This feature offers links to selected articles that might be of interest to Amherst readers. I favor in these postings, with a few exceptions, material that is not hiding behind a paywall. Hence, I have reduced my postings from sources like the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, which are doing some great reporting but which make their articles inaccessible without some sort of payment. . But on occasion, an article seems too important to not mention, and in such cases I will post it, and leave it for the reader to decide whether to pay for access.
If YOU have read something that is germane to what I’ve been posting in this feature, please share the link in the comments section below.
This week I share writings on the epidemic of murder of Black men by the police and on efforts across the nation to abolish, defund, or reform the police in the face of this unrelenting violence.
Racism, Police Violence And The Murder Of Duante Wright
What We Know About The Death Of Duante Wright by The New York Times 4/15/21). Hundreds of demonstrators poured into the streets of Brooklyn Center, Minn., on multiple nights after the fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop. The shooting injected more frustration and anxiety into the Twin Cities region, where the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd, is now in its third week. Here’s what we know about what happened in Brooklyn Center. (The New York Times)
The Shooting Of Daunte Wright And The Meaning Of George Floyd’s Death. How Much Has Changed Since The Events Of Last Spring? by Jelani Cobb (4/13/21). Among the various perspectives in the Twin Cities regarding the Chauvin trial, the police, and the significance of all that happened last spring and summer after Floyd’s death, there seems to be only one conclusion shared by residents across race, class, and social boundaries: that a failure to convict Derek Chauvin will lead to another eruption of violence in the area. On Sunday night, those predictions were turned on their heads, when it became clear that more violence was not contingent on a Chauvin acquittal. (The New Yorker)
Virginia Attorney General Launches Civil Rights Probe Of Black Army Officer’s Violent Traffic Stop by Laura Vozella and Justin Jouvenal (4/12/21). Outrage over the encounter, which was seen in a viral video, continued simmering as some prominent Black leaders, including Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) and state Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), pushed for something beyond the State Police probe that Gov. Ralph Northam (D) ordered Sunday. They want federal officials to investigate. There was widespread agreement that the tiny Windsor Police Department — with about seven sworn officers, the chief included — should not be entrusted to dig into why Caron Nazario, an Army second lieutenant pulled over because his newly purchased SUV lacked a permanent license plate, was held at gunpoint, pepper-sprayed, struck and handcuffed. The temporary tag was taped to the window, Nazario said in a federal lawsuit he filed against the officers. (Washington Post).
Fatal Police Shootings Of Unarmed Black People Reveal Troubling Pattern by Cheryl W. Thompson (1/25/21). The deadly shootings of unarmed Black men and women by police officers in the U.S. have increasingly garnered worldwide attention over the last few years. The 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., sparked a week of protests that catapulted the Black Lives Matter movement into the national spotlight. Since then, tens of thousands of people across the country have taken to the streets to protest police brutality of Blacks by mostly white officers. Since 2015, police officers have fatally shot at least 135 unarmed Black men and women nationwide, an NPR investigation has found. NPR reviewed police, court and other records to examine the details of the cases. At least 75% of the officers were white. The latest one happened this month in Killeen, Texas, when Patrick Warren Sr., 52, was fatally shot by an officer responding to a mental health call. For at least 15 of the officers, such as McMahon, the shootings were not their first — or their last, NPR found. They have been involved in two — sometimes three or more — shootings, often deadly and without consequences. (NPR)
Hidden In Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy and Far-Right Militancy In Law Enforcement by Michael German (8/27/20). Racial disparities have long pervaded every step of the criminal justice process, from police stops, searches, arrests, shootings and other uses of force to charging decisions, wrongful convictions, and sentences. As a result, many have concluded that a structural or institutional bias against people of color, shaped by long-standing racial, economic, and social inequities, infects the criminal justice system. These systemic inequities can also instill implicit biases — unconscious prejudices that favor in-groups and stigmatize out-groups — among individual law enforcement officials, influencing their day-to-day actions while interacting with the public. Police reforms, often imposed after incidents of racist misconduct or brutality, have focused on addressing these unconscious manifestations of bias. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), for example, has required implicit bias training as part of consent decrees it imposes to root out discriminatory practices in law enforcement agencies. Such training measures are designed to help law enforcement officers recognize these unconscious biases in order to reduce their influence on police behavior. These reforms, while well-intentioned, leave unaddressed an especially harmful form of bias, which remains entrenched within law enforcement: explicit racism. (The Brennan Center)
Systemic Police Violence And Its Costs In The United States by Human Rights Watch (9/30/20). Police conduct during the Mott Haven protest on June 4 amounts to serious violations of international human rights law which the federal, state, and local governments are obligated to observe. These include law enforcement’s excessive use of force, violations of the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and cruel and degrading treatment of detainees. Legal observers and volunteers providing jail support are human rights defenders who are protected under international human rights law and should never be targeted for this work. The attacks on street medics, the obstruction of their work, and the denial of medical care to injured protesters amount to violations of the right to health. (Human Rights Watch)
How The Media Covered Police Brutality Three Decades Ago by Livia Gershon (4/13/21). This spring, the news media is closely watching the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd in 2020. Twenty-nine years ago, another police brutality trial captured the attention of newspapers and TV news. Four white officers from the Los Angeles Police Department were changed in the severe beating of Black motorist Rodney King. Journalism and media studies professor William L. Solomon looks at the coverage of that trial by the nation’s two most influential papers, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Solomon writes that the initial stories about the assault on King on March 3, 1991, focused on the response by community and civil rights groups. They pointed to the beating as an example of persistent racism and brutality in the LAPD. The Times quoted a legal advocacy group that noted it received complaints similar to what King had suffered on a regular basis, as well as a criminal justice professor who described police as “blatantly and openly hostile to nonwhite minorities.” The papers also covered local leaders’ calls for Police Chief Daryl F. Gates to resign. But within a few weeks, the coverage shifted to political feuding among city leaders, culminating in Gates’s announcement of his retirement in June 1992. “Voices of the underclass were re-marginalized, just as they had been absent from the media before the beating,” Solomon writes. (JSTOR Daily)
ALTERNATIVES TO POLICING
These US Cities Defunded The Police. “We’re Transferring Money To The Community” by Sam Levin (3/7/21). More than 20 major cities have reduced their police budgets in some form, an unprecedented trend, though the scale and circumstances vary dramatically. The activists who have long campaigned to take money from U.S. police are now fighting to ensure that the initial cuts are only the start – and that a growing backlash from law enforcement, elected officials and some community groups does not derail their progress. (The Guardian)
Yes, We Literally Mean Abolish The Police, Because Reform Won’t Happen by Mariame Kaba (76/12/20). Enough. We can’t reform the police. The only way to diminish police violence is to reduce contact between the public and the police. There is not a single era in United States history in which the police were not a force of violence against black people. Policing in the South emerged from the slave patrols in the 1700 and 1800s that caught and returned runaway slaves. In the North, the first municipal police departments in the mid-1800s helped quash labor strikes and riots against the rich. Everywhere, they have suppressed marginalized populations to protect the status quo. So when you see a police officer pressing his knee into a black man’s neck until he dies, that’s the logical result of policing in America. When a police officer brutalizes a black person, he is doing what he sees as his job. (The New York Times)
Alternatives To Policing by Lydialyle Gibson (3/18/21). Last fall, Harvard Law School’s Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program volunteered to help city administrators think through concrete possibilities for how to change public-safety procedures. Two law students, William Roberts and Anna Vande Velde, spent several months as part of the program’s Dispute Systems Design Clinic, researching other cities’ approaches and interviewing Boston-area city officials. The pair also studied the multiple ways Boston’s public-safety system intersects with other local factors: racial bias, income inequality, access to medical and mental-health care, pipelines to prison from school or foster care, and substance-abuse rates — to name only a few. The inquiry yielded a report, released late last week. “We found a number of cities that were doing neat things,” says Roberts. In Texas, Houston and surrounding Harris County law enforcement officials have worked closely since the 1990s with a mental-health organization, the Harris Center, whose clinicians assist officers in responding to crises; clinicians themselves respond to mental-health emergency calls, and the organization serves as a crisis drop-off center for police officers bringing in people who need such support. (Harvard Magazine)
The Future Of Policing by James Lartey and Annaliese Griffin (10/23/20). What do people mean when they speak of abolishing, or defunding or reforming the police? Since the 1970s, rollbacks in the social safety net, growing income inequality and deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill have meant that police officers are tasked with responding to an ever-growing list of social problems. In many communities the police have become first responders for issues connected to poverty, lack of housing, mental illness and addiction, further stigmatizing people who need help. At the same time, lawmakers in the United States have chosen to criminalize and prosecute nonviolent misdemeanors like sleeping on the sidewalk and disorderly conduct. Ending the criminalization of poverty, mental illness and addiction are key tenets of police reform. (The System)
CAHOOTS May Reduce The Likelihood Of Police Violence by Rowan Moore Gerety (12/28/20). Should American Cities defund their police departments? The question has been asked continually — with varying degrees of hope, fear, anger, confusion, and cynicism — since the killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day. It hung over the November election: on the right, as a caricature in attack ads (call 911, get a recording) and on the left as a litmus test separating the incrementalists from the abolitionists. “Defund the police” has sparked polarized debate, in part, because it conveys just one half of an equation, describing what is to be taken away, not what might replace it. Earlier this month, former President Barack Obama called it a “snappy slogan” that risks alienating more people than it will win over to the cause of criminal-justice reform. Yet the defund idea cannot simply be dismissed. Its backers argue that armed agents of the state are called upon to address too many of society’s problems — problems that can’t be solved at the end of a service weapon. And continued cases of police violence in response to calls for help have provided regular reminders of what can go wrong as a result. (The Atlantic)
The Denver STAR Program Replaces Police With Mental Health Workers On Some 911 Calls by David Sachs (2/2/21). A young program that puts troubled nonviolent people in the hands of health care workers instead of police officers has proven successful in its first six months, according to a progress report. Since June 1, 2020, a mental health clinician and a paramedic have traveled around the city in a white van handling low-level incidents, like trespassing and mental health episodes, that would have otherwise fallen to patrol officers with badges and guns. In its first six months, the Support Team Assisted Response program, or STAR, has responded to 748 incidents. None required police or led to arrests or jail time. The civilian team handled close to six incidents a day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, in high-demand neighborhoods. STAR does not yet have enough people or vans to respond to every nonviolent incident, but about 3 percent of calls for DPD service, or over 2,500 incidents, were worthy of the alternative approach, according to the report. STAR represents a more empathetic approach to policing that keeps people out of an often-cyclical criminal justice system by connecting people with services like shelter, food aid, counseling, and medication. The program also deliberately cuts down on encounters between uniformed officers and civilians. (The Denverite)
Selective De-policing: Stanford Law Policy Lab Report Proposes Alternatives to Policing To Increase Public Safety by Stephanie Ashe (4/13/21). The Stanford Criminal Justice Center (SCJC) and Stanford Center for Racial Justice (SCRJ), in partnership with the African American Mayors Association (AAMA), released a report, Safety Beyond Policing: Promoting Care Over Criminalization, that summarized the most successful “selective de-policing” techniques and offered alternatives to armed police intervention. The report comes from a policy practicum Selective De-Policing: Operationalizing Concrete Reforms, co-taught by Stanford Law Professors Ralph Richard Banks, David Sklansky and Robert Weisberg, along with Debbie Mukamal, SCJC executive director.
“The idea behind the practicum was to put aside, for the moment, the question of the best overall level of policing, and instead to ask whether there are particular responsibilities that police departments have taken on over time but that might be better handled by other agencies,” said Sklansky, a former federal prosecutor and criminal law expert. “The continuing toll of violence at traffic stops, including the tragic killing of Daunte Wright in Minnesota, underscores the importance of the fundamental questions addressed in this report–questions about what roles the police should be asked to take on in the first place.” (Stanford Law School News and Media)
The Best Way To Reform The Police Is To Defund The Police. An Interview With Alex Vitale (author of The End Of Policing) by Meagan Day (6/3/20). We really have to break out of this thinking. We have to empower people to actually ask for what they want, and we also have to equip people with more examples of things that they could demand that would actually make their communities healthier and safer. A lot of people would agree that it would be better if they had a new community center, for example. They just don’t believe it’s possible. They think, “There’s no point asking for that, cause they’re never going to give us that.” We need to be putting concrete alternatives out there. For example, mental health crisis calls have become a major part of what police do every day in New York City. There are seven hundred of them a day. We don’t need police to do that work, and in fact we don’t want armed police doing that work, because it’s dangerous for people having mental health crises. We need to create a twenty-four-hour non-police mental health crisis response system. Jumaane Williams in New York City has called for exactly that in an excellent detailed report. The proposal is to take the money that’s spent on police crisis calls and shift it over to delivering mental health services. It’s a concrete idea for an alternative to policing. We need more of those to instill a sense of possibility and optimism, and broaden people’s imaginations. (Jacobin)
Police Abolition: A Curated Collection Of Links by The Marshall Project (no date, accessed 4/15/21). (The Marshall Project)