Things I Learned About Racism Today

by Joshua B. Hoe

Many years ago, Public Enemy released a song called "911 is a Joke."

The worlds greatest hype man, Flav-O-Flav, spit the truth of how certain services never come to certain neighborhoods.

In other words, poor neighborhoods and neighborhoods primarily of color only see enforcement but never help from the police and emergency services.

This was a documentary masquerading as a song.

The events depicted in that video seemed comical, but for most residents of non-wealthy urban areas, they were real.

Before the events of the last year, I always assumed we were making progress....Unfortunately, in the last however many months it has been since Ferguson, there have been some pretty massive signs we might be regressing.

Today, I was stunned to learn it was even worse than I thought...and I thought it was pretty awful.

So what did I learn:

FBI Directors Can B A Joke Too

If you have not heard of the s0-called "Ferguson Effect" - it is where the victims of racist policing are blamed for reducing the quality of policing across the board.

FBI Director James Comey is apparently much more worried about that then he is about getting to the bottom of police abuse.

Last Friday he said:

"In today's YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns?"

He also said "strong sense that some part of the explanation <for the increase in violent crime in some cities> is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year."

In other words, the accountability measures citizens have taken to protect themselves from police abuses are deterring officers from doing police work.

Or, but for being held accountable by citizens, police could "do their job."

One wonders what work they cannot do in such an environment of accountability?

Should we also stop pushing for body cameras?

Will more body cameras be responsible for more increases in crime too?

And why would that be?

What police tactics do police not do because of the fear of camera coverage, and why would you or anyone else want those tactics to continue?

And this gets to the deeper issue - and to what is really being said here - that extralegal tactics are necessary to "police" "certain" neighborhoods.

Maybe I am being unfair?

In fairness he could mean only that police are worried that any encounter would be taken out of context, but, isn't that even more reason for everyone (including police) to have cameras (not a reason why civilians should stop filming).

Especially given that is almost IMPOSSIBLE to prosecute a police officer for abuse...even when they are likely guilty. The amount of protection for a citizen involved in a police incident is virtually zero while the amount of protection for an officer is literally if they, in their own judgement, were in danger.

It is apparently okay for officers to respond to almost any resistance with deadly force...So, the ONLY hope for the real story coming out (not justice) are having cameras rolling.

There are so many things wrong with this statement it is almost impossible to know where to start....

You would think Comey would  admit he erred...That it was a gaffe...but no, today Mr. Comey kind of doubled down. Today he said:

“Each incident that involves perceived or actual misconduct by police that’s captured on video and spreads around the world bends this line this way...Each incident that involves an attack on a member of law enforcement bends our line that way...I have seen those lines arcing apart in a lot of different ways...I actually feel the lines continuing to arc away and maybe accelerating incident by incident, video by video, hashtag by hashtag...And that’s a terrible place for us to be...Just as those lines are arcing away from each other — and maybe, just maybe, because those lines are arcing away from each other — we have a crisis of violent crime in some of our major cities in this country.”

Generally, experts on criminology tend to act on data and not "hunches" but in this instance, I guess it is okay to just guess.

But, it is really not, since there is a TON of evidence disproving the Ferguson effect...Let me share some here:

I could post links all night...But, it is probably easier to just say things with NO EVIDENCE then just ignore the actual evidence, right?

And, if even some of the misconduct is "actual," as one of the nation's top law enforcement officials, shouldn't you want to be informed..."video by video," "hashtag by hashtag," when misconduct is happening?

So many questions, like where he gets the idea that methods of police enforcement is the lever that determines when crime goes up or down.

The research seems to suggest that simply having more police on the streets and having them take advantage of better investigative techniques (the utilization of data and technology) were much more important to reducing crime than any of the enforcement techniques Comey seems to be defending.

And, I will go even further, crime is preferable to continuously violating the civil rights of millions of people in this country in a continuous undeclared war on urban areas.

Why, because the most important thing in this country, the one thing that binds us, is our rights (and the right to equal protection of the laws - for instance).

I know we are totally consumed by fear in this country, but fear of crime should not trump our actual rights and what happened to Mr. Garner and Mr. Gray (and many others) has no place in our society.

And safety for whom? Not safety for the people living in the urban neighborhoods constantly at risk from the war on drugs.

Our police forces, in many of our largest cities are engaged in a non-stop, militarized, assault on drugs (and gangs). The collateral damage is anyone who has ever lived in these neighborhoods, anyone who "looks" suspicious...And anyone who has the temerity to protest.

And for what, the drug war has been one of the most spectacular failures in the history of forever. That it is almost entirely prosecuted on a racist basis should have people up in arms (maybe the best evidence ever that racism has not been "solved" in this country).

I was in prison, I saw the disparities first hand. How could 50% of the prison population be African American when they represent 13.2% of the population?

Hmmm...makes you wonder.

I am not anti-police at all, but I am against strategies that have disparate enforcement and effects on communities of color. I am against police brutality. And I am against official racism in any guise.

Police do a very hard and dangerous job, every single police officer who puts their lives on the line every day to make our country a better place should be commended...As long as they do so in a way that protects and serves all of the people of this country at all times (using only legal and just means).

I also do not, in any way, endorse vigilantism against police. But, I do support reforms of the laws that make it virtually impossibly to prosecute police when they are in the wrong.

Not because I am anti-police, because I am pro-legal policing.

It is a false dichotomy to suggest that anyone who opposes police misconduct or police racism is anti-police, I refuse to play that game.

The most shocking thing to me is that Director Comey seemed to suggest that it didn't really matter that much if it was perceived or actual misconduct...The effect was the same...It almost seems he was trying to say that the ends justify the racist means.

I hope that is not what he meant...

The Ferguson Effect + Bigfoot

Mr. Comey may be tiptoeing into an endorsement of the so-called Ferguson Effect, but many other pundits (Fox News) have been embracing it in a warm hug for months.

The whole thing is disgusting, basically you are all saying to look the other way (away from racism and brutality) so the police can continue to over-enforce poor neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color really the white folks can stay safe.

There are literally stories blaming "Obama's racial pimping" for causing increased crime...Not sure I have ever seen headlines that overtly racist in my life (and I was born before the official end of Jim Crow laws).

Let's stop pretending, or letting others pretend racism is not happening in policing or that a few bad apples are spoiling the bunch (I myself do believe that the majority of officers are probably good but the bad ones are really bad, and the tactics and policing strategies exacerbate the problems). If you doubt this, read this, only the most recent New York Times expose of racism in policing.

We all should care more about the victims of racist police strategies of enforcement, policies of enforcement that are used primarily against people of color and in neighborhoods of color, and about police misconduct in general.

But, at the very least, we should ask for as much transparency as is humanly possible.

We are a free society that thrives on transparency. At no time should the one of the nations top law enforcement officers suggest any kind of restraint on police accountability measures. Especially not in our country - not this year.

My Plan For Police Reform

Several weeks ago, I posted my plan for police reform, here it is again:

If I were suggesting police reforms I would emphasize these ideas:

  • The creation of independent prosecutors for all police abuse or deadly force cases – prosecutors who are entirely independent (not prosecutors who are simply from another jurisdiction and return to that jurisdiction later,  those would still be entirely at risk of capture). I would suggest an independent ombuds in every state.
  • Reform of all statutes that allow cases to be resolved only by the “reasonable person” standard. In most states, all an officer has to do is prove that they reasonably believed that they were in danger at the time they used deadly force to go free. This very low bar makes it virtually impossible to ever prosecute a police officer for the use of deadly force (you should check out that link, it is a great article).
  • The insistence on police review boards not just requiring civilians, but also requiring that the makeup of review board members reflect the diversity of the served communities. In other words, local people of color should be included on review boards
  • Probably a decent idea to get rid of broken-windows style policing and replace it with community style policing.
  • I guess body cameras are fine, although I doubt they will fix the problems..I sincerely doubt they will be the panacea that most commentators seem to think that they will be. But they are a better form of protection for police and for the public when used correctly.

I would also create some better mechanism for the police to be able to air grievances and to get relief for PTSD and stress.

Fear of a Black Planet, Public Enemy