Let’s talk antisemitism

Among the many unsettling images from last Wednesday’s attempted coup at the Capitol were vicious attacks on Capitol police officers, bombs, terrorists with stun guns and spears, a lynch mob with its own gallows, a mob prepared to kidnap legislators, numerous Confederate flags, with many of the participants screaming antisemitic and racist slurs.

One of the insurrectionists, Robert Keith Packer of Virginia, sported a sweatshirt reading “Camp Auschwitz – Work Brings Freedom.” Packer’s presence at the Capitol reminded us of very real American antisemitism which, most starkly, resulted in the murders of 11 people at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018, and an attack on the Poway synagogue in 2019 which left one dead and three injured. More than halfway into the Trump years, there was also an attempt to blow up a synagogue in Pueblo, Colorado, followed by a shooting in a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, and a mass-stabbing during Hanukkah in Monsey, New York.

There is no denying that antisemitism exists. It is toxic and it is pervasive. At Passover each year we read the line “in every generation they rise up against us.” In good years the oppression is universal. In bad years, it’s personal.

But one of the memes that has come out of the unrest and displays of hatred in this country is the claim that both the Left and Right are equally guilty of hatred and violence. These claims have become weaponized. In the British Labor Party they resulted in a purge of thousands of Leftist members. In the United States, progressive Democrats have had the same target drawn on their backs. Mainly for criticisms of Israel, but also for supporting any number of progressive positions: slashing bloated police budgets, calling for an end of qualified immunity, marching in the streets.

While memes like this may tap into a naive desire to return to some imaginary “center,” there is really no center to return to. Democrats have moved right since Clinton, while Republicans have finally moved into a party of fascists. If we really want to preserve the center, we can only do so by moving back a bit to the left.

In a community conversation sponsored by the New Bedford YWCA yesterday, a couple of people claimed that “Far Left” violence was just as bad as the Far Right’s. But this is a baseless claim. We may have seen people upset with an epidemic of racist police murders marching in the street last May, along with some resulting property damage — but you’d have to go back to the days of the Weather Underground to match the violence of today’s Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, KKK, neo-Nazis, militias, QAnon conspiracy nuts, and lone wolf terrorists like Timothy McVeigh.

Another remark made yesterday by a good friend of mine with whom I have disagreed on this topic for many years is that the Left is equally guilty of antisemitism.

Well, I’m sorry, friend. This accusation has only empty calories if you lump in critics of Israeli domestic and foreign policy with those who actually shoot up synagogues or spread conspiracies of Jewish “cosmopolitans” trying to take over the world. There are no mobs of progressives or socialists shooting at davvening Jews in their own synagogues. There are no progressives rehashing the conspiracies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion like QAnon or Mr. Parker.

The accusation of “Left antisemitism” is actually intended to silence those with legitimate criticisms of Israel. Let’s be clear. Judaism is a religion and an identity. Those with that identity are individuals and ought to be respected for who they are. Israel is a nation like any other in the world. It has very specific domestic and foreign policies which can be criticized like any country’s. Is it antisemitic to point out that Palestinians have no legal protections and have lived under martial law since 1948? Is it antisemitic to point out that, under international law, Israel is obligated to provide for Palestinians but has not even made COVID-19 vaccines available to them? Is it antisemitic to prefer the non-violent Boycott and Divestment (BDS) campaign to an armed intifada?

Precisely because BDS has touched a moral nerve and has been so successful, its supporters are now in Israel’s crosshairs, and also in the crosshairs of a number of American groups which lobby in Israel’s interests. Worse, these lobbying efforts have convinced many Americans that opposing Zionism is precisely the same as hating Jews and this has given rise to legislation that punishes those who support BDS.

Long before Theodor Herzl wrote “Der Judenstaat” Zionists dreamed of “returning” to the Israel from which Jews were sent into exile in the 2nd Century. 19th Century antisemitism made their dream more vivid, and the Holocaust made the dream an urgent necessity, as Jewish refugees were literally turned away at ports by many countries, including Britain and the United States.

But Herzl’s description of the Holy Land as a “land for people without land” was not exactly true, and if you read his pamphlet you note the variety of methods for making those already living there leave in favor of the newcomers. Interestingly, Herzl did not envision Israel as a democracy but as a regency. Herzl himself proposed Uganda as one possibility for settlement at a Zionist Congress. Zionists also considered buying a portion of Argentina. The matter was settled when the Balfour Declaration essentially gave Britain’s post-war colony in the Middle East to Jewish settlers. As in Herzl’s pamphlet, settlement was originally handled by a corporation that would buy land. And for a short while, Israel did purchase land. But then Israel simply took land from the Palestinians.

The history of Israel and Palestine is complicated, but one thing is indisputable. Zionism is a colonial settler enterprise. Stripped down to its basic function, it was designed to send settlers to a land with indigenous people and take land and resources from them. Whatever you think of biblical justifications for taking land, or the fact that two millennia before Jews had lived there, Zionism was a project precisely like the Puritans arriving in Massachusetts with the London Company and taking what the Wampanoag owned — including their lives.

No one expressed this dark side of Zionism more clearly, more unapologetically, than Ze’ev Jabotinsky, a Russian admirer of Benito Mussolini, who is credited with creating “revisionist Zionism” and writing “The Iron Wall” — in which he wrote:

It may be that some individual Arabs take bribes. But that does not mean that the Arab people of Palestine as a whole will sell that fervent patriotism that they guard so jealously, and which even the Papuans will never sell. Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonized.

That is what the Arabs in Palestine are doing, and what they will persist in doing as long as there remains a solitary spark of hope that they will be able to prevent the transformation of “Palestine” into the “Land of Israel.”

We cannot offer any adequate compensation to the Palestinian Arabs in return for Palestine. And therefore, there is no likelihood of any voluntary agreement being reached. So that all those who regard such an agreement as a condition sine qua non for Zionism may as well say “non” and withdraw from Zionism.

Jabotinsky understood well what Israel was doing was replacing Arabs with Jews, committing cultural and political, if not physical, genocide. Jabotinsky’s program was to erect an “Iron Wall” — not a literal wall like Trump’s but a “no concessions” policy. This is the policy that the Likud Party has followed since its inception. It is no coincidence that Binyamin Netanyahu’s father was Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s secretary.

The neo-fascist revisionist Zionists of yesterday were more honest than their American defenders (and the Likud) today who dismiss the ongoing oppression, land theft, and human rights abuses. Jabotinsky actually acknowledged Palestinian identity, in contrast to Golda Meir — often associated with a more “liberal” pre-Likud Israel — who explicitly denied Palestinian peoplehood.

Today, Liberals continue to bend over backward to defend Israel’s abuses and to demonize its critics. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted Israel’s definition of antisemitism for the U.S. State Department, and this definition includes the murder of Jews in synagogues but also numerous forms of criticism of Israel. The author of this definition was Natan Sharansky, Israel’s minister for Diaspora affairs and Jerusalem. Imagine not being able to criticize the House of Saud or the Vatican. Imagine not being able to “single out” Britain because it is the only nation whose official church is the Anglican Church. These supplemental definitions of antisemitism are meant only to defend Israel’s nationalist excesses.

Israel’s defenders include not only pro-settler elements of the Republican Party like former ambassador David Friedman or the late Sheldon Adelson. They also include American liberals who long ago decided that having white nationalist, Christian fundamentalist control of the government did not add up to a democracy — but, somehow, Jewish supremacy and extreme racism toward Arabs was fine. Israel is a country where half of all citizens believe in expelling Arabs and where one out of four prefer Jewish law to democracy.

To the credit of many Israelis — including a large diaspora of those who live abroad, and for a large segment of American Jews — nationalism of any kind is a scourge.

If you think these have been fringe observations, check out the human rights reports of B’Tselem, take a look at Israel’s liberal newspaper Haaretz, visit +972, a collective of Jewish and Palestinian writers, or get on the Jewish Voice for Peace mailing list. And find out for yourself what the BDS movement really is.

Nationalism — white, Christian, Hindu, Polish, Hungarian, German, or Jewish — is fundamentally undemocratic, divisive, and toxic.

Honestly, I don’t know why it is necessary to write these words after what we all just witnessed.

My first American coup

In my almost 70 years on the planet, this is my first American coup. After decades of Americans plotting coups in other countries, it was inevitable we’d have one of our own.

I was going to write about the similarities between last Wednesday’s coup attempt and its precedents in the Munich coup of 1923 or Mussolini’s March on Rome in October 1922. I thought I might mention that the Mar-a-Lago Führer had long been fascinated by his fascist forebears, even keeping a copy of Hitler’s collected speeches in his nightstand, a fact confirmed by multiple sources including Trump himself.

It occurred to me I should also mention the differences between these coups — that, unlike Trump’s 2021 attempt, the Munich police actually fought the 3,000 Bierkeller fascists, killing a number of them. Instead, it was reported today that off-duty police from around the country may have participated in Trump’s attempt to derail the certification of Electoral College votes and physically intimidate lawmakers.

Or that Capitol police, some who appeared in selfies with the mob, appear to have actually invited the insurrectionists into chambers, some armed, some carrying plastic ties to take lawmakers hostage, some erecting gallows, fixin’ to lynch the Vice President and House and Senate leaders. Videos show police actually opening the doors. And now we read that the deployment of Maryland National Guard troops may have been slow-walked by Trump loyalists in the Pentagon. There are many questions to be answered in the investigations that will follow.

Unlike Mussolini, who triumphantly entered Rome with his fellow blackshirts, Trump retreated back to his bunker for another cheeseburger, despite promising the mob he would be marching with them. Unfortunately, America’s First Fascist didn’t even show the courtesy of committing suicide in his bunker like the man whose speeches he loves so much.

But who can say today that they were really surprised by the coup — coming from a man whose administration built concentration camps for children, was all set to ship DACA recipients out of the country in boxcars, never once distancing himself from his white supremacist base and in fact speaking for them? Who could say they were truly surprised at any of this — from a crime boss who managed to corrupt everyone around him and never once encountered anything but impunity for even the most treasonous acts?

What upsets me the most are the reactions the coup attempt has provoked.

Even after four years of the most egregious corruption and authoritarianism, the mainstream press still finds it difficult to pronounce Trump’s attempt to prevent the certification of Electoral College votes a failed coup. Instead, this retrospectively ham-handed effort is most often described as a riot carried out by hooligans — as if it were a fraternity party or Super Bowl celebration that simply got out of hand.

It was, of course, no such thing. This was America’s first coup.

I had planned to mention that the all-too-frequently published photo of a fuzzy painted Norseman with his spear provided an undeserved comic veneer to what was actually a deadly coup that cost the life of six people, including two Capitol police officers. Anyone who watches the videos now surfacing understands that many of the participants thought they were part of a “revolution” liberating Congress, just as they had been instructed to “liberate” state capitals by the President.

Despite all this, Republicans have refused to invoke the 25th Amendment and we now hear from Jim Clyburn that he would prefer that Democrats conduct an impeachment inquiry 100 days after Biden’s inauguration. Some voices gravely warn us that pursuing justice at all will only divide the country.

In the face of all this bending-over-backwards to avoid prosecuting white supremacists and rich white guys, the only real response to Trump’s coup to-date has been for three social network giants to de-platform Parler, the far right version of Twitter, and to ban Trump himself from Facebook and Twitter. There is a long precedent for this. Facebook, Google, and Twitter — who have made many billions of dollars hosting extremist content — routinely cancel the accounts of ISIL terrorists, and telecom giants have on occasion blocked entire websites of whistleblowers on government blacklists like Wikileaks. Neither the social networks nor the members of the Trump administration now writing their resignation letters ever cared much about the lies, the white supremacy, or the calls for violence they echoed — until they were forced to care.

But punishing one undemocratic action with another is not going to fix what’s wrong with American democracy.

Trump’s calls to storm the Capitol and disrupt the Electoral College certification ought to have had immediate consequences. Legislators who swore to uphold the Constitution violated those oaths and ought to be disbarred, unseated, and stripped of committee assignments. Trump’s pitchfork-wielding white supremacists — even when erecting a gallows for lynching — apparently never alarmed authorities as much as the Black Lives Movement’s calls for police reform last Spring. Support for tossing the results of the Electoral College vote by Republican legislators like Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz should also have set off alarm bells. Well-telegraphed plans, some going back to mid-December, to disrupt the certification ought to have resulted in immediate investigations and extra protection for Congress. Instead, the only solutions our authoritarian-loving nation can come up with are impunity for those driving and supporting the coup and limiting free speech for everyone else.

It is time for a little accountability.

If overturning the results of a democratic election has no consequences, if coup attempts are trivialized, and any notion of prosecuting ringleaders is dismissed, then autocracy will have won.

There have to be consequences for last Wednesday’s coup attempt. People must serve some serious time in prison for it, including the President, several Senators, a number of Congressmen, and thousands of white supremacists and conspiracy nuts who broke into Congress and attempted to crush police to death while blocking the last step in our arcane presidential election process. Some of the spineless Congressmen involved now blame their own actions on their constituents. Michigan Republican Representative Peter Meijer claims that many Republicans went along with the President’s attempt to subvert the election because their constituents had threatened them.

But if none of these instigators, ringleaders, or organizations and individuals responsible for the actual assault on the Capitol are ever held accountable, then why not simply open the nation’s prisons — which contain hundreds of thousands of people serving long sentences for trivial drug and property offenses? Seriously, just let them go. If there are no consequences for ringleaders of a coup to overturn an election, then why should there be any consequences for a guy arrested with a little too much weed on him?

Our outdated, vague, and flawed American Constitution has enabled many of the anti-democratic maneuvers we’ve seen in the last four years, granting excessive power to the Executive, undermining fair elections that everyone must have faith in, continuing to fail to protect everyone’s rights equally — and these are all concerns that both Liberals and Conservatives should agree on.

If we really want to fix our broken democracy, maybe we should start by rewriting the god-awful rule book that governs its operation.

Can we really afford to spend so much on police? [part 3]

Part 3: Comparing your city’s police spending to others

Part 1 of this series was a quick overview of New Bedford’s 333-page FY2021 city budget along with a spreadsheet created from those numbers. Part 2 was a look at New Bedford’s department funding and how it changed from last year’s numbers. The New Bedford Police is being spared the brutal “defunding” that other departments will suffer — even as COVID-19 wipes out the city’s cash reserves. It would surprise me if this isn’t playing out the same in most Massachusetts cities.

So, what should a community really be spending on policing? How much is enough? What do similar-sized communities to ours spend? Is there a relationship between spending on policing and crime? Education and police? Do grants and state subsidies encourage municipalities to spend more on police? How are poverty and race related to policing?

There are 75 communities in Massachusetts with populations over 25,000 for which more extensive demographic, economic, racial, and policing data are available than the state’s smaller towns. Since larger communities wrestle more with police issues, I chose to focus on this subset.

I used the data here for my comparisons:

From these downloaded numbers I constructed a new spreadsheet and built multiple worksheets that look at policing rates (measured as officers per 10K population) compared to staffing of teachers, crime rates, median family income, degree of political conservatism, and race.

You can refer to the spreadsheet for city-specific data, but the graphs below depict only the general relationships between factors.

  1. Increasing officers per 10K did not affect (raise or lower) teachers per 10K population. In Massachusetts many communities are free to spend a greater percentage of their budgets on police since they know the state will pick up the tab for education. New Bedford is one of these. Not every community spends similar proportions of their budget on police or teachers; and the data shows it.

  1. Increases in police per 10K population correspond to increases in violent crime. Note that some communities with lower crime rates have the same proportion of officers per 10K as others with higher crime rates. There is great variation in what a community deems an appropriate level of policing for the crime it experiences.

  1. There seems to be no connection between the degree of a community’s political conservatism and an increase in officers per 10K. I had suspected that the more conservative the community, the larger its police force would be. But in fact the trend line dips slightly in support for Trump in communities with the highest officers per 10K population.

  1. Another result that matched prediction was that the higher a community’s median family income, the lower the police per 10K. The trend line below shows that upscale [and usually whiter] communities do not police themselves as intensively as poorer communities.

  1. Finally, race. I computed the percentage of non-white students in each community’s public schools and plotted it against policing per 10K. As suspected, as the percentage of Black and brown children increases, police per 10K increases as well.

We have known for a long time that poverty is an incubator for crime, and that racism creates conditions that create and sustain generational poverty.

A simple-minded solution for dealing with crime is to militarize, surveil, and occupy neighborhoods with over-policing, and to fill jails and prisons with people who after entering the “system” will never work, vote, or have sustained connection to their children or communities again.

For many of our elected officials there is always some excuse for slashing social programs but money can always be found in the budget for mass-incarceration and increasing police presence on our streets and in our schools.

So while we debate whether the New Bedford police budget ought to be $32 million or some other arbitrary number, or if armed police serve any useful purpose in our schools, we should never forget that lifting people out of poverty and oppression, not promoting a police state, is the only thing that reduces crime in the long run.

Can New Bedford really afford to spend so much on police? [part 2]

Spare no expense: the Watertown, MA police SWAT team with their expensive equipment

Part 2: Most departments “defunded” except for the New Bedford Police

Budget: bud-jet; n. A systematic plan for the expenditure of a finite resource, such as money or time.

Part 1 of this series is a quick overview of the City’s 333-page FY2021 New Bedford City budget along with a spreadsheet created from the numbers. In this post we look at department funding and changes from last year’s numbers. Besides the generous funding they receive, and even with a delay in building a new police center, New Bedford Police will be spared the brutal “defunding” that other departments will suffer — even as COVID-19 continues to overwhelm city resources and cash reserves.

Let’s jump right into the revenues. In 2021 the Buttonwood Zoo will bring in $150K less, revenue from traffic tickets will decrease by $200K, building permits will be down by $200K, half a million dollars in investment income are up in smoke, and a quarter of a million dollars of “miscellaneous non-recurring” revenue will be lost. But the most painful loss of all will be $3.9 million of so-called Free Cash revenue lost to the pandemic; this is the money carried over from the preceding fiscal year. It’s all gone now. Consequently, funding for many city departments will be slashed in 2021. But the NBPD is not one of them.

On the Expense side the loss of $4+ million in revenue doesn’t worry City Council enough to stop it from giving themselves a 5% raise while taking away $50K in funding from the Mayor’s office and another $50K from Purchasing. “General Government” — the catch-all budget category for most familiar city services — fares worst of all, losing more than a million dollars in funding.

The Department of Public Safety will also be defunded — that is, all departments but the Police. The projected FY2021 Police Department budget increases ever-so-slightly, but the Fire Department is defunded to the tune of $1 million and EMS services loses $180,000 despite contributing an additional $200K in revenue. This has got to be an especially painful slap in the face for public employees who actually save lives.

While the City spends $50 million a year on “Public Safety” (most of it for the police) it spends only $5 million a year on human services. In 2021 New Bedford will spend slightly more ($1.2 million) on Community Services than it did last year but will slash Health Department funding — even as the pandemic is still raging. You might think of Veterans Services as a federal responsibility, but the City pays more ($2.7 million) for Veterans Services than Community Services and Health combined.

The budget is just full of surprises.

The Zoo and libraries get a tiny boost in 2021, and there is another $35K more for parks and beaches, but funding for tourism and marketing will be slashed by $65K.

Two big changes in City expenses are a $30 million increase in the school budget and a $25 million decrease in Health and Life Insurance. These numbers are related because, in a bookkeeping change, the school budget now reflects healthcare costs. This is not the case with other departments, however.

It would be nice if future budgets would do the same for all departments — reflecting health care costs in their total operating expenses. Future budgets should also reflect pension obligations and the portion of debt maintenance that each department or Enterprise Fund incurs, as well.

The City Council — over-represented by bankers and real estate agents, beneficiaries of patronage, and the Chamber of Commerce — has consistently opposed raising property taxes on City residents but is only happy to cash state checks which fund more than half of all City programs. And when the “free money” or state aid dries up the City has always been quick to borrow. In fact, it’s done so much borrowing over the years that it now pays roughly $12 million in debt service each year to lenders.

Besides the New Bedford Public Schools, the City’s single largest expenditures are $32 million in pension payouts, a similar number for police, $18 million for healthcare, a similar number for Fire, $6 million for running Greater New Bedford Voc, and a similar number for EMS.

Some city services are organized into Enterprise Funds which are somewhat self-supporting. The airport costs about $1 million a year to run, cable access costs about $1.2 million a year, the parking authority $1.2 million, wastewater $25 million a year, and city water $17 million. But these are use-based services which invoice customers instead of levying taxes. Unlike police or general government, Enterprise Funds themselves fund the wages of those who provide their services.

When it comes to police spending, the best estimate of the cost of the 302 officers on the job in 2021 and the infrastructure required to support them is about $32.6 million. This number is derived from the $25,527,814 shown in the budget, plus another $4,235,554 in estimated pension payouts and $2,894,190 in estimated health premiums, for a total of $32,657,558. This is a conservative estimate because police benefits and salaries outstrip everyone else’s and police pensions are much higher. In all likelihood total police costs are much higher than $32.6 million.

So when we look at city budgets we ought to return to the definition of a budget — planning around a finite resource called money — and think about what else we might purchase with all those finite resources.

The cost of the New Bedford Police Department is more than all the tax money the City spends on EMS, highway and street repair, Community Services, Health Services, Veterans Services, Parks and Beaches, Refuse Management, and making interest payments on its debt — combined.

A “budget is a profoundly moral document,” presidential advisor Paul Begala once noted. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be.”

 

Can New Bedford afford to spend so much on police? [part 1]

Part 1: Introduction to New Bedford’s City Budget

In the wake of a national moment of reckoning with policing in America, while some communities are making deep cuts to their police budgets, others have begun to examine them. To my knowledge no one has yet started the process of studying the New Bedford Police budget, so I offer this introduction to the City Budget as nothing more than a starting point for anyone who wants to open an honest conversation about how the City spends taxpayer money.

Download and read through the 333-page FY2021 New Bedford City budget. You may also want to download the spreadsheet I created from the budget numbers (I also talked with the City’s CFO, Ari Sky, to obtain additional insight into the percentages of pension and healthcare money spent on various departments).

The 2021 New Bedford City budget is slightly over a third of a billion dollars — $363,897,500. Of that amount, local taxes raise 8%, real estate and property taxes pull in 36.7%, and borrowing and grants account for another 2.77%. But the largest chunk of revenue — a whopping $190,962,433, or more than 52% of the budget — comes in the form of state aid.

The $190 million in revenue from the Commonwealth is very nearly the entire cost of running the New Bedford Schools. The remaining revenue, which New Bedford residents themselves contribute through assessments and property taxes, is $167,247,075 and must be used to pay for everything else.

Of this portion paid by New Bedford taxpayers, 20% goes to the New Bedford Police, 15% to the Fire Department, 14% to state and county assessments, 7% to debt service, and the rest to running a variety of municipal services — highways and streets, inspections, human services, culture and recreation, refuse management, and many others. Naturally, the greatest expenses occur in departments which offer pensions and healthcare to large numbers of employees. My spreadsheet reflects departmental pensions and healthcare in Department budgets.

According to the FY2021 budget the City will employ 3,227 people — 2,162 school employees and an additional 1,065, including 302 police officers, 211 firemen, 88 Water Department employees, 70 City fleet mechanics, 64 Public Infrastructure workers, 42 EMS technicians, 34 Wastewater workers, 25 zoo employees, and 24 library workers. Many of these other services appear under “General Government” in the graph above. The New Bedford labor force numbers roughly 42,308. Of these, 38,482 are employed. This means the City of New Bedford is a major employer, providing work for approximately 8.3%, or one out of twelve people.

What is striking about the budget numbers is that, while two-thirds of all City jobs are in the New Bedford Schools, of the remaining jobs almost a third are police officers.

So read the budget yourself. Crunch the numbers yourself. Create a budget with your own priorities.

And ask yourself — should a hard-luck city that can’t even pay a half of its own expenses be spending 20% of its taxpayer money on police — and reserving 30% of its non-teaching jobs for police?

Wouldn’t New Bedford’s many pressing needs be more appropriately met by employees whose toolkits aren’t limited to a Glock and a Taser?

Baker objects to the “Accountability” in “Police Accountability”

Last night I read through Charlie Baker’s objections to S.2693, the conference version of the Police Accountability Bill.

In his 13-page letter to both the House and Senate, Baker proposed extensive changes to the Legislature’s reforms. His main objection to Police Accountability was public accountability itself. Baker’s amendments to the Police Accountability bill remove:

  • civilian oversight
  • specifically, advice and oversight from racial justice groups
  • provisions to ban facial recognition

As Progressive Mass points out, Baker had three options. “(1) He could show that he cares about police accountability and listen to the activists demanding action and just sign it. (2) He could show that he doesn’t care and simply veto it. (3) Finally, he could again show that he doesn’t care, but by sending back amendments to weaken the bill. He chose #3.”

This wasn’t a passive veto, and yet it wasn’t Baker negotiating either. This was the governor mailing a Fuck You Very Much letter to racial justice advocates written for him by the Massachusetts police lobby.

After George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were murdered, Baker made all the right noises, giving lip service to the concerns of civil rights groups, civil libertarians, and people of color. In early December Globe columnist Joan Vennochi asked, “Will Charlie Baker back police reform or police unions?” It was mainly a rhetorical question, as she reminded the governor that it ought to be a no-brainer since he claimed to believe in the bill’s reforms. In the end, of course, Baker caved to the police unions.

In rejecting civilian oversight Baker even regurgitated the police line: “I do not accept the premise that civilians know best how to train police.”

Until recently the United States has had a tradition of excluding ex-military from running the Pentagon. Baker himself ought to understand how it works: the National Guard is ultimately under his command, not its own. Only in weak and failed states are paramilitary organizations accountable only to themselves.

But in rejecting civilian control Baker struck a number of sections from S.2963 (3, 5, 7-8, 12, 14, 17, 19-20, 24-25, 27-29, 31-36, 40, 55-56, 62, 66, 71, 75-76, 81-82, 88-89, 93, and 121) — for the most part simply restoring the name of the training committee from the Legislative reforms to the original “municipal police training committee.”

Baker also struck section 26, which barred the use of facial recognition, and significantly modified section 30, which requires officers to use proportional force and de-escalation techniques and which prescribes decertification and revocation procedures. Baker’s section 30 makes officer misconduct subject (as before) to internal affairs investigations that can take up to a year or more to complete and places additional constraints on officer interrogation. Who else gets to investigate themselves but police? And where else but a police state?

It was apparent that the unions had leaned heavily on Baker because he also removed section 60, which specifies the process required for an officer to return to work after a year-long break in service; and section 61, which describes requirements for returning from physical or mental disability. Baker also removed Section 74, which defines an officer as a trainee regardless of collective bargaining agreement, until the officer has completed his certification course.

There are few bright spots in Baker’s hollowed out and gutted version of police accountability. But one may be that the Governor left the Legislature’s changes to SRO programs in place, the most important of which gives School Superintendents discretion to use SROs instead of Police Chiefs.

Baker’s letter to the Legislature opens by completely cutting the public out of public oversight of the police and restructuring the Municipal Police Training Committee. His letter calls for 16 voting appointees, each to serve a 3 year term: five police chiefs by region; one selected by the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association; one of his own choice; one officer from the Massachusetts Police Association Executive Board; two sheriffs of his choosing (God help us if one is Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson); the chair of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement (Eddy Chrispin); president of Massachusetts Association of Women in Law enforcement (Marie Cleary); Boston Police Commissioner (William Gross); Colonel of the State Police (Christopher Mason); Attorney General (Maura Healey); and one person designated by his EOPSS Secretary.

The Municipal Police Training Committee also includes several non-voting members from: Personnel Administration; Corrections; Youth Services; Probation; Parole Board; Committee on Criminal Justice; Chief Justice of the Trial Court; Chief justice of the District Court; Commissioner of Education; Massachusetts Bar Association; Special Agent in charge of the Boston FBI; a District Attorney; and a grab-bag including city administrators; the Clerk of Superior Court; one social worker; one mental health clinician; and one lonely public defender.

Baker’s training committee is responsible for re-writing policies for Use of Force and hiring new officers. Given that the public now has no say in their own policing, neither the type of officers hired nor the manner in which they are trained to shoot to kill or interact with civilians will change.

No reforms, no oversight, no accountability, no change. Just the way the police lobby likes it.

But Blue Lives most certainly matter to the Governor. Baker’s police version ensures that police officers get a 2-hour in-service course each year to help them with their PTSD and suicide prevention, and each officer will attend and complete a course on mental wellness and suicide prevention. Unfortunately, the public won’t know which officers are time bombs ready to go off. But even if we could identify them, we’d have no say in removing or disciplining them.

The tepid reforms that made it into the conferenced version of S.2963 were weak and disappointing enough after the House stripped out limits on Qualified Immunity. But now the governor is determined to deliver the coup de grace to police accountability. Police will continue to be accountable only to themselves, shielded by a governor who has decided that Black and brown lives don’t matter all that much — and that the real goal of police reform is complete impunity for cops.

Ignoring the concerns of people of color, deaf to the demands of civil rights and racial justice advocates, Baker’s edits are not only bad — they’re an insult to the people of the Commonwealth, especially those who need protection from bad cops the most.

 

I beg your pardon

“The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” — U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 2

The U.S. Constitution is a mess. By preserving slavery for prisoners it has never fully abandoned that institution. In creating a Senate originally intended to be appointed rather than elected, it preserved the vestiges of a House of Lords that gives outsized power to miniscule states. By establishing the Electoral College, we ended up with an institution that has undermined the will of the people several times in recent history.

Though the Founders were tired of a mentally-ill despotic monarch, they absolutely failed to remove imperial rule from the Presidency. It’s been a straight line from George II to Donald Trump. Checks and balances that the Constitution were supposed to provide have created instead a system of gridlock in four-year increments. The resulting inability of legislators to accomplish anything has led many Americans to question democracy itself and to start flirting with authoritarianism — all to “make the trains run on time.”

But the problem is not democracy. It is the creation that our slaveholding Founding Fathers left behind. Their rushed legacy, the American Constitution, was intended to be a charming house but is now a rotting hulk with a deed that prohibits repair.

One piece of monarchical residue in our Constitution is the presidential prerogative to grant pardons and commutations. In all-too-many cases the President has pardoned cronies who committed serious crimes. Examples include Ford’s pardon of Nixon, Clinton’s pardon of his buddy Marc Rich, Bush’s pardon of Scooter Libby, and any of Trump’s pardons of people whose crimes include: bribery, mail fraud, election tampering, treason, sedition, human rights abuses, and cold-blooded murder.

Changing the Constitution is difficult enough, and downright impossible when the country is as divided as ours is. But we desperately need a Constitutional Convention. Retiring the Electoral College, denying corporate personhood, altering or abandoning the Senate, limiting presidential pardons, expunging vestiges of slavery, returning powers to the legislature long lost to an imperial presidency, permitting snap elections to be held as in most parliamentary democracies — features like these are necessary for the survival of democracy in the United States.

Unfortunately, many Americans don’t really want democracy. Especially those who benefit the most from the system slaveholders left behind.

But if Democrats are nauseated by the spate of presidential pardons we are about to witness, the next President could easily use the power of the pardon for better purposes.

Grant amnesty to illegal immigrants and whistleblowers. Empty the prisons of people over the age of 75. Pardon the nation’s many political prisoners. Pardon Crystal Mason, who cast a provisional ballot while out on parole. Lift the federal death penalty from those sentenced to be murdered by the state. Abandon impossible-to-prosecute cases against the last detainees in Guantanamo, and find someplace to send them before shutting down that national disgrace.

Whatever moniker fits best — monarch or president — the nation’s top executive and her Department of Justice should never have the right to thumb their noses at laws established by the people. Overturning convictions should be a power for the lawmakers who originally wrote those laws, perhaps through a Congressional Pardons Commission. Or, at the very least, presidential pardons could be subject to House approval.

In the meantime, Democrats ought to exercise the power of the pardon to the max. Perhaps then both Democrats and Republicans could finally agree that such a power is simply too much of a risk in the hands of one person. Such bipartisan agreement might move us one step closer to that much-needed Constitutional Convention.

How Bristol County legislators voted on Police Accountability legislation

It’s hard to know what Massachusetts Democrats really believe in — besides power. One would be hard-pressed to find a lot of concern for racial justice. MassDems certainly don’t believe in immigrant rights, or they would have supported the Safe Communities Act. They don’t believe there is a problem with Native American mascots or a racist state flag, or they would have decisively fixed both by now. Recently the MassDems overwhelmingly re-elected a party chair who will keep steering the party toward the rocks of irrelevance and decline. When the 420-member state Democratic committee did so, it also rejected two challengers who had both pledged to make the party truly more diverse.

Massachusetts Democrats show unquestioning support for police and correctional officer unions — even the Trump-iest among them, the Massachusetts Correctional Officers Federated Union, got one progressive senator to file legislation to give officers a $100 million raise. No, what keeps legislators up at night is the nightmare that prosecuting bad cops for murdering people of color will somehow undermine police morale.

No surprise, then, that Massachusetts Democrats removed ending Qualified Immunity (impunity) for police from a Police Accountability bill that just barely survived being deep-sixed by the Massachusetts House.

If this isn’t bad enough, Bristol County’s Democratic House Representatives are among the worst of the Democratic Party’s morally-flexible do-nothings.

Thanks to Progressive Mass we can view the results of the December 2nd vote on the Police Accountability bill, S.2693, which now awaits Governor Baker’s signature. Of 14 representatives from Bristol County, only six voted for Police Accountability — even after Qualified Immunity had been stripped from the bill.

What was so wrong with a POST Commission that professionalizes and certifies police officers? What was so upsetting about giving school superintendents discretion to decide whether they want SROs in their schools instead of letting police chiefs decide? The legislators won’t say — only that they get most of their information from the police.

Below is a table of how Bristol County legislators voted.

Remember their names when they ask for your vote in 2022.

Legislator Party, District S.2693
Rep. F.Jay Barrows Republican, 1st Bristol No
Rep. Carole Fiola Democrat, 6th Bristol No
Rep. Steven Howitt Republican, 4th Bristol No
Rep. Christopher Markey Democrat, 9th Bristol No
Rep. Norman Orrall Republican, 12th Bristol No
Rep. Elizabeth Poirier Republican, 14th Bristol No
Rep. Paul Schmid Democrat, 8th Bristol No
Rep. Alan Silvia Democrat, 7th Bristol No
Rep. Antonio Cabral Democrat, 13th Bristol Yes
Rep. Carol Doherty Democrat, 3rd Bristol Yes
Rep. Patricia Haddad Democrat, 5th Bristol Yes
Rep. James Hawkins Democrat, 2nd Bristol Yes
Rep. Christopher Hendricks Democrat, 11th Bristol Yes
Rep. William Straus Democrat, 10th Bristol Yes
Sen. Marc Pacheco Democrat, First Plymouth and Bristol No
Sen. Walter Timilty Democrat, Norfolk, Bristol and Plymouth No
Sen. Michael Brady Democrat, Second Plymouth and Bristol Yes
Sen. Paul Feeney Democrat, Bristol and Norfolk Yes
Sen. Mark Montigny Democrat, Second Bristol and Plymouth Yes
Sen. Rebecca Rausch Democrat, Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex Yes
Sen. Michael Rodrigues Democrat, First Bristol and Plymouth Yes

Justice Lite

I don’t mean to veer into satire — it’s not really a strength and this is hardly a joking matter. But yesterday, as I was checking out the limitations of a piece of “freemium” software (as opposed to buying the full “Pro” plan), it dawned on me that our “justice” system is exactly like software with the Freemium model.

The justice most Americans receive — unless they are white, well-connected, tasked with keeping the poor and people of color in their place with state-sanctioned violence, or can buy impunity — is the inferior “Lite” version.

Local demands for police accountability aren’t going away

Demands for police accountability aren’t going away in SouthCoast, Massachusetts, no matter what some officials think.

In the absence of progress on police accountability in a legislature with a Democratic supermajority, residents have been attempting to address police abuse at the local level. But at every step of the way they have been thwarted and disrespected by politicians who don’t even bother to conceal their contempt for police accountability or those demanding it.

https://ehrens.org/2020/11/19/backroom-deal/

New Bedford City Councilor Brian Gomes has convened another of his “non-listening” session to consider only the PD’s Use of Force policies. Bigger issues — qualified immunity, SROs, community review boards with subpoena power — aren’t up for discussion. And in any case, neither the Mayor nor the Council care to listen: “The public hearing is not intended to be a forum to engage in debate nor address issues not directly relevant to the policies.”

2020 New Bedford Commission on NBPD Use of Force Policies
Public Hearings on Zoom
Wednesday, December 2nd, 6:00-7:30pm

https://www.newbedfordpd.com/new-bedford-commission-on-nbpd-use-of-force-policies

United Interfaith Action, which is one of a number of community groups that has been attempting (unsuccessfully) to gain the ear of Fall River and New Bedford mayors, has scheduled two events in both cities:

UIA Police Reform Community Action
Fall River: Community Action Meeting on Zoom
Monday, November 30th, 6:30-8:00pm

https://mcan.salsalabs.org/uiacamnov30/index.html

UIA Police Reform Community Action
New Bedford: Community Action Meeting on Zoom
Thursday, December 3rd, 6:30-8:00pm

https://mcan.salsalabs.org/uiacamdec3/index.html

Legislators — take note.