Michael Maiello's picture

    Are Other People That Dangerous?

    Ross Douthat frets that Ferguson is now too ambiguous a story for people who are against the militarization of American police forces to use to make their case.  Me, I tend to think that supporters of military-surplus policing always seem to find ambiguity.  They have not been phased by actions taken by police forces since at least the WTO protests of the 1990s.  Some people just love authority.

    Also, I am reminded, some people did not basically grow up in an era of falling violent crime rates, like I have.  That said, Josh Marshall has done a great job summarizing the problem and how little we know about why crime rates actually fell.  No pat answer about police tactics, harsher sentencing or an improved economy seems to fully respond to the question.

    Douthat says that the property damage caused by the Ferguson riots undercut that the police have been too harsh or are over-equipped.  This suggests that he believes the police need to be forceful to the point of maximum effectiveness.  By that way of reasoning, if rioters can set even one store ablaze, police need more resources and latitude, not less.

    Of course, people will always get away with some things.  There is no perfect enforcement. What we have done, over decades, is to criminalize more and more behaviors, to give the police a trident mandate to prevent crime, solve crimes and maintain order.  As we've expanded the responsibilities of the police, we have also expanded their powers in terms of procedures and resources.  This is a logical response to Douthat's way of thinking which is that it's hard to argue that the police have too much of a presence when somebody just set a parked car on fire and got away with it.

    I think this stems from having the wrong ideals about law enforcement and society in general.  I think that a lot of people go through life thinking that no laws should ever be broken and that with very few exceptions and then only in extreme cases, that no lawbreaker should go unpunished.

    I actually consider that a dystopian ideal.  I think it would rob people of certain rules-breaking impulses that are innate to being human.  This is why, though I found the argument tough to articulate, I actually thought it was a great thing that Edward Snowden was able to escape American justice.  I think people need to believe it's at least possible to thwart the system every once in awhile.  Otherwise, people will completely acquiesce to authority.

    Some of this comes down to what you think people are really like.  I don't think that strong law enforcement is all that stands between us and anarchy.  The riots I have been alive to see were not staged just because the rioters thought they could get away with it, they were all staged in response to decades of abuse by the authorities.  What I haven't seen is a city burned by a mob that has decided, "we're going to do this just because the police can't stop us."  That's not to say that the police don't sometimes deter crime.  Sure they do.  But I don't think that many people are bubbling over with criminal impulse.

    I think we've set up a law enforcement system meant to dealt with the alternative being The Lord of the Flies.  What if it isn't?  What if a certain amount of rule-breaking is natural and should be, if not encouraged, at least tolerated?  If the goal is to stop all crime, we will never rein our police forces in.

    New York City is trying, in fits and starts, to get the NYPD under control.  Crime rates continue to fall even as Stop & Frisk incidents have been massively reduced.  Maybe the criminal impulse is just not as prevalent as we imagine.  If other people aren't so dangerous, we do not need so many, or so well-equipped police and we can safely curtail their interactions with the public, reducing them from authority figures to the civil servants they should be.



    The Staten Island Grand Jury just decided not to indict NYPD embers for the homicide of Eric a Garner. Choke holds are not legal.



    Despicable.  Oh, and this was all filmed.  This gives me no confidence that police body cameras are going to do anything more than serve the interests of police.

    Agreed, the police leadership was expecting to see a rise in crime without Stop and Frisk. The NYPD is not going to admit that innocent citizens were harassed for no reason.

    The only thing that the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases have done is increase the distrust of law enforcement. Conservatives will try to blame Reverend Sharpton or some other force they deem evil, but the distrust is the direct result of police action. 

    You are correct, cameras may not change police actions.

    The Staten Island no indict case, where the cop used the banned chokehold to kill a suspect, kinda kills my fantasy of data driven, national 'best practices' policing creating accountability for cops who violate policy.

    The family should at any rate get a huge settlement in civil court.......FWIW.

    From NYT, comment on Garner no indict:

    The misuse of the grand jury process for deep-sixing police murders has to stop. The medical examiner who reviewed Garner's case called it a "homicide." The officer used a choke hold which had been deemed illegal by the NYPD. There was a videotape capturing the incident. There was NO REASON to take this case to a secret criminal proceeding UNLESS you're looking to manipulate the outcome.

    I have lost a great deal of respect for police officer's. I now believe that police lie in their testimony routinely.

    Allowing the prosecutor to take a case to the Grand Jury is now under question. It is not wise to allow the prosecutor, who works closely with police, to take cases of suspected police abuse is broken. There can be no trust in this type of system. Why was the Eric Garner case not taken directly to trial?

    As a matter of a complete process, what police do as agents of the law cannot be understood outside the whole apparatus of crime>conviction>incarceration. This is the broad highway traveled by most people in the system.

    The resources provided to make the system work are not based on a calculation of how dangerous people are in general. Like most lines of work, it is based upon at least taking care of the most obvious stuff you encounter everyday. It is not completely stupid because there is a lot of repetition.

    One of the most powerful engines of historical change has to be people doing what they thought was their job: But it broke something: Probably a broken thing.

    Mike, I am with you I don't think the population is as bad as we are being led to believe right now.  Crime has fallen.  When you see the data that has been gathered about lead in gas, it is very convincing that removing the lead from the environment has led to less violence.  That is why children who digest leaded paint from old homes are put through treatment to remove the lead from the body. So they don't grow up with a reduced IQ or become violent.  They have known this since the 1950's.  When my parents built their house in 1947 they were careful not to use leaded paint.  Large cities had more lead in the atmosphere then in the rural areas. Cities had more crime per population then in other areas. As the ground dust loses more of it's led from the wind blowing it away, the violence and crime will continue to fall and then level off.  It will be a few more decades before this science is accepted by the public. 

    The reality is there is less crime and having all those people in prison for non violent drug use needs to stop.  The harassment that goes on in poorer neighborhoods needs to stop.  


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