Chart Of The Day

Grand Juries

Aaron Blake highlights a poll finding “that 60 percent of Americans disagree with the lack of an indictment against officer Daniel Pantaleo”:

Although 40 percent disagree “strongly” with there being no indictment in Garner’s case, just 24 percent say the same about the case in Ferguson. And in Ferguson, there’s majority support — 52 percent — for no indictment. So basically, Americans as a whole favor no indictment in Ferguson. In Garner’s case, they overwhelmingly think there should have been one. And in fact, just one-quarter of Americans agree with the grand jury’s decision not to indict.

This suggests, does it not, that the gloomiest assessments of America’s ability to see through race are too dire. If we were truly racially polarized, we’d see similar responses to similar white-cop-black-victim scenarios. Which means we have some common ground to stand on.

What’s The Point Of Body Cams?

Uri Friedman talks to criminologist Barak Ariel about the impact of putting body cameras on officers:

The technology is “surely promising, but we don’t know that it’s working,” Ariel told me. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t approve drugs until they’ve been studied extensively, he explained, and governments should take a similar approach with body-worn cameras. It’s a solution that has yet to be proven.

Ariel should know. He’s currently researching the effects of body cameras on policing everywhere from Brazil to Ghana to Israel to Northern Ireland, and finding that some police departments (and police unions) love the idea and others hate it. Nearly all of these tests have yet to be completed, but Ariel recently co-authored a study on the practice in Rialto, California, where he found that police officers who weren’t wearing cameras were twice as likely to use force as those who were. During the 12-month experiment, the police department also saw a reduction in citizens’ complaints compared with previous years. The researchers concluded that the benefits of wearing cameras trumped the costs.

But Ariel insists that there isn’t enough evidence so far to generalize the finding and assert that body-worn cameras offer a net benefit to community policing.

Jason Koebler contends that “lack of indictment in the Garner case doesn’t fundamentally change the police body camera argument, and shouldn’t be used as an argument for or against body cameras one way or another”:

Body cameras are not a cure-all, and they don’t treat the underlying problem of police brutality or power tripping. But, well, they’re better than nothing, and they’re a good first step toward creating a culture where cops think before they act.

The main thrust of the argument behind police body cameras has never been the idea that video evidence can be used to convict a cop of murder in court or even that they can be used as evidence at all. Instead, body cameras create an environment where police intrinsically know they are being watched, that there’s at least the possibility that they’ll be held accountable for their actions.

Rebecca Leber spells out why video evidence often doesn’t make a difference:

Police still have wide leeway for using deadly force. Juries remain deferential to officers’ judgements of when to incapcitate a person or fire their weapons. As Amanda Taub has explained at Vox, “That means that to press criminal charges in a police shooting, the prosecutor has a heavy burden to overcome. The officer is likely to claim that he believed the suspect was a threat and made a split-second decision to use force. The jury is likely to believe him, even if his decision was a bad one.” At The Nation, Chase Madar pointed to the case of Kajieme Powell, John Crawford III, and Milton Hall, all of whom were shot by police and all of whose deaths were filmed on camera. None resulted in charges.

In other words, body cams can helpbut they still don’t entirely fix police abuse. Juries still show officers extreme deference, even when police violence gets caught on tape.

Matthew Pratt Guterl reflects on the countless videos of police brutality circulating online:

[T]hese videos do more than simply provide convincing evidence for lawsuits. They show the willful resistance and inventiveness of poor and racially marginalized Americans. In settings that are emotionally charged and dangerous, ordinary people are acting as interpreters and recorders of historyof police brutality racism, yes, but also of our cops’ post-9/11 militarization and depersonalized policing strategies. There are other cameras out theredispassionate security cameras and dashboard cams, and body cameras showing the police officer’s perspectivebut witness videos are as close as we, the viewers, get to the victim’s perspective. While the cameras stop nothing, they do allow us to see.

Will Any Real Change Come From Ferguson?

Douthat fears that “from the point of view of actual persuasion, as opposed to just mobilization — of reaching people who don’t follow these issues closely, or who might generally incline toward a different narrative, more pro-cop or just more pro-status quo — Ferguson is turning into a poor exhibit for the policy causes that it’s being used to elevate”:

My worry, therefore, which I tried to get at in the column, is that because the facts on the ground don’t clearly fit the policy narrative they’re being tied to, and may not fit at all, Ferguson and its aftermath are going to be too polarizing to effectively serve the kind of meliorist consensus — uniting a lot of religious conservatives and libertarians with liberals and the left — that’s been gradually emerging around criminal justice, drug policy, and related issues over the last five or ten years.

Digby highly doubts that bipartisan cooperation on criminal justice was ever in the cards:

The bill that seems to have everyone feeling so positive about bipartisan comity is the Smarter Sentencing Act, which has the backing of such disparate groups as the ACLU and the Heritage Foundation.

Ted Cruz says he’s for it too. It basically will give courts more discretion in sentencing and lower the daft mandatory sentences for drug crimes from 20-, 10- and five-year mandatory minimums to 10, five and two years. Considering the tremendous overcrowding in federal prisons this seems like a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, there are a few roadblocks. Sen. Chuck Grassley thinks mandatory minimums are an important crime-fighting tool. And for reasons of their own, Sens. John Cornyn and Jeff Sessions are likewise opposed. But perhaps the biggest obstacle to any kind of bipartisan criminal justice reform (that makes any sense) is the fact that the Republican base is not only strongly opposed to it, GOP political consultants would be deprived of one of their most potent lines of attack. (And, just as likely, Democratic challengers would cynically use it against them.)

When push comes to shove, this is the evergreen Republican go-to election attack. We saw it just recently in the fall campaign.

John Dickerson, meanwhile, wants a GOP presidential contender to give a speech about Ferguson:

As my colleague Jamelle Bouie pointed out on the Slate Political Gabfest, the most effective speech any politician could give in the wake of the Ferguson verdict might be one given by a Southern Republican. If a Republican, whose party benefits from the overwhelming support of white voters, could serve as a witness, at some level, to the feelings of distrust and anger within the black community, it might contribute to the conversation so many people say we should be having. It would not require abandoning values or offending their core constituency. Such a speech could even eclipse whatever President Obama says on a visit to Ferguson, given that he is hemmed in by the responsibilities of his office and the political crust of the past six years.

Of course, a potential GOP presidential candidate might choose an entirely different path. Instead of offering an example of bridge building, he might decide that the requirement after Ferguson is to defend the police force against a media that has convicted an officer trying to do his job in a brutal environment and speak up for the 61 percent of Republicans who in August thought race was getting more attention than it deserved, according to a Pew poll. Whichever route a candidate takes, such a speech would certainly distinguish him, and almost every future candidate wants that right now.

Walking While Black, Ctd

Readers add further nuance to the viral video we posted:

Thank you for updating your post with the sheriff’s comments.  (And since the person in question was originally identified as “light-skinned”, it’s not clear that being black was ever the issue.) Pontiac, Michigan is a city where the County sheriff patrols because there is no longer a local police force. A parent from our kid’s school was shot dead while minding his shop. For awhile, it was normal, driving through Pontiac, to have to sit in one’s car while the car in front of you executed drug deals with people on the street.  It is a place that was at one point, quite literally, lawless.

In that video, a shopkeeper, having been robbed more than once before, called the sheriff when something looked suspicious, and the sheriff came.  Once there, he was calm and respectful, and did his job responsibly.  In Pontiac, that is just absolutely awesome.

Another points to a 2009 incident in which Bob Dylan was similarly stopped by cops and asked for his ID:

Not all neighborhoods like people walking about.

It’s like there’s something wrong with you. Why don’t you have a car? Why are you walking? In the place I grew up – very blue-collar burbs – people simply did not walk. Then I moved to NYC, and since that time I never want to live in a neighborhood where you can’t walk. All people should feel comfortable to walk down the street, hand in pockets or whatever, but the guy in the video was right to note the absurdity of the person who made the call in the first place. At least the guy and the officer were able to discuss it without anything horrible happening.

Another notes a website we’ve featured before:

While I appreciate your sentiment that “more black men need to bring their cell-phones to these police interactions,” you should note that recording police puts the people with the recording devices at risk. There’s a great website called that has documented literally hundreds of incidents of police abusing, arresting or assaulting people who have tried to exercise their First Amendment rights to record or photograph the police. If black men started routinely recording interactions with the police, then that would escalate the risk to those black men.  Just to pick three stories from the last few days – here, here, and here. (Those are literally the top three non-Ferguson stories from the “recording the police” category as I type.)

Another pans out:

I think we’re missing a drama that accentuated part of the issue over the last few days. I’m a 60-year-old engineer visiting San Antonio on business. Last week, as you may know, a white guy shot up downtown Austin, targeting the Mexican consulate, the US courthouse and the Austin PD building before being killed by police. Today I was having lunch with a coworker who lives in Austin and had been visiting Philly last week. When I mentioned the shooting to him, he hadn’t heard of it, even though he LIVES in Austin.

In the last few years, over a dozen white, right-wing anti-government terrorists have targeted police officers resulting in the deaths of over 10 cops. Yet this is so invisible even people living in Austin don’t know about it. When I mentioned this to a buddy of mine, a white conservative cop, he waved it away saying criminals killed more cops than white terrorists have.

It’s obvious the blinkers are on, EVEN AMONG COPS. Yes, criminals kill cops, but can you imagine the outcry if a dozen cops had been killed by Muslims? The St Louis Police Officer’s Association demands an apology from football players for raising their hands in sympathy with the Brown family, but where is the outrage against the Republican officeholder who said she’d kill government officials who “tried to take away her rights”? Where is the outrage against the NRA that enables military weapons to be openly sold in the US (and they get around this by saying weapons like the AR15 aren’t “military”.)

Cops ARE being targeted by the right. Cliven Bundy was proof. He was a hero until his racism was too strident even for the right. Yet the cops still ignore the threat posed by right-wing terrorism and, instead, shake down black US citizens who walk with their hands in their pockets in the winter.

The President Backs Body Cams … And Not Much Else

New York City Public Advocate Displays Police Wearable Cameras

Zeke Miller details Obama’s planned executive orders:

President Barack Obama is preparing to issue an executive order to calling for additional oversight of various federal programs which provide military surplus equipment to local law enforcement agencies, senior administration officials said Monday, but will stop short of banning the transfer of heavy gear to police forces. …

Obama will also announce a three-year $263 million package to increase the use of police body-worn cameras and expand local law enforcement training. The program, modeled after a similar program for bullet-proof vests for officers, would provide $75 million over three years for the “Body Worn Camera Partnership Program.” Administration officials said it would provided a 50 percent match for body-camera purchases by state and local agencies, enough for 50,000 new cameras. Officials said they hope to secure about $70 million in funding for the effort as part of a government funding deal that must be reached in the coming two weeks.

George Condon Jr. views the announcement as yet another example of Obama’s “trademark caution”:

He was cautious about the use of surplus military equipment by domestic police forces, promising to make it more transparent so it can be studied. He was cautious on police behavior, promising to work with Congress to pay for more body cameras to be worn by cops on the street. He was cautious about the Justice Department’s role, announcing that the outgoing attorney general will “convene a series of these meetings all across the country.” And he was cautious in falling back on that most familiar of Washington responses—a task force to further study the situation.

Scott Shackford is skeptical that the president is really committed to de-militarizing the police:

The White House promised to study police militarization in the wake of how various law enforcement agencies in Ferguson, Missouri, responded to the peaceful protesters, not just the aggressive or criminal ones. What comes out of the report is a call for better documentation and transparency, and an easily supportable demand that local governments must actually review and authorize acquisition of the “controlled property” military equipment (guns and vehicles) by law enforcement agencies.

What the report doesn’t recommend is scaling back the programs in any notable or significant way. It appears as though the White House is trying to have it both ways on police militarization, calling for reforms without having to tackle the issues surrounding whether it’s actually necessary.

Trevor Timm is more blunt:

Obama said he wants to avoid building a “militarized culture” in police departments, yet his White House report claims all the militarization programs are “valuable” to law enforcement, without going into any detail of where that value has actually been shown. For example, when was the last time a local police officer drove over a fucking mine? Why would neighborhood cops ever need Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) that were meant to protect soldiers against IEDs in Iraq? The White House’s four months of “research” into federal funding simply does not venture to explain. Nor does it explain any use for any of the Pentagon’s weaponry now in the hands of our local police.

Emily Badger argues along the same lines:

[B]y calling for local police to receive more training — including on civil rights and civil liberties — when they receive military-style equipment, the review leaves unasked the question Obama’s own earlier comments seemed to raise: Is it even a good idea to give it to them?

Joshua Brustein focuses instead on the body cams fund, which could “almost double the number of cameras in use in the country”:

The White House’s support of cameras isn’t a surprise. In the days after Brown was shot, a petition on in support of legislation requiring all state, county, and local police to wear cameras gathered nearly 155,000 signatures. Roy Austin of Obama’s Domestic Policy Council posted an official response that described years of work by the administration to advance the use of body-worn and dashboard cameras. Police departments have long been coming around on cameras, but progress is slow. Adopting police cameras requires thousands of independent agencies coming to terms with thorny privacy and accountability issues.

Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation, says that the biggest barrier is cost. The White House will match the spending of local and state agencies who decide to buy cameras, mirroring a similar federal program that has led to the purchase of over 1.1 million vests for law enforcement agencies. The money won’t come without strings attached: Bueermann expects a requirement that every officer in participating departments wear a camera at all times while in the field.

Rich Lowry recommends a different reform:

The most needful reform in Ferguson and surrounding communities, per the excellent reporting of Radley Balko of the Washington Post, is the end of the obnoxious and parasitic practice of squeezing revenue out of residents with fines from traffic and other petty offenses. This creates an incentive for police to hassle motorists and is especially burdensome to poor residents. Because this issue is exceedingly local and dull, almost no one talks about it.

(Photo: New York City Public Advocate Letitia James displays a video camera that police officers could wear on patrol during a press conference on August 21, 2014 in New York City.  By Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The Best Of The Dish Today

We don’t seem to have finished discussing Ferguson, so one more thought. I agree with those who argue that the police’s interaction with young black men is, in too many cases, riddled with bias and far too quick to use lethal force. But I agree with others that the Michael Brown case is not the case with which to make that argument. And the liberal reflex to turn it into a synecdoche is a troubling one for reasons John Judis lays out:

Liberals took the decision by the grand jury to symbolize, or stand in for, the greater injustice of the Ferguson and of the American criminal justice department.  But in fact the reverse occurred. They projected the larger injustice of the system onto the grand jury’s ruling.

I’m reminded of the case of Matthew Shepard, where the need to project the injustice of violence against gay men onto one complicated case blinded people to a more interesting and complex reality. Michael Brown did not deserve to die, any more than Matthew Shepard did. But that doesn’t mean both are perfect victims, unalloyed by all the flaws that flesh is heir to; or that their deaths illustrated pure random homophobia or pure racism. And this need for perfect victims is of a piece with a church of liberalism in which there is only one way to be good – a member of a minority – and only one sin – prejudice. All churches need saints and martyrs. But liberalism – no more than conservatism – should never be a church. It’s as dangerous to civil politics as Christianism.

A reader notes how this church’s doctrines are increasingly enforced – and sinners punished – on social media:

Many of us mocked the Tea Party in its seemingly religious quest to root out “RINOs” and its dedication to finding ever more fringe and lunatic conservative causes, but something similar seems to be happening to liberals. Looking at the weekly outraged Facebook posts and blog articles of friends, colleagues, and commentators, I see the purpose of the liberal conversation as increasingly being the enforcement of a shared set of ideals and the rooting out of those among us who might disagree with them. We’re building an echo chamber in which dissenting voices are first drowned out and then excluded. This isn’t about building forums for debate with like-minded souls – it’s about dividing the world into The Righteous and The Wicked.

And the Wicked will be fired from their jobs as well!

Today, we covered some other topics: Israel’s latest lurch toward disenfranchising its non-Jewish citizens; Chris Christie’s enduring cruelty; Chris Rock on the left’s war on comedy; and the prospect of fine wines from Sweden. Plus: dogs who can’t fetch; and Obama’s uptick in approval.

The most popular post of the day was Listening; next up: Why Doesn’t Ferguson Happen Abroad? A reader has an addendum to that post, and it is the case of the police shooting of Mark Duggan in north London in 2011, prompting the Tottenham riots. A good primer on the case can be found here.

Many of today’s posts were updated with your emails – read them all here.  You can always leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish. 19 more readers became subscribers today. You can join them here – and get access to all the readons and Deep Dish – for a little as $1.99 month. Gift subscriptions are available here. Dish t-shirts are for sale here and our new coffee mugs here. One happy customer:

Just got mine! It’s big, solid. I can feel the quality!

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dog with beagle mug

My ten-year-old rescue mutt (border collie/Labrador?) is enjoying our new beagle mug.

Happy AIDS Day and see you in the morning.

Reasons To Hope On Race


William H. Frey marks the slow, steady decline of segregation:

The average white resident, for example, lives in a far less diverse neighborhoodone that is more than three-quarters whitethan residents of any other group. Nonetheless, the average white person today lives in a neighborhood that includes more minorities than was the case in 1980, when such neighborhoods were nearly 90 percent white. Moreover, the average member of each of the nation’s major minority groups lives in a neighborhood that is at least one-third white, and in the case of Asians, nearly one-half white.

He expects the continuation of these trends:

Population shifts that are bringing Hispanics and Asians to previously whiter New Sun Belt and Heartland regions will most certainly continue to alter the neighborhood experiences of these groups by bringing them into more contact with whites. The nation’s blacks are moving onto a path that more closely follows that of other racial minorities and immigrant groups as more blacks move to more suburban and integrated communities. The broader migration patterns are moving in the direction of greater neighborhood racial integration, even if segregation is far from being eliminated.

And then it seems to me you have to factor in the increasing number of interracial marriages:


What Chris Rock was referring to with respect to his young daughters is the impact of this big generation of non-white babies. They’ll form yet another new minority – alongside Hispanics and Asians – until all such non-white minorities become a majority in 2050. At some point, it is conceivable that “race” will become so alloyed and meaningless a term it could become irrelevant, or that racism will become more nuanced and diffuse, revealing new variously-hued racial coalitions and identities. Or that at some point, the whole fixation with race will begin to dissipate and disappear in the face of our experience of our common humanity.

Yes, I can hope. And after Ferguson, it feels important to do so.


I haven’t come across any new, dispositive facts to change my mind about the complicated specifics in the Michael Brown tragedy. But there is one dispositive fact that is hard to miss and that keeps impressing itself upon me every time I read about Ferguson and its meaning. There is a near-universal consensus among African-American men that there is a crisis about their role in American society, and particularly about their interaction with the police. You can cavil, or criticize or feign shock or refer back to the specifics of the Ferguson case. But it’s there and it’s real and any crisis between any segment of the population with respect to law enforcement is a crisis for the entire society.

Here’s what strikes me – the range of black voices telling us that this is a moment for despair. The rhetoric has gone to eleven. TNC:

Barack Obama is the president of a congenitally racist country, erected upon the plunder of life, liberty, labor, and land. This plunder has not been exclusive to black people. But black people, the community to which both Michael Brown and Barack Obama belong, have the distinct fortune of having survived in significant numbers. For a creedal country like America, this poses a problem—in nearly every major American city one can find a population of people whose very existence, whose very history, whose very traditions, are an assault upon this country’s nationalist instincts. Black people are the chastener of their own country. Their experience says to America, “You wear the mask.”

Here’s Colbert King, one of the sharpest columnists at the Washington Post, with long credentials in the civil rights movement:

We are in a bad place. My 20-year-old grandson, Will, the most gentle and respectful young man you would ever want to meet, posted this on his Facebook page:

“Regarding the recent events in Ferguson: I’ve always wanted to believe my country was free. But today’s grand jury decision tells me this cannot be the case. No country that refuses to hold the police, those so-called ‘defenders of the law,’ accountable for its unjust brutality — and yes, it is often very brutal — can be free. When the grand jury declined to charge Darren Wilson for his actions, what kind of a message does that send? . . . It doesn’t seem fair that police can commit brutal acts against innocent people and get away with it.”

It’s not, Will. Not today. Not in your great-grandmother’s day when that Mississippi grand jury let that white farmer get away with murder. Not ever.

John McWhorter shares my view of the murkiness of the actual incident, but is emphatic nonetheless about the broader problem:

The right-wing take on Brown, that he was simply a “thug,” is a know-nothing position. The question we must ask is: What is the situation that makes two young black men comfortable dismissing a police officer’s request to step aside?

These men were expressing a community-wide sense that the official keepers of order are morally bankrupt. What America owes communities like Ferguson — and black America in general — is a sincere grappling with that take on law enforcement that is so endemic in black communities nationwide. As Northwestern philosopher Charles Mills has put it, “Black citizens are still differentially vulnerable to police violence, thereby illustrating their second class citizenship.”

This is true. It is most of what makes so many black people of all classes sense racism as a key element of black life, and even identity.

What we’re talking about here is not prejudice exhibited by other members of civil society – the kind of prejudice you can argue should be ignored or proven wrong. It is prejudice exhibited by the representatives of the entire system – the police – and its expression is too often violence, even fatal violence. At first, I simply wondered how so many people I respect see no progress at all since the 1930s or earlier. But it is perfectly possible, it now seems clear, for there to be considerable social progress and integration even as police forces – especially in poor, urban areas – come to associate criminality with black men, and treat them as a different class of people – guilty until proven innocent, violent unless proven peaceful.

I can see why this happens, can’t you? Cops are not superhuman. High rates of violence and crime in neighborhoods with large numbers of young black men make a certain kind of prejudice almost impossible to avoid for a fallible human cop – but that makes training to counteract these impulses all the more important to enforce. A cop like Wilson, with clearly minimal finesse in these matters, come across as afraid, unprofessional, and reckless. Ditto this jumpy fool in a much clearer case:

I cannot imagine that happening to a white man. Period. The officer in that case has been fired and charged with assault. But what are the odds that would have happened without a dash-cam video?

The truth is: there are too many eerie parallels between today’s world and yesterday’s.

Although the formal structures are immeasurably better than in the darkest days of slavery and formal segregation, the informal patterns of mind created by history can stay the same. And I sense it is this unchanging attitude – and what it says about the core moral imagination of many non-blacks – that drives reasonable men to sputtering rage and frustration. We are not what we once were – but we remain deeply formed by what we once were. How hard is that nuance to understand?

Will we ever be different? I suspect so. Again from Chris Rock’s interview:

Grown people, people over 30, they’re not changing. But you’ve got kids growing up … I drop my kids off and watch them in the school with all these mostly white kids, and I got to tell you, I drill them every day: Did anything happen today? Did anybody say anything? They look at me like I am crazy … It’s partly generational, but it’s also my kids grew up not only with a black president but with a black secretary of State, a black joint chief of staff, a black attorney general. My children are going to be the first black children in the history of America to actually have the benefit of the doubt of just being moral, intelligent people.

But that may be too sunny a view – and for too many right now a distant prospect. Which is why I favor body cams for cops in these neighborhoods; aggressive attempts to improve schooling in poor black neighborhoods; the end of stop-and-frisk and of the revenue-creating abuses that Radley Balko highlighted. More to the point: I don’t think this should be viewed as some kind of attack on the police. Body cams can protect them from false charges as well as provide an incentive for more civil interactions with black men; and the dragnet criminalization of black men for possessing a joint is a bizarre waste of cops’ time. Their impulses are often understandable – if a huge proportion of criminals in your neighborhood are young black men, you can slide very easily into stereotypes that fatally undermine the rule of law. But that cannot excuse a set of different standards of justice for different types of people.

That’s not a minor bug in a democratic system. It’s a fatal illness. And we need to start treating it like one.

Update from a reader, who rightly keeps our attention on the outrageous killing of a 12-year-old black kid in Cleveland:

We learn more and more horrific details every day (I just saw a story about how the officers who killed him didn’t give CPR for nearly four minutes, essentially killing him once more). While the Ferguson incident was obviously complicated and demands at least some nuance in our response, the Tamir Rice killing, it seems to me, demands communal, shared outrage and pain and anger, the kind that can perhaps genuinely contribute to a meaningful response and to change.

At the very least, it seems to me to be as extreme and grotesque and worth extended attention as any story that has received multi-post, follow-up and conversation kinds of attention on the Dish. And since the Dish is the kind of space that can genuinely push the national conversation forward, I think doing so could help with those broader effects and impacts as well. So I wanted to see if it might not be able to get more of that kind of coverage. Tamir deserves it, and I’d say we all need it.

If you haven’t seen the disturbing footage already, showing the cops giving the kid who made a dumb decision no real time to surrender before shooting him dead, it pretty much says it all:

You Get The Policing You Pay For

Keli Goff confronts the “sad truth is that we as a society don’t expect, nor do we encourage, our best and our brightest to become police officers”:

According to a 2006 report by USA Today, “In an analysis of disciplinary cases against Florida cops from 1997 to 2002, the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that officers with only high school educations were the subjects of 75% of all disciplinary actions. Officers with four-year degrees accounted for 11% of such actions.”

Police Chief Magazine similarly published findings that indicate that officers with bachelor of arts degrees performed on par with officers who had 10 years’ additional experience. And yet police departments have struggled to toughen up their educational requirements in part because recruiters are concerned that the relatively low pay offered by most entry-level law enforcement jobs would not be enough to attract college graduates. (According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary of those on the police force nationwide is $56,980, but that number includes the highest paid detectives.) Of course this is another part of the problem.

We want men and women in law enforcement who treat their jobs as police officers, as what they are: some of the most important jobs in our country that carry a great responsibility. Yet we pay them on par with postal workers.

Update from a reader:

I can’t say it’s all that surprising though. Substitute the word “teacher” for “police officer” and you can find the exact same issues being discussed. I don’t think it’s a coincidence, and it’s not a stretch to say that this is all because of the decades-long campaign against organized labor, especially public employee unions. Labor has been dominated (defeated?) in other areas of the market and this is one of the last sectors to hold out. Cops and firefighters aren’t targeted as explicitly as teachers – it’s not as easy to pull that off politically – but it shouldn’t be surprising that people want the best quality in the their teachers, police, and firefighters, but they don’t want to pay for it. They have been trained to be suspicious and resentful of anyone who “takes” their tax dollars.

I know that unions and some union members give the rest a bad name, but this will get worse before it gets better as we continually and systematically demonize public spending and investment, especially in these areas.

Another reader doesn’t think higher pay is necessarily the answer:

Problem is, even in high-pay departments, you get serious problems. The pay for Seattle recruits is $4602/month. The base pay – not counting overtime – for officers from the day they are sworn in is $69k/year. Halfway through their third year this is up to $80k, and at five years it’s already $90k. Link here. And let us not forget the amazing benefits and job protection, or the fact it’s safer than ever to be a cop.

And yet, Seattle’s police recently got a scathing review by the DoJ, and the most recent mayoral race featured the issue of what to do with the department. The new mayor moved quickly. This leads me to believe that increasing pay isn’t a magic bullet, or even that it’s going to seriously solve the problem.

Why Doesn’t Ferguson Happen Abroad?

Lethal Shootings

Yglesias connects police shootings to gun prevalence:

Ferguson is in many ways all about race and racism. But this chart reveals an important sense in which it’s not about that at all. If you know anything about the UK or Germany, you’ll know that these are not even remotely societies who’ve eliminated the problem of racism. If anything, having struggled with it for less time than the United States, they’re even worse than we are. Where they outperform us is in drastically reducing the civilian death toll without ending racism or entrenched poverty or any of the St. Louis area’s other problems.

A well-armed population leads to police shootings of the unarmed in two ways. One is that police officers have to be constantly vigilant about the possibility that they are facing a gun-wielding suspect. Cleveland police officers shot and killed a 12 year-old boy recently, because they not-entirely-unreasonably thought his toy gun was a real gun.

The other, more relevant to the Michael Brown case, is that when civilians are well-armed, police have to be as well. That turns every encounter into a potentially lethal situation.

Ed Krayewski thinks this theory too simplistic:

Matt Yglesias says the cops’ assumption Rice’s toy gun was real “wasn’t unreasonable.” For someone that spends a lot of time arguing from authority, he doesn’t hold the “experts” to a high standard. You can’t be deferential to cops’ judgment AND not expect them to make better judgments and then blame anything other than your attitude on the police violence that predictably follows. Boys, and girls, have been playing with toy guns for decades and somehow cops used to be able to handle it without arresting or shooting children.

Waldman joins the conversation:

The most common explanation is that since we have so many guns in America, police are under greater threat than other police. Which is true, but American police also kill unarmed people all the time — people who have a knife or a stick, or who are just acting erratically. There are mentally disturbed people in other countries, too, so why is it that police in Germany or France or Britain or Japan manage to deal with these threats without killing the suspect?

This is where we get to the particular American police ideology, which says that any threat to an officer’s safety, even an unlikely one, can and often should be met with deadly force.

Adam Ozimek suggests some reforms:

First, remove collective bargaining for police officers entirely. They should be employed at will, and should be able to be fired without any arbitration whatsoever. Workplace protections can be good for workers, but retaining the public’s trust in the police is far more important than making police officer be a nice job for someone.

Second, if a police officer shoots someone who is unarmed they should be fired even if they can prove they reasonably felt threatened. Self-defense can be a good reason to not bring criminal charges against a police officer for shooting someone, but it’s not necessarily a good reason to let them keep their jobs. The near constant stream of cases of police being too quick to shoot suggest their incentives right now lean too strongly towards shooting first and thinking later.

Update from a reader:

The graphic you posted puts US police killings at 409. It turns out no one knows what the number is for sure, but it is likely much higher, at least 1000 per year.