The Police

Police, crime and gun violence have been much on my mind the past few days, and it all feels like a key example of how our sociocultural infrastructure is misaligned and wrecking itself and defies fixing and is probably going to blow up.

Executive summary:

Police officers just keep on shooting and killing unarmed Black people, largely without consequence, and my own Twitter feed reflects all day long the outraged responses of “all cops are bastards,” “abolition now,” “you can’t reform evil,” etc.

At the very same time a few violent crimes close together, here in Lakewood, have people screaming “where are the fucking cops” and lashing out, calling for the mayor’s head, forming (armchair) vigilante groups on Facebook, etc.

To the extent that there exists “an answer” to this, I think it lies at least as much in other directions e.g. the gun-crazy political-industrial complex, as it does “somewhere in the middle.”

But this is America, the many reinforcing features of our toxic culture include constant and powerful infantilizing systems, and all things must be either 100% bad or 100% good and any kind of other suggestion is widely offensive, and basically, like I was saying the other day.

It is overwhelmingly obvious to me that racist violence is a very large presence in American policing (along with other armed enforcement agencies like CBP). Many of these forces are simply outright feral, flagrantly contemptuous toward civilian authority of which they are in theory sworn public servants. The preponderance of society’s rules and systems almost encourage them to be feral, in fact.

It is also obvious to me that evil and destructive people exist, and will go on existing for some time, and demand for some sort of organized active right-now tangible check upon such people’s activities is broadly popular by overwhelming margins, and personally I don’t think that demand is completely stupid or wrong.

I would like to think that in a utopian world where everyone just cooperated and shared, and no one was greedy or abusive, we could all enjoy good lives and feel safe without anyone spending time on security or enforcement etc. I support lots of things which hopefully could make this world a little more like such a scenario. I also believe that such a scenario is really remote with or without my preferred policies.

Meanwhile I am aware that typical perception of what police do and accomplish is wide of the mark, like typical perceptions of many realities. I’m also aware that they do nonetheless find and contain for some period more than zero people who endanger or harm others, and I think this is actually beneficial in addition to being incredibly popular.

I am aware that credibility of the term “reform” has really been chewed up, digested, and excreted into a runny blob of shit, within the context of policing, as a result of years of attempts which have neither put a stop to police shooting and killing unarmed Black people, nor established reliable punishments for that. I think that starting over completely, and building a new very different system, will even if successful end up with something which would still reasonably be called “police” by the sloppy standards of our language. (Kind of like how you could “abolish the IRS” but still end up with a tax-collection agency unless you’re going full anarchist which is probably not the intent of everyone who would love to “abolish the IRS.”) I nonetheless support communities which are ready to try what is certainly in many cities a very reasonable initiative to build a whole new very different system, although that’s clearly difficult to do at all let alone quickly.

Meanwhile the record of people and systems at change, particularly during the past year, has made me more pessimistic about the prospects for sudden initiatives to throw it all out and start over. (One could call this a shift toward conservatism, except that in our society that word now refers to a radicalism which springs from privilege but is increasingly unmoored from any reality at all.) I’m still ready to support lots of big, structural change, because among other things I’m even more pessimistic about the viability of custodianship in a society which is tearing itself apart. (I definitely support, for example, many changes to what society deems prohibited vs promotes.)

I also believe, ultimately, that a lot of this is tied up with a cultural sickness which just is not found everywhere but sure is a chronic American condition:

The Unites States of America as a political unit is not working. If some system of rules could make it work—questionable at this point—the existing rules very effectively obstruct trying to find out.

“In this interregnum there arises a great variety of morbid symptoms” and I have made that observation many times and certainly will make it again and now I’m going to take a walk.

2 Thoughts on “The Police

  1. I was persuaded to defund/abolish the police crowd by a perhaps non-intuitive argument. The people who I’ve talked to (which obviously comes with whatever biases are built into that idea to begin with) who are promoting extreme anti-police measures aren’t doing so because they genuinely feel there should be no such thing as policing. Their idea is that ANY measures that might actually be taken — as in: real, actionable items that are legislated or otherwise mandated — will be a compromise of some sort. If the demand was ongoing, regular diversity training, the result would be a single class, for example. So by making the demand about as extreme as can be imagined, a compromise will still yield some meaningful results. If their demands are already half of what they really want to make it sound more palatable, they’ll wind up with a quarter of their real demands at most.

    So cries of “defund the police” — again, at least within the context I’ve seen it used — aren’t realistically expecting city and state officials to suddenly set police budgets to zero. But since the seemingly simple demand of “don’t kill unarmed Black people” isn’t being heeded at all, the ideas being pushed need to be pushed much farther to even get any movement whatsoever.

    • A few things going on here.

      I understand “defund” and “abolish” to be different things, and while there probably are both proponents and opponents who think about them more or less interchangeably, I don’t want to attempt to operate in the kind of space where nothing really means anything specific. I think “defund” is a completely reasonable argument, and in some circumstances I expect it is the correct one as well. “Abolish,” as noted, seems like it is either unrealistic or else not meant to be taken literally.

      As for making an extreme demand, for the purposes of bargaining, I certainly understand that thinking, but I can’t personally endorse it, for related principle and practical reasons.

      If there is anything I can still believe in as there seems less and less on which we can rely, it’s that honesty tends to be better off. Of course there are some advantages to dishonesty, but I think they are mostly short-term, and that in time dishonesty usually catches up to those who intentionally practice it.

      If anything means anything, at all, I believe that advocating essentially what one really believes is the best course, makes for a stronger approach than advocating anything else, including intentionally extreme exaggerations of what one believes is the best course. The temptation to think that if you need three you should demand six or eight or more, so that you can bargain and still get what you need, is simple to understand. Likewise “it’s more about moving the Overton Window,” which is probably in some thinking here too. But if, again, anything means anything, I have to believe that one’s best approach to advocacy will to maximize the evidence and logic on one’s side; one’s best shot at this is advocating what the evidence and logic seems to support, not more and not less.

      Of course I also understand skepticism toward this, and objections that “we have to fight fire with fire,” etc. Generally I am of the same opinion except that I regard intentional dishonesty as corrosive. (I might add that diverse coalitions are probably at more risk from sowing distrust, than are more authoritarian-minded factions, although they tend to have worse related problems with becoming too convinced of their own lies…)

      Ultimately I recognize the belief that authorized approaches for redress of grievances is simply not working, a phenomenon which I regard as fundamental and probably past the point of fixing before things get much worse… but I’m repeating myself, which I should reserve for the blog’s main content. :-p

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