How Do You Fix A Police Department?

by Dish Staff

Josh Voorhees has suggestions. The feds could step in:

If Holder concludes that there has been a pattern of misconduct by the police—either in the lead-up to Brown’s death or in its aftermath—the president has the ability to force widespread reforms within the department with the help of a law passed in the wake of the Rodney King beating. The provision in question, part of what was officially known as the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, is “one of the most significant” pieces of civil rights legislation passed in the latter part of 20th century, and also one of the most “overlooked,” according to Joe Domanick, the associate director of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Center on Media, Crime, and Justice. The law gives the federal government two options: It can either formally pursue a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Ferguson Police Department by alleging a “pattern and practice” of misconduct or the administration and city officials can enter into what is known as a “consent decree” that would mandate a specific set of reforms that would then be overseen by an independent court-appointed monitor. Faced with the possibility of a costly court battle, most cities have historically taken the path of least resistance and signed on the decree’s dotted lines. Ferguson officials probably wouldn’t buck that trend.

According to Samuel Walker, the emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, such an outcome is “the best hope we have” for turning around the troubled department. The reforms that normally accompany a consent decree “really get at the critical issue here, which is the culture of the department,” Walker says. “Day in and day out, what do officers know they have to do and what do they know that they can get away with?”

He notes that this worked for the LAPD after the Rodney King beating. Cincinnati also successfully changed:

Officers are now trained in low-light situations, like confronting a suspect at night in an alley, as was the case in [Timothy] Thomas’s death. The agreement also created the Citizens Complaint Authority to investigate incidents when officers used serious force. Most importantly, it instructed officers to build relationships with the community by soliciting feedback with residents and using all available information to find solutions to problems before necessarily resorting to a law enforcement response. The ACLU of Ohio, which was one of the signatories of the agreement, hails it as “one of the most innovative plans ever devised to improve police-community relations.”

These new policies have not fixed all of the racial injustices in Cincinnati, but they have improved them.

Jonah Goldberg recommends hiring minority cops:

I am as against racial quotas as anyone, but the idea that police forces shouldn’t take into account the racial or ethnic make-up of their communities when it comes to hiring has always struck me as bizarre. A Chinese-American cop will probably have an easier time in Chinatown than a Norwegian-American cop. A bilingual Hispanic cop will have similar advantages in a mostly Spanish-speaking neighborhood. When my dad was a kid in the Bronx, it was not uncommon for a cop to give a teenager a well-intentioned smack as a warning and leave it at that. But forget the smack. Today, in many neighborhoods, if a white cop even talks harshly to a black kid, it might immediately be seen as a racial thing. If a black cop said the exact same things, it might be received differently.

But historian Heather Ann Thompson notes that integrated police forces don’t always solve the problem of racist policing:

Even if police departments are integrated — certainly this has been proven in Detroit, and in other cities where you have many, many more black police officers — the problem is that police are charged with policing the community and particularly policing the poor black community. The act of policing places the police in opposition to this community. Even if the officers are black, that does not guarantee that there’s going to be smooth police-community relations. Fundamentally, the problem is that there is so much targeted policing in these neighborhoods.

What Is Obama Doing About Ferguson?

by Dish Staff

Serwer feels that Obama is trying to stand back from what’s happening in Ferguson:

Obama is renowned for speaking eloquently about America’s lingering racial divides and how to bridge them – but he has also come under attack from critics on the right, particularly when it comes to racial profiling. During the press conference Monday Obama seemed to prefer discussing the ongoing U.S. mission in Iraq, where large swaths of territory have been taken over by the Muslim extremist he referred to as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. ISIL has rampaged through the country, displacing and killing Iraqis in their pursuit of a fundamentalist state. There was perhaps better news about Iraq, where U.S. airstrikes and Kurdish fighters appear to have at least temporarily turned back ISIL, than Ferguson, where the conflict between protesters and police appears to be escalating.

Jazz Shaw, on the other hand, views the Obama administration as over-reaching by ordering another autopsy of Michael Brown:

We try not to leap to conclusions, but it seems there is a rather obvious case to be made that the Obama Administration (unless Holder took this upon himself without approval, which seems unlikely in the extreme) has decided to latch on to this incident and it has political fingerprints all over it. How else would you explain it? Yes, the Brown family attorney supposedly made the request, but I’d be willing to wager that most every family in the country – of any race, religion or otherwise – who lost a family member in violent, questionable circumstances would love to have big guns like this brought to bear. But they don’t get it. And that, again, is assuming that it’s even appropriate for the feds to be injecting themselves into an ongoing investigation to begin with. There haven’t even been any charges files, to say nothing of a trial being held which some might dispute after the outcome. I don’t care for the looks of this at all.

Similarly, Allahpundit uses the racial split on Ferguson to accuse Obama of acting politically:

[Holder and Obama are] going to do what they can to make black voters believe that someone they trust is conducting a serious inquiry, even if they think St. Louis County isn’t. Maybe Holder will end up prosecuting Darren Wilson for civil-rights violations if he’s acquitted in state court, a la the LAPD officers after the Rodney King beating 20+ years ago. Or maybe not: Holder tried to placate lefties last year by promising to look into civil-rights violations possibly committed by George Zimmerman against Trayvon Martin and then quietly let that slide down the memory hole as people moved on. They can worry about Wilson later.

Joshua Green, by contrast, wants Obama to get more involved:

It’s no accident that Brown’s family felt the need to hire its own pathologist to conduct an autopsy. It’s also no accident that the FBI and Justice Department are running their own investigations of what happened. Clearly, they lack confidence that local law enforcement officials will do a capable and honest job. But things are so far gone in Ferguson that only Obama himself can reassure the broader public and instill confidence that Brown’s case will be handled as it should be. All the more so, given his impressive track record of speaking to the country about race. Obama did the right thing by cutting short his summer vacation. But he should go to Ferguson before returning to Washington.

Ezra Klein explains why that’s unlikely to happen:

Obama’s supporters aren’t asking for anything Obama can’t do — or even anything he hasn’t done before. Obama was elected president because he seemed, alone among American politicians, to be able to bridge the deep divides in American politics. The speech that rocketed him into national life was about bridging the red-blue divide. The speech that sealed his nomination was about bridging the racial divide. That speech, born of a crisis that could have ended Obama’s presidential campaign, is remembered by both his supporters and even many of his detractors as his finest moment. That was the speech where Obama seemed capable of something different, something more, than other politicians. In the White House, it’s simply called “the Race Speech.” And there are no plans to repeat it.

The problem is the White House no longer believes Obama can bridge divides. They believe — with good reason — that he widens them.

Ferguson In Black And White

by Dish Staff

YouGov registers an immense racial split regarding views on Ferguson:

Ferguson YouGov

Pew’s numbers are in the same ballpark:

Blacks are about twice as likely as whites to say that the shooting of Michael Brown “raises important issues about race that need to be discussed.” Wide racial differences also are evident in opinions about of whether local police went too far in the aftermath of Brown’s death, and in confidence in the investigations into the shooting.

But Aaron Blake is most interested in Pew finding that, “that even at this very early juncture, Americans as a whole see the shooting of Brown as more of a racial issue than the shooting of Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.” Annie Lowrey and Jesse Singal provide context for the racial split:

The idea of “two Americas” is a cliché by now, but here it’s apt.

White Americans are much less likely to be the victim of a crime, and much more likely to trust the police to act on their behalf when they are. Black Americans, who are on average much more likely to require police assistance than whites, often don’t trust that when officers arrive, they will be a helpful presence. This lack of trust can erode a nation’s basic functions. Judith Levine, a sociologist at Temple, has researched trust in the context of low-income women, and she makes a strong case that when people don’t trust institutions, it makes it a lot harder for those institutions to do their jobs, even when they have the best intentions.

Ambinder asks whites to mentally put themselves in the shoes of blacks:

Imagine you are black, and you, and your friends, and your family, are regularly stopped, delayed, accosted by the police, simply because of your proximity to something else; imagine having to fear being stopped by police on the street where you live. Feel what that must be like. Don’t try to rationalize it. Just feel it for a moment.

Now you might understand what Ferguson is really about, and why, even as you take the side of police in these types of American tragedies, you might want to sympathize with those who are protesting. They’re not protesting the fact of policing; they very much want the police to briefly militarize their neighborhood if their friend gets robbed. But what they really want is to be able to trust the police. And they can’t, because their first and continuing experiences with law enforcement are often brutal, beyond proportion.

How Does Ferguson End?

by Dish Staff

Jonathan Cohn tries to imagine a resolution to the crisis:

First, and most obviously, the investigation of Brown’s death must produce some kind of concrete result. And it will probably have to be the investigation that officials from the Justice Department are conducting. The people of Ferguson have absolutely no faith in the Ferguson police and, really, who can blame them?

Josh Marshall looks on as the police flail around:

For all the pyrotechnics, literal and figurative, and all the various outrages, large and small, what I see more than anything else is no one in control. And that’s been the dominant theme for days. … There are ways, even heavy-handed ways to quell protests and riots. But this seems like a repeated use of the same heavy-handed tactics that have proven counter-productive night after night.

Jelani Cobb observes that Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, who temporarily calmed tensions last week, isn’t calling the shots:

In the span of twenty-four hours, Johnson had gone, in the community’s eyes, from empowered native son to black token. One of the local activists I’d met in Feguson sent me a text message after the curfew announcement saying, “Johnson has good intentions but no power. This is beyond him.” On Sunday, Johnson stepped into the pulpit at Greater Grace Church, the site of a rally, and apologized to Brown’s family, saying, “I wear this uniform and I feel like that needs to be said.” With that, he implicitly condemned the Ferguson Police Department for their failure to do so. Johnson had promised not to use tear gas in the streets of Ferguson but, during a skirmish with looters on Saturday night, police tear-gassed the crowd. Johnson’s address at the church carried the message that his allegiances were, nonetheless, with the people of Ferguson. James Baldwin remarked that black leaders chronically find themselves in a position of asking white people to hurry up while pleading with black people to wait. Johnson finds himself asking black people to remain calm while imploring white police officers not to shoot. The problem here is that few people in Ferguson believe that the former is any guarantee of the latter.

Along those lines, Emily Badger sees the calling in of the National Guard as somewhat superfluous at this point:

As early as last Monday, two days after the shooting, the streets in Ferguson were full of officers dressed in camouflage and armored vehicles with gun turrets on top. The city responded immediately to the first rounds of protest and looting after Michael Brown’s death with what some critics have likened to the municipal equivalent of shock and awe. That tactic left little room for a ramped-up force in the face of further unrest. … Now it’s unclear what kind of calming effect the Guard can have — Nixon said he was sending in the soldiers to help restore order — when tensions between law enforcement and local residents have already been so inflamed. It’s possible the community at this points needs to subtract officers, not add them. The circumstances that could still restore order may also have little to do with the presence and tenor of law enforcement on Ferguson’s streets, but with the community’s confidence in an investigation that’s still unfolding.

Morrissey agrees that the National Guard is no panacea:

The difference is the authority level more than the heightened capabilities. The National Guard’s thunder may have been partially stolen by the previous arrival of the Missouri Highway Patrol, which also operates under the authority of the governor. The issue in both cases was to assert a higher authority than the city and county levels, which had lost the confidence of local residents. There is still plenty of value in that escalation, but only insofar as local residents have confidence in the governor to restore order and justice in all directions.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case so far, perhaps in no small part because it may not be locals who are causing the problems. Until they can end the magnet that’s attracting agitators from around the country to exploit the situation and perpetuate it for their own ends, the actual people of Ferguson will be in for a long nightmare, and the longer it goes the less confidence they will have in law enforcement at any level.

We Made Police Misconduct Inevitable, Ctd

by Freddie deBoer

National Guard Called In As Unrest Continues In Ferguson

Readers sound off my post about our complicity in police misconduct:

You write, in part, “It’s human nature: people who are subject to little or no review will inevitably behave badly.” Hogwash.  What you have, apparently, bought into is the belief in some parts of Christianity that we are all born evil.  And that, therefore, we all require constant outside pressure in order to behave well.  I’m guessing that, consciously, you would reject that worldview.  But it’s what your statement comes down to.  (And personally, my experience of humanity has been very much otherwise.)

The problem is rather that some people do need outside constraints.  I would suggest that it is, most of the time, only a very small portion of the total.  But that small portion is highly visible when their constraints are off.  (It’s the same phenomena which causes people to believe that the streets are more risky than ever, even as crime rates have been falling for a couple of decades.  Bad things make headlines.)

Yes, police misconduct is a problem that needs to be addressed.  And may even be especially high in some minority urban areas.  But to address it effectively, we need to have a clear view of the police as a whole.  There are doubtless some places, possibly including Ferguson, where the police department as a whole is a problem.  Then again, it would only take a couple of people, even there, to lead to the problems we have seen.

Suppose you have three problem individuals, out of 50+, on the Furgeson PD.  One is the guy who ordered everybody into combat gear.  One is a guy who started the shooting (since once that starts, in a tense situation, many others will follow).  And, of course, one may be (depending on what really happened) the guy involved in the original incident. That’s all it would take – less than 10%.  I’m not saying that that’s all there were; just that no more are actually needed for things to deteriorate.

Saying, or acting, like we believe that everybody on the police department, there or elsewhere, is nasty unless tightly controlled is only going to make it harder to make things better.  People, even good people, get defensive when they are accused of being evil.  If you really want to get positive changes, you have to recognize that most of the police are dedicated good guys, who would join in your efforts with a will … if you refrain from tarring them all with the same brush.

Well: it happens that I don’t believe that human beings are basically good, despite how often that’s said, but I don’t think I’ll convince anyone of that in the space of a blog post. I’ll just say this: maybe it’s true that only some people need to be subject to close scrutiny to behave well. As you say, it only takes a small amount of people to ruin everything, and as I indicated, the cyclicality and regularity of these problems seems to suggest that the problem is systemic rather than individual. Indeed, some readers are complaining that I’m going after the cops in an unfair way, but I’m actually arguing that the system we’ve created has given the police little incentive to behave well. That’s not an exoneration of the individuals, but it is a way to look for deeper causes than personal immorality. I would add that it’s impossible to know who’s going to be good and who’s going to be bad, without scrutiny, before the fact. So we’re still left in a place where we need strictly defined and strictly enforced accountability measures for police, and we need them to operate in an atmosphere that does not default to deference. And finally, whatever is hypothetically the case, we are hearing every day from the poor and racial minorities, in this country, that they fear the police. That’s their reality, and we need to respond to it.


Thanks for this posting. However the problem very much pre-dates 9/11. The National Registry of Exonerations lists more than 2,000 wrongful convictions since 1983, and, I think it is safe to say, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a corrupt system that includes prosecutors who are happy to convict and then unwilling to reverse their position once new evidence comes to light. We see the problem all too clearly in my state, Illinois, where Governor George Ryan put a moratorium on implementing the death penalty in 2000 after 13 people had been exonerated – most of those exonerations requiring many years and often bitterly fought. In Chicago, taxpayers have been required to pony up millions of dollars in settlements over and over again in cases where the police have over-reached (to put it mildly). The most notorious cases being John Burge who was found to have been involved in torturing 200 suspects between 1972 and 1991.

The problem is African American and low income communities of all races know/believe this stuff goes on all the time. But, in general, white and better off communities either don’t believe it or don’t want to believe it or don’t care or some combination of all of the above. Which goes to your point that we get the police department the public wants to have.  Most police officers are good. But the system defends the bad ones with such vigor, it tarnishes the entire system among the people who need it most, but are also most victimized by it – low income communities. The public needs to re-think what is costing everyone to continue like we have.

And another:

This is not merely a post-9/11 problem, although I agree that the outpourings of public support (for first responders) you cite certainly contribute. History repeats itself. I recall my own experience from the 1960s-70s.

After a stint in the military, I came home to my west Bronx neighborhood to find it in transition from a middle class, Irish-Jewish enclave to ghetto. It was 1968. Heroin ruled the streets, crime was rampant, students at nearby Columbia were rioting and, shortly after, the South Bronx would literally erupt in flames. I continued to work in the neighborhood for the next 13 years as a public utility employee. While I watched my old neighborhood burn down, I was able to observe much else that occurred on the streets.

Then as now, the police routinely despised and brutalized the people they were supposed to serve.  Granted, they were overwhelmed and often demoralized.  At the same time, they had no incentive to address the root cause of much street crime, heroin.  The reason was precinct-level corruption which, as revealed in testimony before the Knapp Commission, was endemic. There was little incentive for a cop to run drug dealers off his beat when they might well have been the source of income that may have equaled or exceeded his regular paycheck.

Hopefully, that cycle of despair doesn’t exist to impede efforts to resolve today’s already daunting societal problems.

(Photo: Police officers arrest a demonstrator on August 18, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. By Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Policing The Police With Cameras, Ctd

by Dish Staff

Last week, in the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting, making police wear body cameras was suggested as a way to rein in the police. Mark Steyn focuses instead on the lack of dash cam footage:

“Law” “enforcement” in Ferguson apparently has at its disposal tear gas, riot gear, armored vehicles and machine guns …but not a dashcam. That’s ridiculous. I remember a few years ago when my one-man police department in New Hampshire purchased a camera for its cruiser. It’s about as cheap and basic a police expense as there is. … In 2014, when a police cruiser doesn’t have a camera, it’s a conscious choice. And it should be regarded as such. And, if we have to have federal subsidy programs for municipal police departments, we should scrap the one that gives them the second-hand military hardware from Tikrit and Kandahar and replace it with one that ensures every patrol car has a camera.

No argument there. But Jonathan Coppage has concerns about cops wearing cameras:

Yet even setting aside the natural privacy concerns raised by strapping recording devices to every patrol officer circumambulating their city’s streets, it is worth raising a smaller, subtler, but nevertheless potentially significant concern: the increasingly intermediated cop. One only has to glance in the window of a local patrol car to see the sprawling array of screens, keyboards, and communication devices designed to link the officer to all the information they could need. The problem being, of course, that the most important information the common cop needs still can’t be pulled up within his car: the knowledge gained from building relationships with those in the community he patrols.

That relationship-building is a core component of a police officer’s mission, and may be almost entirely divorced from the work he can get done on his car’s mounted notebook computer. It also requires a certain amount of discretion, getting to know a neighborhood’s warts as well as its virtues. The conversations that give an officer an accurate picture of the seedy but not destructive side of his citizens’ lives could very well be more difficult or awkward should the policeman’s sunglasses be rolling film.

However, Conor Friedersdorf bets that cops will want such cameras:

As the police continue to lose the trust of the public, due largely to documented instances of bad behavior by fellow officers, as well as law enforcement’s longstanding inability to police themselves, I suspect that more and more good cops will be clamoring for cameras on their dashboards and lapels. Until then, citizens ought to record police during every incident as it unfolds.

A Jury Of Whose Peers?

by Dish Staff

Tomasky examines the potential jury pool in the Michael Brown case:

Now let’s get to the matter at hand in Ferguson: criminal justice. The specific issue is this that juries in the United States are drawn from county-wide population pools. This means, as the criminologist William Stuntz has observed, that people from large counties with exurbs and farms are often sitting in judgment of urban kids…. Will a St. Louis County jury be likely to look sympathetically upon Michael Brown? Quite unlike the two-thirds black Ferguson, the county is 70 percent white.

Alex Tabarrok reads through a study on the racial composition of juries:

The authors have data on the race, gender, and age of each member of the jury pool as well as each member of the ultimate jury. The authors also know the race and gender of the defendant and the charges. What the authors discover is that all white juries are 16% more likely to convict black defendants than white defendants but the presence of just a single black person in the jury pool equalizes conviction rates by race. The effect is large and remarkably it occurs even when the black person is not picked for the jury. The latter may not seem possible but the authors develop an elegant model of voir dire that shows how using up a veto on a black member of the pool shifts the characteristics of remaining pool members from which the lawyers must pick; that is, a diverse jury pool can make for a more “ideologically” balanced jury even when the jury is not racially balanced.

Ken White worries that the release of the robbery video will bias a jury against Michael Brown:

Whether or not they released the surveillance video in response to a public records request, as they claim, the Ferguson Police Department undoubtedly knew that the news would reach the pool of prospective jurors in any criminal or civil case against Officer Wilson, telling them facts that they might not hear in court. They knew that the media would run with the story, and that the media would run with it multiple times: first to report it, then to ask why the police released it, and possibly a third time in a mock-self-critical analysis of whether they were played. The effect in the public’s mind is to emphasize the point Mike Brown was a robber, with the subtext so he probably had it coming. …

I don’t care that Mike Brown apparently robbed the convenience store. I don’t give a shit if Mike Brown was a career thug or a saint destined for a Rhodes scholarship. The question is the same: did Officer Wilson him have cause to believe that Mike Brown posed a serious physical threat at the moment Wilson pulled the trigger?

Everyone has rights, or nobody has rights.

Holding Cops Accountable

by Dish Staff

Michael Bell’s powerful article on the shooting of his son demonstrates just how hard it is:

I have known the name of the policeman who killed my son, Michael, for ten years. And he is still working on the force in Kenosha.

Yes, there is good reason to think that many of these unjustifiable homicides by police across the country are racially motivated. But there is a lot more than that going on here. Our country is simply not paying enough attention to the terrible lack of accountability of police departments and the way it affects all of us—regardless of race or ethnicity. Because if a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy — that was my son, Michael — can be shot in the head under a street light with his hands cuffed behind his back, in front of five eyewitnesses (including his mother and sister), and his father was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who flew in three wars for his country — that’s me — and I still couldn’t get anything done about it, then Joe the plumber and Javier the roofer aren’t going to be able to do anything about it either.

Ed Krayewski criticizes how “none of the establishment activists who have attached themselves to the situation in Ferguson seem to be doing anything to focus people’s attentions on the systemic problems behind police brutality, starting with the propensity of most fatal police shootings to be ruled justified in a process shrouded in government secrecy and privilege”:

We shouldn’t have to read these kinds of stories and speculate about what happened, there ought to be a transparent process trusted by the public that can come to an understandable conclusion, whether you end up agreeing or not.

 Instead, cops and prosecutors act almost like a team during investigations of police shootings—it shouldn’t be surprising given that they do operate as a team in pretty much every other part of their jobs. And police generally control the narrative of a shooting, painting themselves in the most positive light possible and victims in the most negative light possible. Without an engaged national media they often get away with it.

Suderman examines Missouri’s standard for deadly force:

So, the suspect doesn’t have to be armed, and doesn’t even have to present an immediate threat. Instead, if an officer believes that there’s no other way to make the arrest happen, and also believes that the suspect has attempted to commit a felony, the officer is justified in using deadly force. If a cop wants to arrest someone, and has a “reasonable” belief that the person has even tried to commit a felony, he or she is allowed to kill.

That seems like a rather lax standard, and one that would give a pass to practically any arresting officer who could plausibly claim to have believed that the suspect had attempted or committed a felony offense.

LaDoris Hazzard Cordell wants more restrictions on the use of force:

First, police departments must broaden the definition of reasonable use of force. In 1989 the U.S. Supreme Court in Graham v. Connor defined the reasonable use of force as force “judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation.” That definition has been interpreted narrowly by law enforcement agencies across the country to mean that the reasonableness of the force is limited to an examination of only the amount of force used in the moment. The conduct of officers right before the use of force is never examined. Under this definition, officers who provoke individuals and officers who escalate situations get a pass.

The definition of what constitutes the reasonable use of force must be expanded to include the circumstances leading up to the use of force, so that the inquiry into the misconduct sweeps in whatever the officer did prior to the decision to  use force, along with the conduct of the victim.

Max Ehrenfreund considers what Obama should do:

Thursday, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) proposed a bill that would prohibit the Pentagon from transferring some military-grade equipment under this program. Obama doesn’t have to wait for Congress, though. In the meantime, he has at least two options: instruct the Pentagon to to keep more of its armored vehicles and automatic weapons to itself, and require applicants for Homeland Security grant money to report more precisely how they use the funds.

But Waldman expects such steps to have a relatively minor impact:

The militarization of the country’s police forces is something that has been growing for a couple of decades, fueled first by the War on Drugs and then by the insane idea that the police in every hamlet in every corner of the country needed to be able to wage battles against Al Qaeda strike teams. Congress could turn off the spigot that pours this equipment into these communities, but unless the federal government starts repossessing the equipment it already distributed (highly unlikely, to say the least), police departments all over the country will still be awash in military gear.

And that’s the biggest challenge: the problems the Ferguson case highlights are widely distributed, through thousands of police departments and millions of interaction between cops and citizens. The federal government can respond in a limited way to what we’ve all seen, but its actions will go only so far.

Ferguson From Abroad

by Dish Staff

National news in the US is world news everywhere else, and the continued chaos in Ferguson, MO, is drawing some international attention, including a brief Twitter lecture from the Iranian Supreme Leader on America’s moral bankruptcy. Zack Beauchamp finds that more than a little ironic:

The Iranian government itself does not treat minorities particularly well. Take Iran’s Kurds, for example. About 6.5 million Kurds live in western Iran, but not in peace. A 2009 Human Rights Watch report documents widespread restrictions on Kurdish free speech (like banning books), denial of due process rights to Kurds suspected of political dissidence, and torture of Kurdish detainees. Dozens of Kurds are on death row, often convicted of political offenses.

But here’s the catch: Khamenei, awful as he may be, still has a point about Ferguson. Despite the staggering hypocrisy of his tweet, he’s correct that the police conduct in Ferguson is unconscionable and racist. The United States doesn’t, or shouldn’t, want human rights-abusing enemies to be able to point to things like this to whitewash their own abuses.

It’s not just Iran, either. Josh Kovensky takes note of how Ferguson is being covered in the Russian media:

An RT article, “Protests Against Police Tyranny have Spread Across the Main Cities of the USA,” suggested that the nation is on the brink of chaos as the “rage of Americans … spreads across the entire country.” Sputink i Pogrom, a nationalist newsmagazine, tweeted out, “What do you think? Should Russia grant Obama asylum in Rostov after the Ferguson Maidanites occupy Washington?” And Svobodnaya Pressa, a popular Russian news website, ran an article calling the Ferguson protests “AfroMaidan,” in reference to Euromaidan protests in Kiev, Ukraine, earlier this year. 

In that Svobodnaya Pressa article, Sergei Bespalov, the docent of the humanities division of the Russian Academy of Agriculture and State Service, attributes the events in Ferguson in part to the “fact” that white Americans have “prejudice towards African-Americans … in their blood.” Bespalov predicts further unrest, adding that “if [Obamacare] is cancelled, this could … provoke racial conflicts,” and that “a significant part of African-Americans and Latinos could perceive [Obamacare’s cancellation] as a challenge from the white majority.”

This coverage harkens back to the way Ameircan racism was portrayed in Soviet propaganda during the Cold War, Karoun Demirjian adds:

The United States’ problems with racism have long been a favored topic for Russians, dating back to the heyday of the Soviet Union. During the 1920s and 1930s, Soviet leaders pointed to the existence of Jim Crow laws in the United States as a way of asserting the moral superiority of the Soviet Union. Racism, which was illegal in the Soviet Union, was deemed a systematic byproduct of capitalism. In the civil rights era, especially, the Soviet Union used American anti-black racism as fodder to challenge the United States’ claims to leadership of the “free world.”

Soviet and modern-day Russia alike have had their own problems with racism as well, of course – to the point where Russia was recently rated by one publication as one of the worst countries for people of color to travel in. But that stigma doesn’t cause the Russian government to pull any punches with the United States over the situation in Ferguson – or to refrain from using it as an opportunity to highlight America’s race problems to their fullest extent.

In light of this international scrutiny, Max Fisher’s tongue-in-cheek “if it happened there” version of the Ferguson story is particularly relevant:

Missouri, far-removed from the glistening capital city of Washington, is ostensibly ruled by a charismatic but troubled official named Jay Nixon, who has appeared unable to successfully intervene and has resisted efforts at mediation from central government officials. Complicating matters, President Obama is himself a member of the minority sect protesting in Ferguson, which is ruled overwhelmingly by members of America’s majority “white people” sect.

Analysts who study the opaque American political system, in which all provinces are granted semi-autonomous self-rule, warned that Nixon may seize the opportunity to move against weakened municipal rulers in Ferguson. Missouri’s provincial legislature, a traditional “shura council,” is dominated by the opposition faction. Though fears of a military coup remain low, it is still unknown how Nixon’s allies within the capital will respond should the crisis continue. Now, international leaders say they fear the crisis could spread.

How We Turned Our Cops Into Soldiers

by Dish Staff

The NYT has a great visualization on the surplus military gear being funneled to police departments. Here is one map, of several:

Assault Rifles


Shirley Li provides background on the 1033 program, the “Department of Defense initiative that channels surplus military equipment to state and local police departments.”:

The 1033 program reached as far as it did because of its attractive promise of sophisticated military-grade equipment and easy access, Cato Institute Project on Criminal Justice Director Tim Lynch told The Wire. “Police in these small police departments, they go to their chief and say, ‘Look, the Pentagon’s going to give away this equipment. If we don’t grab it now, the next county will. We need it just in case,'” Lynch said. “No police chief will say no, so they acquire it and put it in a warehouse so most people, even people in the city council, aren’t aware of it.” …

“I think the 1033 program should be shut down,” he told The Wire. “I think that will restore some common sense to these agencies around the country because when they have to spend their own money, it changes the dynamic. They have to decide whether they need a new police car or a new officer or an armored vehicle from the Pentagon.”

Ingraham looks at how the wars have put the program on steroids:

In 2006, the Pentagon transferred roughly $33 million worth of goods to local agencies. By 2013 that number had risen more than tenfold, to at least $420 million. Much of this can be explained by the winding down of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As those missions ended, more surplus goods became available for domestic use.

Military Gear

In 2012 the Pentagon transferred 27 mine-resistant vehicles and other armored combat vehicles to local law enforcement agencies. That number jumped more than sevenfold the following year. In 2014 so far, heavy armored combat vehicles account for nearly half of the total dollar value of gear transferred to local agencies.

Annie Lowrey explains why the police were militarized:

It all starts back in 1990, a time when the country found itself with less demand for military equipment abroad and new use for it back home. Within our shores, the drug wars were escalating; gang violence was surging; and sociologists were warning of sociopathic child “superpredators.” At the same time, the military was starting to shrink as the Cold War ended. Put two and two together and you get the 1033 program, which transferred assets from the military to the police. (Here’s a capsule history.) … But here’s the thing. Since 1990, according to Department of Justice statistics, the United States has become a vastly safer place, at least in terms of violent crime.

Drum adds:

We’ve spent the past two decades militarizing our police forces to respond to problems that never materialized, and now we’re stuck with them. We don’t need commando teams and SWAT units in every town in America to deal with either terrorism or an epidemic of crime, so they get used for other things instead. And that’s how we end up with debacles like Ferguson.

Police militarization was a mistake. You can argue that perhaps we didn’t know that at the time. No one knew in 1990 that crime was about to begin a dramatic long-term decline, and no one knew in 2001 that domestic terrorism would never become a serious threat. But we know now. There’s no longer even a thin excuse for arming our police forces this way.

Ezra joins the conversation:

Police get all this equipment and, as a condition of the program, need to use it within a year. What they don’t get is training. The ACLU’s Kara Dansky, who authored an important report on police militarization, told Vox she was “not aware of any training that the government provides in terms of use of the equipment,” or of “any oversight in terms of safeguards regarding the use of the equipment by the Defense Department.”

So police have all this military equipment, very little training on how to use it, and a requirement that they deploy it within a year. But the problems they were supposed to use the equipment against have either eased or vanished.

Ken Snyder, a reader over at Rod Dreher’s place, spotlights the role that the public has played:

[T]he important point is that I think this is what we citizens wanted. We want the police to be ready and able to deal with terrorists and active shooters. So these are the police that we want, but only in very specific situations. So citizens are shocked to see that equipment and, if not tactics, that same mindset applied in situations like Ferguson, and the many examples that are shared across web sites and local media. But once the police have this equipment, training, and mindset, as a practical matter, the citizens of a particular community don’t get to decide when they utilize it. We leave that up to the ‘experts’ who have ‘all of the information’. I think in some ways this is just another facet of the ongoing discussion in our country about NSA spying, etc: we want security, but at what price?