Defund the police and break the chain

The following is reposted with the author’s permission from a letter to the editor in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. If, after reading this, you are more disturbed by the use of the word “defunding” than of the consequences of “overfunding” a police state — then you are disturbed by the wrong thing.

Lois Ahrens: Defund the police and break the chain

I want to talk about one long chain. Starting in this tiny city and in every city where mayors and councilors decide on policing budgets. Here the amount for police is almost $7 million a year. A big chunk considering there is almost no crime. But like everywhere, it starts with mayors and city councils giving too much money and too much power to too many cops.

The money goes to cops in schools where Black children and Latinx children get disciplined, suspended and expelled at much higher rates than white children. It moves on to racial profiling with stops of drivers and people walking down the street.

And, sometimes policing and especially over-policing leads to arrests and then charges and then over-charging by district attorneys, including Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan. That means piling up so many charges that people have little choice but to take a plea bargain out of fear of a longer sentence if they risk going to trial.

From there, the chain goes to prisons and jails. In Massachusetts, we pay $1.2 billion to keep about 14,000 people caged in jails and prisons, overstaffed by guards with unions as powerful as the ones police have. Like police outside, they are trained in the same us versus them “warrior “mentality.

When you add this up — too many police, racial profiling, cops in schools, district attorneys and plea bargains — what we get is a state where more than half of the prison population is Black and Latinx, even although those groups account for 17% of Massachusetts’ population.

And, right now prisoners, that is people, in state prisons have been locked down for months. This is really a “lockdown,” not just being unable to eat in a restaurant or take a trip to California. This is being locked in a cell the size of a parking space. This is locked down where social distancing is impossible. This is locked down, where in the Framingham women’s prison, 85 of 180 women have COVID.

It starts here. In this city council and in every city council, which is why we need to defund the police and start breaking the chain.

Lois Ahrens

The writer is founding director of The Real Cost of Prisons Project.

Choose a side, fix the world

These are interesting times. Suddenly many White people are looking at racism and capitalism with much more critical eyes. In a perverse sort of way, COVID-19 has opened avenues for change and given White people an unexpected opportunity to reflect on how our society fails all but a handful of us.

With the economy going down like the Titanic, suddenly many White Americans have noticed who’s being escorted into the First Class lifeboats, and it’s been an eye-opener to see how the whole system is rigged. Overnight, multiple crises have generated a little more understanding and sympathy for people who have been in coach or steerage their whole lives. Sitting at home during an enforced “time-out” White Liberals have had a chance to do some much-needed and long-postponed introspection. Everyone is learning more about the depths of depravity and dysfunction of a system built around White Supremacy.

But there is a certain tendency of White Liberals to start with introspection and stop there. Robert Kuttner, writing in the American Prospect (“Beyond White Navel-Gazing”) gives an example of dutiful but hollow Yom Kippur apologies a few of us offer, where the resolve to change and repair is absent from the apology.

Unless an apology is specific and accompanied by a specific plan to repair the injustice, injury, or insult, most Talmudic scholars don’t regard it as serious. The requirements for Jewish Tshuvah are very similar in the Muslim world. Depending on the offense, repentance often includes restitution or reparations.

Many of the anguished White tears we’ve been seeing lately are empty gestures unless accompanied by work for racial justice. Book groups and discussion groups are important, don’t get me wrong. Most of us have an incredible lack of understanding of structural racism, much of our own history, many of our own laws, and we know surprisingly little about the lives and cultures of a third of our American friends and neighbors. Discussion groups help provide understanding and strengthen resolve to join the fight.

But, above all, White people mostly need to just choose sides. We either choose justice and equality — or we continue, comfortably and complacently, failing to change a system that works better for some of us than others. This country really is going down like the Titanic. And, in a time of crisis, action ought to supersede navel-gazing.

I think of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who described marching in Selma as “praying with his feet.” Though I completely lack any religious impulse, I admire the Jewish Prophetic tradition of challenging unjust kings and laws. Heschel literally wrote a book about it, and he was aware of the connections between the Jewish tradition and the African-American prophetic tradition. But at the end of the day it wasn’t history or scripture or even common cause that motivated Heschel. He was just a White guy who understood that what went on inside his own heart and head was much less important than fixing a broken world.

Lipstick on a pig

Although Republicans have defunded education, food stamps, public housing, Planned Parenthood, NPR, sanctuary cities, environmental and occupational health, the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the UN Refugee agency, what really upsets Liberals lately is when police reformers call for “defunding the police.” Objections range from worries that Hannibal Lecter will be running amok, to how it might look if Liberals called for something radical.

In the midst of a global pandemic, an epidemic of police murders, and the breakdown of American democracy, it’s the least of our damned worries.

Liberals have been as incapable as Conservatives of re-imagining a world without a highly-militarized paramilitary force occupying, in effect, urban neighborhoods. If only now they are beginning to understand the need to demilitarize and democratize the police, they still seem more afraid of blowback from adopting a particular phrase — and of alienating the mythological white swing voter — than of finding common cause with police reformers. Hopefully this is changing.

But the “defunders” are absolutely right: there are many police programs that can be, and ought to be, completely defunded. There is no need to quibble about what “defunding” means in these cases. It means exactly that — stop wasting taxpayer money making police more dangerous, and stop throwing money at useless and deceptive public relations gestures.

Here’s what many of the “defunders” have been proposing:

  • defunding the 1033 program, which puts military weaponry into police hands
  • defunding the Department of Justice COPS program that assures preferential hiring of ex-military and subsidizes local police forces hiring them
  • defunding school-based police (so-called “resource” officers) and the construction of actual jail cells for children in some schools
  • defunding forfeiture programs that permit police departments to keep the proceeds
  • defunding municipal fine programs that automatically flow to police departments (think “Ferguson”)
  • defunding the enforcement of non-violent crime and harassment of the homeless
  • defunding sensitivity training for officers who should never have been hired in the first place and for whom the training is a waste of time
  • defunding “advisory” boards, ride-alongs, drug awareness and athletics programs that are basically public relations campaigns offering the public no real oversight or control of the police
  • defunding costly overtime and “details” programs (why can’t the electric company provide a flagman?)

If people think that “defunding the police” requires too much parsing and too much explanation, they aren’t spending any time questioning the phrase “community policing.”

Liberals have been some of the greatest champions of “broken windows” policing and “community policing,” which filled city streets with hundreds of thousands of additional cops, filled the nation’s jails and prisons to overflowing, and led to unconstitutional “stop and frisk” practices by police forces which suddenly began receiving piles of cash and military gear — including cities run by Liberal politicians.

One of their inventions, “community policing,” is little more than a public relations sham — a transparent attempt to convince a community [that knows better] that the White buzz-cut with a badge on their porch is really Officer Friendly. “Taking a knee,” as some police officers did last week (instead of putting that knee on someone’s neck), was just another P.R. stunt, a “charm offensive” police departments resort to on occasion.

But it’s not working. And the police response to recent protests showed it’s mostly a big act, when people protesting police abuse and members of the press are shot at, beaten, injured, tear-gassed, and pepper-sprayed by police, often for no reason. It only confirms how comfortable police are with abusing the public and getting away with it.

As the Department of Justice defines it, “community policing” is based on [unequal] “community partnerships” involving the police, media, and community groups, and places a few hand-picked community leaders and clergy on various “advisory” boards — which in the end have no real political power.

In its most benign form Community Policing is simply lipstick on a pig.

New Bedford residents will recall the Justice Department-brokered Action Plan, which was meant to defuse community anger and distrust after the murder of Malcolm Gracia, and which constituted an advisory board of community representatives and the media — but never challenged the power of police unions and never resulted in real community oversight or control of the New Bedford police.

Provisions of the Action Plan were striking: the community, not the police, was responsible for being informed of its own rights and avoiding complications with rogue police officers; and community “relations” and “choices” by young people — not police misconduct — were identified as the root causes of the Gracia murder.

But here we are again. We’re way past the lipstick. Clearly somebody needs to do some thinking outside the box.

Max Rameau, an activist with Washington DC based Pan African Community Action, recently discussed a more democratic definition of community policing. Members of a community board are chosen from the community by lottery and directly oversee police hiring, firing, and management of their own police departments. Voters in every precinct vote on whether to decommission or continue using existing police personnel. But Rameau’s idea of oversight and management of the newly-constituted police departments is very different from today’s.

If it makes Liberals feel any better, taxes are used to fund the operations of this form of policing — Hannibal Lecter isn’t a worry — but old, ineffective, dangerous, repressive and undemocratic forms of policing would be decommissioned. And all the old budgetary and legal machinery is scrapped and defunded. And we start again from scratch.

Last year over a thousand Americans, mainly men of color, were shot and killed by police. Almost the same number died after being electrocuted by Tasers. In contrast, in Germany, a country with a quarter of our population and certainly no stranger to racism, there have been roughly 11 police killings each year since 1990, and the number has been going down. In a country experiencing a resurgence of neo-Nazism, police accountability and oversight is the only reason for Germany’s dramatically smaller number of police killings.

It’s going to take ideas like Rameau’s, studying how police in other countries are managed, and experiments like the decommissioning of the Minneapolis Police Department, to re-imagine what policing ought to be. Given that America has a race problem not going away any time soon, police reform solutions must cede control of policing to victimized communities — and we must do it today.

Yes, today — and no uncomfortable phrase, no uncharted territory, and no experiment is too radical in the service of stopping the unnecessary slaughter of Americans by their own supposed protectors, particularly people of color who are their disproportionate victims.

Cloudy with a chance of real change

I woke up strangely optimistic this morning. At times it seems like we are floating in a vast sea, no winds to return us home or to take us to another port. Just stuck, waiting either for rescue or for a change of weather.

This week almost felt like a change of weather.

Yes, our Führer-wannabe is still in the White House, but as an indication of his decreasing power and his increasing fear of his own subjects, he turned his executive complex into something resembling the Green Zone, surrounding himself with generals, lackeys, and his own Republican Guard. Orange Adolf even retreated to his bunker.

Here in Dartmouth, an overwhelmingly white town, a high school student organized a parade against racism and local businesses donated water to marchers. It was only last year that the Black Lives Matter movement was considered too extreme for much of White America. But now, here the locals were, marching and shouting “Black Lives Matter” and “No justice, no peace” as if they really meant it.

Now, if only they would get rid of the racist Dartmouth school mascot.

Sometimes White America hops on movements in the same spirit as attending a fiesta: many hashtags are consumed and a good time is had by all. Then everybody goes home — to process it with their support system or read about it in their book group, with an emphasis on personal growth (there’s got to be something in it for me).

Sometimes a hashtag movement gains longer traction and actually results in something. Let us hope that the fight against structural racism is more than a passing fancy and that the calls for police, criminal justice, and economic reform are daring, sweeping, and radical — in the sense of dealing with the root causes of all these problems. Otherwise, the usual half-hearted, half-baked reforms will be the usual lipstick on a pig.

I’ve been seeing White Americans buying up anti-racism books, scheduling Zoom coffee klatches, and having deep and abstract conversations with one another. There seems to be much discussion about reforming police training — but also a lot of push-back against progressive efforts to reduce funding for police departments; wrest control from police unions of disciplinary, hiring and policy matters; and using taxpayer money for social services for distressed, police-occupied communities — while “defunding” the police at local, state, and federal levels. The disappointing Democratic nominee is making all these disappointing noises.

Kaffee klatches for discussing racism may be no substitute for working for meaningful reform, but as one person noted: “To be charitable, they need to work out their feelings and that is important in its own way.” Ouch.

Yet, as anemic as White America’s response has been to-date, it is unprecedented and cause for cautious optimism. But if White sympathy is to result in anything meaningful, dear fellow white folks, we must do a lot better. We have to dedicate ourselves to eradicating the structural racism that has been the foundation of this country for going on 420 years now. And that is going to come with costs that, until now, only people of color have had to pay.

Increasing abuse of Tasers by police

The following is based on an unpublished 2011 article.

When a policeman “Tases” you, a seven-ounce gun shoots nitrogen-propelled darts which puncture up to one inch of clothing and deliver 50,000 volts to your central nervous system through filaments that stretch up to ten meters.

The manufacturer’s website describes the product as “turning off” a person for up to 30 seconds. Police departments are buying up the thousand-dollar devices like hotcakes. Close to a million are in police use in the United States because law enforcement officers say they need new “non-lethal” tools in their arsenal for dealing with violent criminals without resorting to shooting them. Tasers are also available for personal use in 43 states (not MA or RI).

Despite public relations campaigns to sell these weapons, in which willing subjects, often police-friendly journalists, allow themselves to be zapped by a Taser while being lowered gently to the ground by officers, the “real world” deployment of these new “Electronic Control Weapons” (ECW’s) has been much more destructive.

That’s because Tasers, while less lethal than firearms, still kill. And they can and are routinely abused by police officers.

In one case of Taser abuse, a conservative student, Andrew Meyer heckled John Kerry at a campaign speech, refused to stop talking, and was then zapped with 50,000 volts after pleading, “Don’t Tase me, bro.”

In 2009 in Oakland, California, officer Johannes Mehserle reached for his Taser to “turn off” Oscar Grant, who was already lying on a subway platform on his stomach in handcuffs. Mehserle instead shot Grant in the back with his service revolver, killing him. This fatal confusion of Taser for firearm has occurred several times in other cities.

But, even taking Mehserle at his word that he had confused the service revolver for a Taser, the officer’s purpose for using a Taser on a handcuffed subject was not because Mehserle was ever in danger — but to simply compel “compliance.”

In 2009 in Oklahoma, Lona Varner, an 86 year old stroke victim on oxygen, was Tasered in her bed after her grandson called for medical assistance. Mrs. Varner, who had dementia, has lashed out at police who were stepping on her oxygen.

Also in 2009, Prospero Lassi, a Southwest Airlines employee, suffered a diabetic seizure. While being transported to the hospital and still experiencing seizures, he bumped the arm of an officer who then Tasered him 11 times while he was still unconscious.

Again in 2009 in Gwinnett County, Georgia, Deacon Frederick Williams suffered an epileptic seizure but was taken to jail instead of to the hospital. A video of his being Tasered five times while in police custody and then dying on-screen was seen by millions.

At a Phillies game, a rowdy fan ran around the field until he was Tasered by a policeman. The crowd, which had first laughed at the man’s hijinks, booed the official for excessive brutality. There had never been any concern the man posed a danger to anyone. He was simply holding up a baseball game.

Many victims of Tasers, both by abuse and homicide, are those without medical care, with mental and psychological problems, the poor, and very often minorities.

There have been numerous cases of protestors being Tasered in civil disobedience actions where only passive resistance was being offered. In former times, protesters would be led to a van in plastic handcuffs, booked, and that was it. Increasingly, people are now being Tasered for “non compliance.”

At some point, the level of physical coercion of citizens a Taser provides stops being preservation of the peace and simply becomes suppression of dissent. It is not surprising, then, that the United Nations and human rights groups have reacted with alarm to their increasing use in peaceful protests, using the word “torture.”

And the abuse of Tasers is only growing.

Between 1999 and 2004 there were approximately 71 Taser-related deaths in the US and Canada, but the death rate is rising fast. Between 2001 and 2008 there were 334 deaths and many cases of abuse like those mentioned which have been recorded in some cases by an officer’s own cruiser or body camera, or which have been posted on YouTube and Vimeo.

The use of this technology is outpacing community control of it.

The company which manufactures the Taser ascribes the many fatalities to “preexisting medical conditions” or offers an explanation popularized by a former medical examiner, Vincent DiMiao, who was hired by the company to promote so-called “Excited Delirium Syndrome” (EDS) as a rationale for the deaths. Other studies of the Taser include those by the military, which never met a weapon system it didn’t like, and law enforcement agencies like the Department of Justice, which have never questioned the EDS explanation.

Neither the American Medical Association nor the American Psychological Association recognize Excited Delirium Syndrome, but the American College of Emergency Physicians does recognize it as a cause of death. However, the definition provided by fellows Matthew Sztajnkrycer and Amado Baez of the Mayo Clinic offers little more than cocaine and struggle with police officers as contributing factors and this does not logically rule out excitation by Taser. They write:

The actual cause of cocaine-associated ED and sudden death is unknown. Studies have suggested that the elevated temperatures seen in these patients is due to abnormal changes in brain dopamine receptors. The vast majority of these patients died after a struggle. Such struggles increase the levels of circulating epinephrine, and may also result in a metabolic acidosis.

The National Association of Medical Examiners also recognizes EDS, but also qualifies it: “Chronic drug use is necessary to induce the changes in the neurochemistry that lead to agitated delirium.” Many of the cases of “EDS” linked to the many Taser fatalities did not involve drugs; merely repeated shocks.

Almost all studies purporting to demonstrate Taser safety are based on delivering shocks to healthy volunteers who do not fight the 50,000 volt blast to their central nervous systems. However, a University of California (San Francisco) cardiology study found the device to be far more lethal than the company would have us believe. And a “real world” statistical study of 185 deaths by White and Ready at the University of Arizona found that Tasers are widely abused or misused by officers who either shock subjects repeatedly when not in any real danger themselves, or who fail to recognize that the subject is already in some kind of medical or drug-related distress in which using a Taser contributes to their fatality.

Dartmouth Police officers receive only six hours of training on the Taser X26, a device which according to its marketing literature has “greater incapacitating power than the Advanced Taser M26 ECD.” How many hours of firearms training do officers receive in comparison? In Los Angeles, that number is 113. According to Massachusetts law 501 CMR 8.05, the Taser curriculum may be anything Taser International provides. Given the company’s adamant protestations that the device is non-lethal, the provided information is either incorrect, should be augmented, or the device regulated in order to eliminate fatalities.

Dartmouth Police rules for Taser use permit it to be used on minors over the age of 10 and seniors under the age of 70. How do you feel about having your 13 year old daughter or 67 year old grandmother Tasered? Even if they are on drugs or are experiencing dementia?

Dartmouth Police rules permit the device to be used for non-violent (Level 3) “non-compliant behavior.” If the Taser is intended to keep officers from harm, the public should also be kept from harm during its deployment. Dartmouth’s Level 4 is a more proper threshold for use of a device which can potentially kill. Normally Level 5 is the only one in which a firearm should be used. Why then is the criterion for a Taser so much lower, given lethality which is not common to the other remedies in its class (spray, restraint, and canine)?

The Dartmouth police guide to force and firearms states that Tasers may be employed “for self-defense, defense of another against unlawful violence or attack to his/her person or property, to overcome resistance to arrests, to conduct searches and seizures, prevent escapes from custody, preserve the peace, prevent the commission of crimes, or prevent suicide or self-inflicted injury.” Some of these categories include fleeing (which presents no danger to an officer) or are sufficiently vague (“preserving the peace”) as to be downright frightening from a civil liberties perspective.

But where is the justification for using the device in the first place? What are the cases of officer injury which could have been avoided only by the use of a Taser, and not pepper spray, a K9, bean bags, or some other non-lethal means? Is it a great new toy, like your iPhone, or is the Taser really necessary? Perhaps the department’s “less than lethal” force reports could shed light on this.

At a minimum, it is something a community itself should review and control.

Without knowing a subject personally, an officer can unwittingly use a Taser on a disabled, pregnant, minor, senior, handicapped, intoxicated, epileptic, uremic, acidotic, autistic, deaf, or diabetic person; a pacemaker patient, someone with an undiagnosed heart problems, stroke, neurological problems, psychotic, or someone on drugs for whom electroshock could contribute to death. Most of these people are not going to be able to respond to an officer’s commands predictably or quickly-enough (especially for an impatient officer), and especially given a disability or impairment.

We have seen numerous examples where officers have had no idea what type of medical or psychological episode a subject was having but “turned off” the subject with a Taser. The solution, it seems to me, is to limit Tasers only to situations where someone’s life is in danger. Simple “non-compliance” is not a good enough reason to use these lethal devices.

As in many communities, Dartmouth Police regulations do not place restrictions on Tasering subjects even after they have been taken down or handcuffed. Other communities do impose this restriction. What purpose, other than running the risk of killing someone, does repeatedly shocking a person who’s already in cuffs?

According to Dartmouth police guidelines, there is nothing to prevent Tasering fleeing subjects, even though the officer is not in danger. Would Dartmouth officers actually Taser a rowdy fan running around at a Crapo Field little league game? After all, we have a precedent in Philadelphia. Yet nothing is worth risking a human life just so a game is not delayed. If officers can show restraint in imminent pursuit of motor vehicles, they can also treat a Taser with as much caution as an automobile.

Dartmouth and Massachusetts regulations call for an EMT to be called to treat a Tasered subject, yet there is no requirement that officers using Tasers be able to revive a subject or even carry a defibrillator. There have been numerous cases where an apparently healthy young drug-free man was Tasered and died within 15 minutes, well before EMTs could arrive.

Some communities (for example, Mountain View and Boise) restrict the use of Tasers effectively to situations in which the use of a service revolver would be permitted. Rather than supplement less-than-lethal options like K9 and spray, in these communities Tasers are an extension of options to be used only where lethal force would be employed. This is a sensible recognition of the fact that Tasers are lethal. Shouldn’t we have such restrictions on their use in every community?

The Town of Dartmouth’s guidelines for the use of a Taser are so vague that it is not clear how “excessive force” would ever be defined. Any claim of “resisting” by an officer would be justified by vague rules and, by definition, whatever force an officer applied would not be regarded as excessive. With a service revolver it’s obvious if a mistake has been made. But how do you define excessive force when Tasers are used? And what about transparency and oversight?

For example, is there a process for community review whenever a Taser is deployed in Dartmouth and neighboring communities? In cases of lethal force, the District Attorney is to be notified. However, for less than lethal force, only a shift commander is notified, according to Dartmouth police regulations.

According to a University of Arizona study, there is a striking correlation between multiple Taser shocks and death. This is something that cannot be safely left solely to the judgment of an officer who wants to believe in the non-lethality of the device. What, then, is the maximum number of shocks which officers are permitted to administer to a person? What happens if an officer exceeds this number? What are the legal ramifications? And are members of Select Boards and City Councils aware of the insurance and legal risks?

In Charlotte, North Carolina a jury awarded a 17-year-old’s family $10 million for a wrongful death claim against the Taser manufacturer. Cities are directly on the hook for damages if officers violate civil rights, ignore Taser operating instructions, or fail to provide adequate medical care for a subject after being Tasered. The city of Albuquerque paid out $275,000; Moberly, Missouri paid out $2.4 million; Antioch, California paid out $750,000; Fort Collins, Colorado $225,000; and dozens of other cities paid out sums capped by $100,000 or $200,000 limits of state liability for wrongful deaths. Several Illinois cities joined in a suit against the manufacturer because Tasers had been marketed as non-lethal and the cities were themselves being sued in wrongful death cases. Max Vasquez was awarded a $1 million settlement from the Ventura County police department. A man who was having a stroke and was Tasered for “non-compliance” won a half million dollar settlement from the city of Riverside, California. A man in Marin County, California who was Tasered for falling and refusing to go to the hospital was awarded $1.9 million. Waveland, Missouri had to settle an epidemic of police abuse cases in which town officers improperly used Tasers on people who were stopped, detained or arrested. Even law enforcement officers accidentally shocked by Tasers have sued for lost wages and injuries. Rosalind Jones of Galveston, Texas was training officers on the use of Tasers when she suffered lasting nerve damage. Two officers in Las Vegas won similar cases. While Massachusetts has limits on punitive damages, the lifelong care of a paraplegic or coma victim of Tasering would be quite expensive.

The Taser X26 permits downloads of usage statistics. What procedures are in place for an independent body to collect and review these statistics? Again, accountability is the concern. Currently, according to Massachusetts law St.2004, c. 170 data must be conveyed to various state offices and transmitted to a university for analysis within one year. This same information should be conveyed monthly to municipal government and made available to the public long before it is bundled for academic studies.

Finally, Massachusetts is one of eight states that restrict the use of Tasers to law enforcement officers. Why? Because Massachusetts recognizes the lethality of the device:

Section 131J. No person shall possess a portable device or weapon from which an electrical current, impulse, wave or beam may be directed, which current, impulse, wave or beam is designed to incapacitate temporarily, injure or kill, except: (1) a federal, state or municipal law enforcement officer…

We, as a community, ought to severely restrict the use of such equipment. Tasers should only be used by specially-trained officers with EMT training or used only when EMT’s are en route. It should be up to a community, not the police, to adopt guidelines for Taser use similar to those used by Mountain View, California and elsewhere.

Technology can be extremely seductive. Whether you’re a teacher, auto mechanic, or a police chief, you want the latest gadgets and technology. But Tasers are not toys. They’re not pepper spray. They’re not bean bags. They’re not K9’s, which might chew someone’s hand up a bit. Tasers can and do kill. They can also be easily abused for trivial or punitive purposes, as many examples demonstrate. For all these reasons there must be restrictions and community oversight on their use.

Additional References


Sample Abuses

86-year old bedridden woman Tasered:

Diabetic seizure victim Tasered:

Political Expression suppressed:

Other Filmed Taser incidents

The nation protests police lynchings


No one should be surprised by this week’s outpouring of sadness and rage over the nation’s most recent police slaying of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop who had 10 complaints of bad conduct, none ever resulting in disciplinary action. As much as the president attempted to portray the protests as the handiwork of lawless criminals, to many it is now finally dawning that the issue is really lawless cops and systemic racism.

As with Ferguson and Minneapolis, whenever we read stories of police abuse they invariably involve white cops and black or brown citizens. If not the police it’s the courts, prisons, or immigration authorities dispensing routine cruelty to people of color. You don’t have to be particularly perceptive to recognize the common factor; you just need a long memory and open eyes. Racism permeates every aspect of American life — especially the criminal justice system. Most lethal and shameful of all, American police are murdering black and brown men and women with impunity.

And if you think George Floyd’s protesters are angry only at so-called officers of the law, think again. That the protests are happening on a national scale ought to tell you that it’s the system protesters are angry at — and those who defend that system.

The Black Lives Matter movement arose after the murder of Michael Brown by a white Missouri cop. Since the Ferguson riot that followed Brown’s death there have been many more such killings — regarded properly as lynchings since no court of law condemned the accused, pronounced a guilty verdict, or determined a death sentence.

No, a buzz-cut with a badge took it upon himself to end a black man’s life. And, with rare exceptions, white police officers often manage to avoid consequences with a phrase few even believe anymore: “I feared for my life.” Then, the officer’s union makes sure no serious investigation is done, while the city offers blood money to the victim’s family while refusing to press charges against the officer. In this manner most of these lynchings have been quietly resolved without ever creating a ripple in a system that actually encourages them.

The particular outrage of George Floyd’s murder was that officer Derek Chauvin calmly knelt on the handcuffed man’s neck for seven minutes until he died on the spot. All while a frantic public recorded the slaying, imploring Chauvin to get off Floyd and let him breathe. This time there could be no “I feared for my life” defense. It was simply a case of a white cop committing a murder he thought he could get away with in broad daylight.

Because a thousand other cops have gotten away with exactly the same.

Early in the Democratic primaries, when Elizabeth Warren was still campaigning, Scott Hovsepian of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police (MassCOP) blasted Warren for referring to the shooting of Michael Brown as a “murder.”

But Warren was spot-on. With black men having a one in a thousand chance of being fatally shot by police in their lifetime — two times the rate for whites — there really is no other word that suits such extreme indifference to life but murder. We are in fact so indifferent to these killings that police shootings aren’t even tracked by a government agency.

Delicate ears may prefer the phrases “wrongful death” or “unauthorized use of force.” But who are we kidding? Even when the evidence is crystal-clear that a police shooting was completely unnecessary and violated any number of departmental policies or protocols, officials rarely admit to mistakes, instead trotting out a legal doctrine known as Qualified Immunity which effectively gives policemen a license to kill — even when they have previously exhibited bad judgment, have psychological problems, or a history of violence toward the non-white public. Even when the officer lies. Even when there is a video.

Hovsepian’s angry letter to Warren recited a litany of bullshit arguments law enforcement officials regularly use to reject public oversight and accountability:

“I want to make this as clear as possible and every member of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police wants you to understand; your labeling of law enforcement as racist and violent is unacceptable and dangerous. Maybe I didn’t deliver the message strong enough the last time we spoke. YOUR POLITICAL PANDERING FOR PRESIDENTIAL VOTES IS GETTING POLICE OFFICERS AND CITIZENS HURT AND KILLED. […] Your inflammatory rhetoric results in the erosion of relationships that members of law enforcement have developed within our communities. […] Graham v. Connor 490 U.S. at 396-97 (1989), provides in part: The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene…”

Unacceptable and dangerous. For a moment, a reader might be excused for thinking Hovsepian meant the national epidemic of police officers slaughtering black men, two thirds of them unarmed. Hovsepian actually cited Qualified Immunity as the police officer’s shield from charges that would normally count as murder in the second degree — “acts that demonstrate extreme indifference to human life.” But it’s not police killings that we ought to be worried about, says Hovsepian — no, it’s public criticism of the police that is killing officers.

Two years ago at Dillard University, Hovsepian took issue with Warren’s characterization of the entire U.S. criminal justice system. Warren said that “the hard truth about our criminal justice system: it’s racist… I mean front to back.” Hovsepian hissed at Warren’s characterization as “cancerous rhetoric” and charged that criticism of police was lethal: “Your statements put each and every one of us in danger. Your statement dehumanizes every officer who puts on a uniform…”

Playing the part of the wronged and “dehumanized” party may be nothing but a rhetorical ploy, but it is precisely the same racist argument that Alt-Right darling Tucker Carlson makes that White Supremacy is a hoax because white people have become the real victims of the American legacy of slavery.

Last year the Washington Post reported that, “among men of all races, ages 25 to 29, police killings are the sixth-leading cause of death, according to a study led by Frank Edwards of Rutgers University.” In 2018 police killed 1,164 people. The number of black people killed by police (215) exceeded all police officers who died in the line of duty (148), servicemen killed in action (2) and Americans killed by Islamic terrorists (0) combined. There were only 23 days in 2018 when police did not kill someone. Thirteen of the 100 largest police departments accounted for a large percentage of police murders that year. 99% of all police killings never resulted in officers being convicted of any charges. In 2018 Americans were ten times more likely to die from being shot by a cop than in a mass shooting.

So, if anyone has a legitimate and “reasonable fear,” it is civilians fearing police violence, not the other way around. Americans are increasingly afraid, too, of militarized policing that is morphing into something very like an occupation. Following the protests of Michael Brown’s murder, police turned Ferguson’s Canfield Drive into Fallujah. This week, in an absolutely fascist move for no other purpose than a photo-op, Trump called in a heavily militarized force to disperse non-violent protestors.

While there are obviously many good police officers and some decent police chiefs, from the 30,000 foot view Warren was absolutely right. The list of black victims of the pandemic of police abuse never stops growing – Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, just to name a few of the thousands in my lifetime.

We know what skin colors predominate among America’s 2.5 million incarcerated brothers and sisters, sons and daughter, mothers, and fathers. The legacy of slavery is apparent to anyone who has studied criminal justice issues or simply reads the newspaper. The Central Park Five, whose story was recently portrayed in Netflix’s “When They See Us,” embody everything that is wrong with America’s racist criminal justice system — police misconduct, prosecutorial misconduct and overreach, brutal prisons — even an ad from a future president that read like a call to lynch five young men of color.

No, MassCOP’s Scott Hovsepian had it completely backwards when he charged that criticism of police racism puts officers at risk and undermines their work. In truth it is racist cops who undermine community confidence in police departments and contribute to a community’s fear of helping police reduce crime. No matter how many public relations campaigns, youth programs, listening sessions, or ride-alongs police departments use to blunt community criticism, nothing compensates for all the damage that racist officers inflict.

Take the case of 20 year Muskegon, Michigan police officer Charles Anderson. Anderson put his house on the market and apparently didn’t think he needed to put his KKK application or his Confederate flags away. A black couple touring the home realized the officer was a racist and dug into Anderson’s history, discovering he had been cleared in the fatal shooting of a black man in 2009. Neither the killing nor the exoneration was a surprise.

Or a story last year describing Galveston, Texas cops leading a black man, slave-style, between the mounted officers’ horses. Police chief Vernon Hale offered a feeble explanation, “Although this is a trained technique and best practice in some scenarios, I believe our officers showed poor judgement in this instance.” But it was poor judgment neither investigated nor punished.

Sergeant Heather Taylor, a member of the St. Louis Metro police department, was interviewed by CBS News as part of a series on racial bias in American police departments. “Do you think that there are white supremacists on the police force?” CBS News correspondent Jeff Pegues asked. “Yes” Taylor replied. “You didn’t even pause,” Pegues said. “Have you seen some of the Facebook posts of some of our suspended officers right now?” Taylor responded. “Yes.”

Taylor could have been referring to Facebook posts collected by the Plain View Project, which to date has permanently recorded over 5,000 racist posts — that’s from only eight cities. The Project’s homepage says that “our concern is not whether these posts and comments are protected by the First Amendment. Rather, we believe that because fairness, equal treatment, and integrity are essential to the legitimacy of policing, these posts and comments should be part of a national dialogue about police” — a dialog shut down by police officials who claim that such a discussions put their lives at risk.

Blue Lives matter to police officers, but the same concern for human life doesn’t seem to extend to civilian life — especially black lives. In 2016 an Oregon police officer posted an image of a Black Lives Matter protest with a comment, “When encountering such mobs remember, there are 3 pedals on your floor. Push the right one all the way down.” No surprise, this was precisely what at least one NYPD cop did to citizens in New York protesting the murder of George Floyd: hit the gas pedal and plowed into the crowd.

The Facebook page of Santa Fe, New Mexico Sergeant Troy Baker, also the police union president and a police cadet instructor, was a veritable cesspool of racist and homophobic rants, violent threats, and Confederate flags. Baker survived an internal investigation when no violation of department policy was determined, and he was allowed to retire early, remaining on the city payroll for eight months to obtain his pension.

Springfield, Massachusetts cop Conrad Lariviere thought white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. running down Heather Heyer in Charlotteville was pretty funny. “Hahahaha love this, maybe people shouldn’t block roads,” Lariviere wrote on Facebook. When confronted with the post, Lariviere told, “I am not a racist and don’t believe in what any of those protesters are doing, I’m a good man who made a stupid comment and would just like to be left alone.”

Lariviere was eventually fired but the damage had already been done. “It will take us months, if not years, to earn back the level of public trust we once had,” Police Commissioner John Barbieri said. “It’s never easy to terminate a fellow officer, and I take no comfort in doing so.” But Lariviere’s union, Local 364 of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, issued a statement saying it was —

“extremely disappointed in the decision of Commissioner Barbieri to terminate the employment of Officer Conrad Lariviere. Officer Lariviere’s comments on Facebook were made in his capacity as a private citizen […] While some may find Off. Lariviere’s comments to have been insensitive, we do not believe that they rise to the level of misconduct, and certainly do not warrant termination, even if there was a clear policy involved […] We also believe that the subject of the Facebook posting was a matter of public concern, and protected speech. We believe that the termination is based on political considerations, not a fair, impartial assessment of the evidence…”

Racist conduct and exercising poor judgement are, for many police associations, insignificant or irrelevant concerns for officers charged with serving the public fairly.

In Phoenix, Arizona, 75 cops were caught on Facebook bashing Muslims, African-Americans, gays, and feminists. When Trayvon Martin was murdered, Phoenix officer Joshua Ankert wrote, “CONGRATULATIONS GEORGE ZIMMERMAN!!! Thank you for cleaning up our community one thug at a time.” Officer Dave Swick posted a roadside sign that said, “Ferguson protestors ahead, speed up, aim well.” Police dispatcher Christina Begay shared a picture of two cops laughing with the caption: “They said, ‘F—k the police,’ so I said ‘F—k your 911 call, I’ll get to your dying home boy when I finish my coffee.” Officer David Pallas posted a meme showing the Quran, with a caption that read: “HOW ABOUT BANNING THIS. IT OFFENDS ME!!” The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association defended the posts. “People — including cops — say things they regret.”

Add to a climate of hate the many unfortunate interactions between police officers and young people. Stop and Frisk — violations of the Fourth Amendment — go by many names: “community engagement,” “meet and greet,” “youth liaison.” But they only add to the fear, distrust and hatred many people have of police officers. In New Bedford a young man, Malcolm Gracia, is dead because police officers decided to aggressively “engage” a group of young men at Temple Landing after seeing what they thought could be a “gang handshake.”

After allegedly stabbing an officer — the details of which the police greatly exaggerated — Gracia was shot three times in the back and once in the side of the head. But the entire interaction should never have happened. “Even on the [police] version of the facts, the stop would be unlawful,” Judge Thomas F. McGuire Jr. wrote in a memorandum on a civil lawsuit filed by the victim’s sister. The City of New Bedford for many years claimed that the incident had occurred because of insufficient policies on “engagement” with youth. But after the ACLU filed several FOIA requests, the city’s argument collapsed. Police should have simply followed the law.

But it’s not just a few bad apples or the frequently-cited lack of clear policies. As we saw in the case of Santa Fe, New Mexico, departmental racism often reflects, and is even encouraged by, the leadership of police unions and associations who represent tens of thousands of officers.

Consider Hovsepian’s Brother in Blue, Ed Mullins, the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, New York City’s second largest police union. Mullins thought it was fine to share a video made by white supremacist Colin Flaherty (author of “Don’t Make the Black Kids Angry”) that calls black people “welfare queens,” “scam artists” and “monsters.” The film uses Trump-styled language:

“When a suspect chooses to flee from police, it is never for anything good,” the narrator says. “When a suspect flees a car at night in the projects, it can only be for something incredibly bad. One of the most astonishing aspects of police work in an urban environment, is the fact that almost literally no one has a job. The section 8 scam artists and welfare queens have mastered the art of gaming the taxpayer. Bounce from baby mama to baby mama, impregnate as many women as possible. She gets the welfare benefits, and you get the flop house benefits. Symbiotic.”

Mullins, nose freshly rubbed in his own white supremacy, uttered “I have black friends, white friends, Asian friends. I wouldn’t want to insult anyone. I don’t think one incident defines who I am.”

Or consider the nation’s largest group of sheriffs, the National Sheriff’s Association, which once sponsored its own crowdfunded border wall donation site but has now outsourced it to the American Border Foundation (ABF), an organization managed by white supremacists and supported by armed militias. (After months, ABF has raised only $222K of its $450 million goal).

According to Political Research Associates, a group that tracks nationalist currents in the U.S., sheriff departments throughout the country are riddled with members of the Patriot movement, Constitutional Sheriffs, militia members, Christian Identitarians, and white supremacists. Right here at home, Bristol County Massachusetts sheriff Tom Hodgson sits on the board of a group the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a hate group — FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, established by white supremacist John Tanton.

But combine police racism with hyper-patriotism, militarism and PTSD, and you’ve got a big, big, big problem.

Since 9-11 more than 2 million Americans have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department of Justice runs a program called COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) which provides grants to communities to turn “vets to cops.” In 2016 the DOJ handed out $119 million to help communities pay for approximately 900 policemen. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has created a recruitment guide for veterans, and veterans can use their GI Bill benefits while attending police academy. America increasingly says “thank you for your service” to its warriors by re-deploying them domestically.

But programs like these, and hiring practices that favor ex-military, have a serious downside. By prioritizing military experience over diversity, police departments put communities at risk. For example, the San Jose Police Department, a force with serious racism problems, sees veterans as naturals for the police “because we have a paramilitary structure, [and] military veterans often times can easily integrate.” What ever happened to community policing?

Then there are the after-effects of war. With an increasing percentage of veterans becoming police officers thanks to programs like COPS, many officers seem to think they are still fighting the Taliban or Iraqi insurgents. Ellen Kirshman, a psychologist who works with police officers, says that between 19% and 34% of all officers show some sign of PTSD: “This is pretty alarming. An officer with PTSD cannot think clearly, is probably hyper vigilant, has a short fuse, may not be sleeping well because of nightmares, might be policing in a reckless manner…” And this is precisely what one frequently sees in videos of police encounters with black men. Legislation has been signed into law to help officers with PTSD, but what about the public? Aren’t there cops who are simply too traumatized to serve the public? Even when they are identified, it’s difficult to remove them from the force.

When Elizabeth Warren spoke about the criminal justice system, she was talking about much more than policing. Yet police unions have become powerful lobbies and relentless opponents of criminal justice and prison reform. Natasha Lennard reports in the Intercept on the savage negative campaign the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA) waged against Governor Mario Cuomo’s criminal justice reforms. Likewise, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association spent over $10 million lobbying for the Three Strikes law, mandatory life sentences, and prison expansions. In Illinois, police unions waged a campaign to stop the closure of the brutal Tamms Supermax prison. And we have fifty states just like this.

But nothing shows how racist the criminal justice system is as clearly as the history of opposition to reforming it.

In 1991 Rep. William Edwards introduced H.R.2972, the Police Accountability Act of 1991. The bill made it “unlawful for any governmental authority to engage in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers that deprives persons of their constitutional or statutory rights, privileges, or immunities.” The bill had only 10 co-sponsors and never made it out of committee.

In 2000 John Conyers Jr. sponsored H.R. 3927, the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act of 2000, which sought to impose national standards on law enforcement as we currently do in education. It had only thirteen Democratic co-sponsors and never made it to a vote. In 2015 Conyers again filed H.R.2875, this time with 48 co-sponsors. But again it died.

In 2015 Rep. Henry Johnson Jr. sponsored H.R.1102, the Police Accountability Act of 2015, which had 15 co-sponsors and died. The bill amended “title 18, United States Code, to provide a penalty for assault or homicide committed by certain State or local law enforcement officers, and for other purposes.” Again in 2017 Johnson filed H.R.4331, with 8 lonely co-sponsors. Again, it died.

In 2017 Rep. Gwen Moore sponsored H.R. 3060, Preventing Tragedies between Police and Communities Act of 2017, which required that police departments receiving federal funding train officers in de-escalation techniques. The bill had only 24 co-sponsors and died in committee — having also failed in 2016.

In 2017 Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee sponsored H.R.47: Kalief’s Law, which sought to amend the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to provide for the humane treatment of youths in police custody. The bill had only one co-sponsor and there was never a roll call vote.

Whether a majority or minority in Congress, police accountability has never been a priority for Democrats or Republicans. E. Tammy Kim, in an excellent piece in the Nation (“What to Do About the Police”), writes that, “as it stands, the three branches of government are unwilling to regulate the police. Mayors and governors defer to police chiefs and union presidents; judges make cheesecloth of the Fourth and 14th Amendments; and legislators vote again and again to increase law-enforcement budgets.”

In a 2015 ruling the Supreme Court gave police broad latitude to shoot at citizens recklessly and with impunity, when it rejected a suit against a Texas police officer who fired into a car with a high power rifle from an overpass, paralyzing a driver. The officer joked: “How’s that for proactive?”

In 2018 the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Kisela v. Hughes that police officers can not be sued for arbitrary and unnecessary shootings — effectively granting law enforcement a deluxe edition of Constitutional rights. In dissenting, Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the ruling another sign of “unflinching willingness” to protect rogue cops and wrote that the decision “transforms the doctrine [of qualified immunity] into an absolute shield for law enforcement officers.” Cops in America today truly have a license to kill.

With one exception, every piece of reform legislation mentioned above was sponsored by an African-American. And that ought to tell you something — white people are failing to step up in sufficient numbers to fix injustices involving police, the courts, prisons, parole and probation systems, or to provide adequate rehabilitation and treatment of those ensnared in the “system.”

To quote Warren’s again, “the hard truth about our criminal justice system: it’s racist… I mean front to back.”

This is a lightly edited version of a post from August 2019.

The Fire Next Time, and the next

It has been 57 years since James Baldwin wrote The Fire Next Time — 28 years since Rodney King was beaten down by police in L.A. and 6 years since Michael Brown was murdered by one in Ferguson, Missouri. In my own lifetime there have been hundreds of these police lynchings, only a handful ever prosecuted.

Baldwin’s warning, from which his title was chosen, calls out the “racial nightmare” of this country by name, challenging America to “dare everything” to end it:

“If we — and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others — do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare and achieve our country, and change the history of the world. If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophet, recreated from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water, the fire next time!”

But White America not only refuses to do anything about racism, it doesn’t even want to hear about it. The fire Baldwin warned of is already upon us — repeatedly.

But if even the silent, nonviolent protest of “taking a knee” while the national anthem is being played is too much for delicate white sensibilities, then it is inevitable and expected — even reasonable to assume — that those most affected by America’s racial nightmare will have no other choice but to rage and try to burn the entire system down — over and over again, until the system stops killing them.

Hail to the Chief

Like everyone I have been watching events of the last few months with horror. I don’t mean the Corona virus, which most civilized nations, even the hardest-hit, have managed to confront with strength, medical science, and social responsibility — while the United States instead has chosen denial, lies, and finger-pointing.

No, as bad as it is — and it’s not over by a long shot — the world will survive this as it did the 1918 Spanish flu.

It’s our “democracy” — and the word is in quotes because I’m not convinced we actually have one — it’s our democracy’s demise that’s making me lose sleep.

No need to recite the long list of crimes and usurpations from the fascist playbook that the current President has committed in only the last few months. No need to point out the erratic, disturbing behavior on display daily. Encouraging acts violence, threats to the press, the Justice Department run by a gang of cronies defending criminals. All part of a four year nightmare from which we have not yet awakened.

Even the steady approval the President receives from his “base” of White Christian nationalists, anti-government militias, overt white supremacists and treasonous grifters — this, in one form or another, has been with us since the founding of this slave republic. Historians can fill you in on past centuries, but if you don’t know what’s transpired in your own lifetime, you haven’t been paying attention.

I’ve been relatively silent these last months. Truth is, I’ve said just about everything I’ve had to say about Capitalism, American imperialism, foreign policy, militarism, white supremacy, inequality, immigration, press freedom, democracy, criminal justice, and police accountability.

If, after the second collapse of the American economy in little more than a decade — and if, after seeing precisely on what kind of foundation American Capitalism is based, the kind of people running the show, the total disregard they have for the lives of citizens and how easily they will abuse the power of the state for their own advantage — if after all this inescapable reality people cannot recognize America’s true face, then what’s the point of hurling more words into the void?

Hardly surprising, my conservative friends and relatives don’t understand why I have a problem with things that have been working so well for them — for us, for white America — these last 400 years. But it is American Liberals that worry me the most.

Here we are, on the cusp of a national election, and Democrats — correctly identified as the party of upper middle class elites — don’t know what side they’re on. Of the several trillion dollars of COVID-19 bailout money allocated, little is actually finding its way into human hands. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the amount “crumbs” when refusing to support one rescue bill.

Here we are, faced with the loss of 50 million jobs and the Democratic nominee is still clinging to Obamacare — employer-based healthcare — and his party has never debated generational poverty.

Here we are, faced with a resurgence of lynchings and police abuse, viral infection of prisoners in tightly-packed prisons — and Democrats have said almost nothing about mass incarceration and police accountability.

Here we are, faced with the obvious connections between global pandemics and global environmental crises, and the need to address them urgently — and the DNC still thinks environmental policy and the Green New Deal are too controversial to discuss in public.

My Liberal friends expect me to support a gaffe machine who was just pulled out of storage and still smells of mothballs — this after watching younger, better, smarter candidates of color being systematically flicked off the primary chess board.

But of course I’ll vote for him. What’s the alternative? A neurosyphilitic white supremacist? Liberals are not wrong to describe the 45th president as a toxic menace. But he’s only a menace because he has so successfully exploited every loophole in a Constitutional government designed by slaveholders to thwart a functional democracy.

My Liberal friends tell me their man is just the guy America needs to return things to “normal.”

And this is precisely the problem. The “new normal” in America is really just the unavoidably, undeniable cartoon version of the “old normal” Democrats would have us return to. And it does nothing to address underlying problems of economic inequality, racism, militarism, and systemic exploitation and injustice that have made a lot of Democrats financially very comfortable.

Among Democrats there is an obsessive preoccupation with quashing “divisiveness,” a disturbing avoidance of committing to specific policy positions, and an even more disturbing kinship with Republicans — the obsession with “leadership.” Maybe it’s because in a Capitalist society every chief executive is a mini-Stalin, and it’s just another convention we never question. One friend wrote that a detailed party program was wrong, that we should elect Biden and then let him write it: “once elected, then comes the hard work of determining the specifics.”

What my friend describes is a very American, very corporate, fundamentally undemocratic, and frankly patronizing, process of leaving heavy thinking to a leader who doesn’t have to follow party principles. In fact, in this world parties don’t have any principles. By the time political decisions are made lobbyists are already running the show — because they were the ones whispering into the candidate’s ear from the beginning.

A recent example of the Liberal preoccupation with “leadership” is a Washington Post article by Karen Tumulty attempting to connect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 remarks with Robert Kennedy’s after Martin Luther King’s assassination: “Though Kennedy was a white man of enormous privilege, he spoke with the moral authority of one who had lost his own brother to a murderer’s bullet […] Barely two months later, Kennedy himself would be slain. But the words he said still live. They speak not only to what this country can still become, but its need for a leader who can point the way in that direction.”

But nostalgia, name-dropping, and ham-handed metaphors don’t cut it for a lot of Americans. If you hadn’t noticed this week, African Americans are fed up with being killed and fed up with meaningless verbiage.

From Bakari Sellers to Derecka Purnell to Van Jones to Trevor Noah Liberals have had a recent opportunity to hear (again) from black intellectuals and notables in media outlets they are familiar with. And these men and women are not saying anything past generations haven’t told white Liberals. The question is: why haven’t we been listening?

Van Jones took aim at Liberal hypocrisy: “It’s not the racist white person who is in the Ku Klux Klan that we have to worry about. It’s the white, liberal Hillary Clinton supporter walking her dog in Central Park who would tell you right now, ‘Oh I don’t see race, race is no big deal to me, I see all people the same, I give to charities,’ but the minute she sees a black man who she does not respect, or who she has a slight thought against, she weaponized race like she had been trained by the Aryan Nation.”

I guess some of us are just a special sort of stupid. If Trump was promising “shooting” for “looting,” New York City major Bill DeBlasio was shooting himself in the foot. After NYPD police officers actually ran over demonstrators with patrol cars, the mayor defended their actions, attributing unrest in the city to “out-of-towners” — apparently the Northern version of “outside agitators.”

Liberals just don’t know (without running a focus group or consulting pollsters) whose side they’re on.

An article in the Root ridiculed the White need to “contextualize the anger, frustration and desperation that forced protesters to recreate the lawlessness and chaos that black people experience on a daily basis.” “Alright,” it began. “August 1619…”

It is not a single person, a particular president, or a specific “leader” who is the cancer destroying the United States. It is not bad leadership but Capitalism and White Supremacy that are killing people, impoverishing families, oppressing people.

If Liberals think that replacing one old white hair-plugged, dental-veneered geezer with another is the only remedy for what ails us, I have some hydroxychloroquine I’d like to sell you.

The issue is not leadership, but the system that the leader leads.

The America of 2025

Each day we are reminded how corrupt, incompetent, mentally ill, and cognitively impaired Donald Trump is. His administration is a nightmare from which we awake only to discover that the new day’s reality has become even more frightening than the day before.

With over 1.2 million COVID-19 cases and over 73,000 deaths [as of today], Trump is more concerned with “reopening” the country than saving lives, providing testing and masks, or issuing a national shutdown order. Trump’s leadership has been as lacking as with every other GOP response to a natural disaster.

Trump has hawked snake oil cures, peddled multiple conspiracy theories involving China and the World Health Organization, his scientists have been muzzled, he has sidelined and censored the CDC, and his son-in-law is in charge of phantom ventilator contracts. Just as with deals involving the mafia, when doing business with the White House Don it seems it pays to “know a guy.”

In the midst of all this chaos, ineptitude and deep division over how (or whether) to socially distance, people have no recourse but to fend for themselves, make their own masks, help their neighbors, try to nurture social connections, and somehow keep body and soul together. Trump’s followers, however, are prepping for the apocalypse, stockpiling weapons and ammunition, placing their neighbors in the crosshairs, and putting them in spitting (and coughing) distance — all because it’s their “right” as God-fearing White Americans.

In Michigan, armed militia members opposing the governor’s stay-at-home orders entered the state capitol, forcing legislators to don kevlar vests. In contrast, the full weight of the State has come down on any Black person found ignoring masks or social distancing orders. That is, when Black folks aren’t being harrassed for actually wearing a face mask. In Texas, a white woman refused to obey an order to close her salon and became a hero in a state that objects to asylum seekers crossing the border because “we are a nation of laws.” But laws only for some.

The Coronavirus has also illuminated America’s festering racial, class, and economic inequalities. For Republicans the pandemic has been a bonanza for extracting greater tax and loan advantages for Big Business, enacting bans on travel and abortion while the public is distracted, and for returning the country to the 1950’s. For Democrats, the economic and health crisis on our doorstep hasn’t fully registered. Democrats managed to choose a 78 year-old Centrist with a massive #MeToo problem who just wants to return the world to 2012 and to tweak Obama’s flawed health plan as little as possible. In the meantime, the world has completely changed. Even with Biden’s candidacy in shambles, they’re still sticking with their man and his vision for the past.

Although people of color and America’s working poor have borne the brunt of the pandemic, there is little indication that help is on the way. Although $3 trillion has been disbursed to save American jobs, most of the money is predictably not finding its way into human hands.

Black Americans account for a staggering number of Coronavirus deaths. In Louisiana, the percentage of African American mortality among all COVID-19 deaths is 70%. The same percentage describes the situation in Chicago. Black Americans have long had high rates of asthma (lack of environmental protections), diabetes and heart problems (lack of healthcare and insurance) — and these are all “underlying conditions” which reduce COVID-19 survivability. It’s no exaggeration to say that America is literally killing Black people.

Despite the fact that the the Navajo Nation has the third highest infection rate in the country, it has not received emergency funds for testing. Similarly, the Seattle Indian Health Board, a Native American health center, “asked for tests, and instead they sent us a box of body bags,” according to the center’s CEO. White America seems to be trying to tell Native Americans something.

LatinX workers in the nation’s meat processing plants have been forced to work-while-sick at their jobs despite massive infection levels. Likewise, people in the jails and prisons of this nation with the greatest incarceration rate in the world — overwhelmingly poor and people of color — are at risk of contracting the virus in crowded, unsanitary conditions, deprived of soap, face masks and testing.

Many Americans are now literally starving, people are unable to pay for rent or food, and everyone wants an expansion of antibody testing and vaccine development. But corporate immunity is about the only immunity the Trump administration and its collaborators in the Senate really care about. Democrats just signed off on the greatest corporate giveaway in American history, and only one House representative protested the “crumbs for our families.”

I am confident that America will survive a global pandemic — just as it did 102 years ago. Whether we end up with a quarter of a million or several million deaths is largely up to the lunatics running the asylum. Some of us will be statistics; others will be survivors. Life will go on.

But it’s the survival of anything resembling a democracy that’s got me worried. Unless a substantial number of Americans have had enough, the world of 2025 will be run by the same Capitalists who have profited the most from a series of corporate bailouts beginning in the Seventies. For all the lofty Liberal expressions of “rethinking America” and “reconsidering” who is actually an essential worker, don’t expect to see any change unless we — collectively — decide that an essential worker ought to be paid at least as much as a supply chain consultant. But please, somebody, tell me how that happens in a Capitalist economy.

We don’t have a democracy now, and we won’t have one in 2025 unless everyone is equal under the law. Without a serious effort to erase long-standing economic and racial injustices and completely restructure criminal justice and policing in America, cops will still be harassing and even lynching Black men in America in 2025, and the jails will still be full of poor people who can’t make bail. Without health care as a right, some of us will live decades longer than others. Without reparations or a plan to lift up generationally disadvantaged communities, many Black and Native and LatinX Americans will still live in a Third World America while White America continues to live in its dreamy version of Pleasantville.

A new society is possible. But I fear White America, comfortable in its privilege, really has no incentive to tinker with what’s been working for them so well all these years.

Scam Alert

You’re already stressed-out enough, you miss your friends, you’ve started watching even bad movies now, and you’re out of hand sanitizer.

But now you get an email informing you that some criminal not only has the password to your computer but that he’s going to share all those naughty videos on your hard drive …. unless you send him the equivalent of $2,000 in bitcoin.

Two friends received such emails in the last five days and both asked how they should respond — so here are my suggestions.

The bad news is that you’ve been doing a poor job of creating and protecting your passwords. The good news is that the email is just a scam and almost certainly harmless. By the law of large numbers, one of the thousands of people this criminal is threatening might actually have such videos and would pay up.

The criminal most likely bought a package of thousands of emails and passwords on the Dark Web and it just so happened you are/were a subscriber to one of the services that suffered a data breach at some point.

Fake or not, the email is a wake-up call to do a better job of protecting your personal data. Besides, you need a project and you’ve probably got the time.

  1. Check all your email addresses to see where the hacker might have obtained your logins.
  2. Start using a password manager to store your passwords. There are many opinions on this but it’s certain that something is better than the clearly inadequate scheme you have been using.For mere mortals LastPass is free and offers tools to check for weak and duplicated passwords and other vulnerabilities. LastPass also offers a version of their software for any device (Windows, Mac, iPhone, Android, etc.).

    Besides LasPass, Bitwarden, Avira Password Manager, 1Password, and Dashlane are all reliable and reputable alternatives.

  3. Change the password on your computer.
  4. Consider using a more secure email service than your old Comcast, AOL, or Yahoo account. Google, Microsoft, and Apple all offer reasonably secure alternatives.

And because you may have expected this to be a political post, well, here’s one (but it’s not mine and it’s definitely not for children’s ears):