If there’s a training protocol that helps humanize/build relationships between police and minority citizens in the given community that the police are interacting with and evidence that it would help that community I would not oppose it.

      I do however think it can become an ineffective ‘feel good’ program if not tailored and administered well. Take Baltimore city where more than half of the police force is non-white yet police abuse is still a major problem, with major racial disparities. In a context like that its clear that something else is the driving force behind the problem.

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      • “Take Baltimore city where more than half of the police force is non-white yet police abuse is still a major problem, with major racial disparities. In a context like that its clear that something else is the driving force behind the problem.”

        Let’s remove ‘racial disparities’ and replace it with ‘cultural disparities’… does that start to get closer to the problem?

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      • “Take Baltimore city where more than half of the police force is non-white yet police abuse is still a major problem, with major racial disparities. In a context like that its clear that something else is the driving force behind the problem.”

        This assumes that non-white folks are immune from internalizing unconscious racist or biased mindsets. There exists research that shows this is not the case. And understanding the role that unconscious racism or bias plays in many of these situations goes a long way towards making sense of them.
        I think it is the exceedingly rare case where an officer says, “Hey… a black guy! He’s obviously a threat because black guys are dangerous! I should shoot him!”
        What is far, far, FAR more likely to happen is that a lifetime of messaging about the danger posed by black men leads cops — of all races — to walk into situations with black folks with one set of underlying feelings and situations with white folks with another set of underlying feelings. And in a context that is highly emotionally charged and where split-second decisions might need to be made under high duress, the subtlest shift in our underlying emotional or mental state can make a world of different in outcome.

        If the cops pauses ever so slightly when approaching a white guy because, on a subconscious level, the white guy reminds him of his dad/brother/friend/Joey-from-Friends, that might be just long enough for him to come to a different assessment of the situation than one involving the black guy who inspires no pause because, on a subconscious level, he reminds him of Thug-#2-from-Law&Order.

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        • All true. But i think a bit simpler is that institutions mold and change people. POC’s who become cops can be just as attracted to the bully/storm trooper/power thing that the worst cops seem to have. Put them in a bad institution, like BPD, is going to the lead to the same result as hiring white people.

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        • I hear you and I wouldn’t say there’s nothing to that. What I will say is that what you’re talking about is a generational, cultural project with no clear blueprint. It’s challenging to even know when cultural bias is in play in a given incident (even if aggregate numbers prove something is afoot), and it could take generations to change. I also don’t know how we would judge the success of a project like that.

          You know what’s a lot easier though? We empower a citizen review board that doesn’t answer to the police department to suspend police without pay when someone substantiates an incident of excessive force, and remove the hurdles to civil rights lawsuits. We can then track records and lawsuits and officers and the number of complaints to get a sense of how we’re doing. Conversely, we can debate until the cows come home whether or not any given incident arose from subconscious bias. Most of the time it can’t be proven or disproven.

          So while I’m not saying there’s no merit to what you’re saying, I see it as going for the apple at the tippy top of the tree while there’s an abundance of good, lower hanging fruit. It doesn’t make sense to me to treat subconscious bias as priority number 1, much less treat agreeing to help on that particular project as a litmus test for working with others towards common cause. The latter is where I have a serious beef and where I feel a lot of people who disagree with me on the issue are going. There’s a lot that can be done even if people disagree on some of the more meta issues.

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          • I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said here. But what stands out as interesting is that you’ve taken my explanation of the issue and interpreted it as some sort of call to action. Which I think I did above as well. And our tendency towards that probably hampers our ability to actually move forward on these issues.

            Sometimes, these special interest groups simply want their voices to be heard and understood but are too quickly taken to be Calls for Action and are then responded to, debated, rejected, etc. Instead of just heard.

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            • And now you’ve given me one to ponder. Maybe we’d all do better (myself included and in particular) by considering that. It would really suck if a simple misunderstanding is holding back progress.

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              • It’s surely but one of many pieces. I mean, there are some calls to action (which you’ve linked to) that need some support of response… be it joining, supporting, resisting, discussing. But sometimes I think we just need to hear. And, even when a call to action is offered, make sure we’re actually responding to it.

                I’m going to refer to “Dear White People” again as a key moment in the series occurs when a white character is singing along to a rap song and repeats the N-word a few times. A black friend of his somewhat-gently says he shouldn’t say that word and an argument ensues with the white character insisting he isn’t racist and the black friend insisting he’s not saying that he is but is saying he shouldn’t say that word. It is a good example of how quickly these conversations can go awry because of all sorts of baggage on all sides.

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    • “Police departments have understood that they needed to formalize their strategy towards minority populations for decades.”

      They have? Is there evidence of this?

      “…whether you think focusing on improving police responses in ALL situations will address all of the problems that groups like BLM complain about, or if there is room for any race-specific training?”

      Some problems will undoubtedly be addressed by improving police responses across the board. “Race-specific training” is a phrase I’m a little uncomfortable with but there are likely specific steps/actions that the police and criminal justice system need to take in certain communities to undo the harm done by decades if not centuries of oppression that have taken place.

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  8. Greetings from the city of Laquan McDonald! I’m going to disagree with our distinguished author and state the window was never open. How else to explain Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Daniel Shaver, and now Mr. McDonald? Police departments across the land realized that it was open season on the populace as soon as the Supreme Court ruled In Graham v. Weaver. In fear of my life has become the mantra of every force in the land.

    Let me quote my son, who said this while discussing the Justice Department’s report on the Chicago PD, “a bunch of scared, racist cops. No surprise.”

    Chicago has paid out nearly three quarters of a billion dollars over the last 15 years to settle police misconduct cases. Police in this city constantly whine about how the cases don’t go to trial, that the city is too quick to settle. Who’s going to bear the cost of this? Let them put their money where their mouths are. Nope, that’s the city’s problem.

    God, I don’t think I could be more contemptuous of these cowboys, and the politicians who enable them, if I tried.

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  9. The biggest hindrance to BLM’s effectiveness is that it’s becoming something that can’t fail, but can only be failed. Disagreeing with a BLM tactic usually leads to accusations of moral failing on the part of the person disagreeing and rarely the substance of the disagreement. It’s even somewhat visible on this thread, though the civility of OT tempers it a lot.

    Whether criticism is valid in any particular case matters less than the fact that the movement made itself willfully impervious to any view outside the severely constricted world of professional activism and academic high theory.

    To this point, the warmed-over Third Worldism of the BLM platform, as pointless as it is, has been overshadowed by the constant need to do battle over the name, over people who don’t think blocking traffic is effective and with Bernie Sanders supporters who don’t just lie down prostrate when some self-appointed local activist decides that it’s her rally now.

    We need police accountability. We need to stem the tide of militarization. We need better people signing up to be cops. We need to end civil asset forfeiture and all the other ways police are used for revenue generation instead of protecting the public. What we don’t need is a movement that considers making itself as narrow as possible as a form of praxis.

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  10. slow but sure militarization of the police over the last 35 years, mass criminalization, and bad incentives in law enforcement and public bureaucracy.

    Is it actually worse now, or do we just have more video cameras?

    Go back in time to before the civil rights era. The police were a tool in an openly racist legal setup with the expressed purpose of keeping minorities down, i.e. using violence “inappropriately” by today’s standards.

    I remember hearing stories of breathtakingly corrupt (and/or incompetent) police forces from this era. For that matter when I remember old TV programs, police characters were often brutal and/or incompetent.

    It seems like the level of professionalism would have risen after the ’60’s… but maybe the WoD lowered the bar.

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    • This is just me spitballing, I actually think there was a time from basically post-LA Riots to 9/11 where the police, largely through technological improvements and rising diversity through osmosis was actually helping things. The falling crime rate didn’t hurt.

      Then, it became a bonanza for federal grants and hey, if you have an APC or tear gas, you better use it….

      I’m not saying it was perfect or that there are cities that are even better off now, but I truly think while the median police officer was more racist in say, 2000, the worst police officers are actually worse today because not only do they have a steady stream of Fox News/Internet propaganda about violent criminals, but they also have nearly two decades straight of cop worship feeding them.

      Again, I’m not saying your average cop gets off on that, but that kind of person to see themselves as basically an occupying force in certain places, is also likely to feed off how we’ve regaled police officers are heroes for existing.

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