Defunding the police is, at best, a baby’s first step

Update, June 20, 2020: Atlanta police have responded to a murder charge against the officer who killed Rayshard Brooks with various labor actions, including a sick-out and refusals to leave their precincts.[1] This underscores a point I have previously made that police refuse accountability and so cannot be trusted with weapons.[2] I would say now that they cannot be trusted with authority over others, period.

We can now identify four essential features of policing as currently practiced:

  1. A unique license to use even lethal force against other human beings;
  2. the use of this license to enforce laws passed by mostly wealthy white men against other human beings;[3]
  3. a nearly-unanimous refusal of accountability for the use of this force;[4]
  4. and that this license colors any other tactics police may use, effectively reducing them to the potential for even lethal force.

In sum, all this amounts to is a response to so-called ‘disorder’ (as understood by mostly wealthy white men[5]) with effectively unregulated violence in which the perpetrators, both at the legislative and enforcement levels, generally refuse to recognize there is a problem.

In addition, I have updated the text in this post to reflect Zak-Cheney Rice’s article in New York.[6]


On June 13, 2020, I praised[7] Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto’s support for a measure that would enable the police to back off from many social problems.[8] The proposal sounds like it falls, at a minimal level, under the rubric of the “defund the police” movement, which Amanda Arnold explains in The Cut[9] and Zak Cheney-Rice explains in New York.[10] And it’s a good idea within the realm of politics as the art of the possible.

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  1. [1]Will Pavia, “Atlanta police stage sick leave protest over murder charge,” Times, June 19, 2020, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/world/angry-police-in-sick-leave-protest-over-murder-charge-trf6btshv
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Time to take the guns away,” Not Housebroken, January 6, 2015, https://disunitedstates.org/2015/01/04/time-to-take-the-guns-away/
  3. [3]Herbert J. Gans, The War Against The Poor: The Underclass And Antipoverty Policy (New York: Basic, 1995); Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).
  4. [4]David Benfell, “Time to take the guns away,” Not Housebroken, January 6, 2015, https://disunitedstates.org/2015/01/04/time-to-take-the-guns-away/; Zak Cheney-Rice, “Why Police Abolition Is a Useful Framework — Even for Skeptics,” New York, June 15, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/06/police-abolitionist-lessons-for-america.html; Will Pavia, “Atlanta police stage sick leave protest over murder charge,” Times, June 19, 2020, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/world/angry-police-in-sick-leave-protest-over-murder-charge-trf6btshv
  5. [5]David Benfell, “A constitutional oligarchy: Deconstructing Federalist No. 10,” Not Housebroken, June 7, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/22/a-constitutional-oligarchy-deconstructing-federalist-no-10/
  6. [6]Zak Cheney-Rice, “Why Police Abolition Is a Useful Framework — Even for Skeptics,” New York, June 15, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/06/police-abolitionist-lessons-for-america.html
  7. [7]David Benfell, “Kente cloth was the wrong cloth to wear,” Irregular Bullshit, June 13, 2020, https://disunitedstates.com/2020/06/13/kente-cloth-was-the-wrong-cloth-to-wear/
  8. [8]Andy Sheehan, “Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto Proposes Creation Of New Office That Would ‘Allow Public Safety To Step Back’ And Get People Longer-Term Help,” KDKA, June 12, 2020, https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2020/06/12/pittsburgh-office-of-community-health-and-safety/
  9. [9]Amanda Arnold, “What Exactly Does It Mean to Defund the Police?” Cut, June 12, 2020, https://www.thecut.com/2020/06/what-does-defund-the-police-mean-the-phrase-explained.html
  10. [10]Zak Cheney-Rice, “Why Police Abolition Is a Useful Framework — Even for Skeptics,” New York, June 15, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/06/police-abolitionist-lessons-for-america.html

They should have ‘simply worn red’

200608142551-01-house-democrats-kneel-0608-exlarge-169
Fig. 1. Photograph via CNN, June 8, 2020, fair use. The photographer is not identified.[1]

Those congressional leaders (figure 1) should simply have worn red. And Nana Efua Mumford uses the word to describe what Congressional leaders did with those stoles when they kneeled[2] that I suspected applied: appropriation.[3] Read more

  1. [1]Alicia Lee, “Congressional Democrats criticized for wearing Kente cloth at event honoring George Floyd,” CNN, June 8, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/08/politics/democrats-criticized-kente-cloth-trnd/index.html
  2. [2]Nana Efua Mumford, “Democratic leaders’ kneeling was fine. The kente cloth was not,” Washington Post, June 11, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/06/11/educate-yourself-before-you-wear-kente/
  3. [3]David Benfell, “On kente cloth and appropriation,” Irregular Bullshit, June 9, 2020, https://disunitedstates.com/2020/06/09/on-kente-cloth-and-appropriation/

How many times must it be explained that the Civil War was about the preservation of slavery?

I shouldn’t have to say this but even people calling themselves historians cling to this bullshit. From the Washington Post in a story on a movement to remove statues honoring Confederate heroes:[1] Read more

  1. [1]Marc Fisher, “Confederate statues: In 2020, a renewed battle in America’s enduring Civil War,” Washington Post, June 11, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2020/06/11/confederate-statues-attacked-protesters-george-floyd/

Dead cat bounce

I have some doubts about yesterday’s unemployment report which unexpectedly showed the headline unemployment rate dropping.[1] Doubts, in fact, that make me suspect what some might call a “dead cat bounce.”
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  1. [1]Eric Levitz, “Why the Shockingly Good Jobs Report Might Be Bad News,” New York, June 5, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/06/unemployment-jobs-report-congress-bls.html; Eli Rosenberg, “Unemployment rate drops to 13 percent, as the economy picked up jobs as states reopened,” Washington Post, June 5, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/06/05/may-2020-jobs-report/

Tipping point

Some will look at unemployment, smack their foreheads and declare, “No Wonder!” This, they will say, of course, is the cause of so much current unrest. And as it appears to be receding,[1] perhaps even inspiring the V-shaped recovery that the Trump administration appears to be relying on,[2] perhaps we can relax about that unrest.
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  1. [1]Eli Rosenberg, “Unemployment rate drops to 13 percent, as the economy picked up jobs as states reopened,” Washington Post, June 5, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/06/05/may-2020-jobs-report/
  2. [2]David Blanchflower, “Pandemic Economics: ‘Much Worse, Very Quickly,” New York Review of Books, March 26, 2020, https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/03/26/pandemic-economics-much-worse-very-quickly/

Pieties in defense of the status quo

George-W-Bush

Fig. 1. Official presidential portrait of George W. Bush, January 14, 2003, released by the Department of Defense, found on Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

“A riot is the voice of the unheard.”[1] Having thus quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., Sandy Smith explains that a riot is not so much a failure of the rioters as it is the system that rioters are rioting against.[2] Read more

  1. [1]Martin Luther King, Jr., quoted in Sandy Smith, “You Can Be Supportive of the Rioters and Angry With the Looters at the Same Time,” Philadelphia, June 1, 2020, https://www.phillymag.com/news/2020/06/01/philadelphia-looters-protesters/
  2. [2]Sandy Smith, “You Can Be Supportive of the Rioters and Angry With the Looters at the Same Time,” Philadelphia, June 1, 2020, https://www.phillymag.com/news/2020/06/01/philadelphia-looters-protesters/

On sending in the troops

Update, June 3, 2020: The only surprising thing about Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s resistance to Donald Trump’s threat to send in the troops to quell protests over the murder of George Floyd is that he did so publicly.[1]

IMG_20200531_131906
Fig. 1. Graffiti has appeared in multiple locations around Pittsburgh saying, “I Love You, I Miss You.” This example makes the connection to George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police clear. Photograph by author, May 31, 2020.

Even the racist neoliberal rapist (the likely Democratic Party nominee for president) says of Donald Trump’s threat to use military force against protesters, “He’s using the American military against the American people.”[2] At what point is it war?
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  1. [1]Dan Lamothe, Missy Ryan, and Paul Sonne, “Pentagon chief balks at Trump’s call for active-duty military force on U.S. citizens, and Mattis rips president,” Washington Post, June 3, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/despite-suggestions-from-trump-pentagon-chief-says-he-does-not-support-invoking-insurrection-act/2020/06/03/8e8dad2e-a59e-11ea-8681-7d471bf20207_story.html
  2. [2]Joe Biden, quoted in Matt Zapotosky, “Trump threatens military action to quell protests, and the law would let him do it,” Washington Post, June 1, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/can-trump-use-military-to-stop-protests-insurrection-act/2020/06/01/c3724380-a46b-11ea-b473-04905b1af82b_story.html

The reason the status quo is not the answer is that the status quo cannot be the answer

Update, June 4, 2020: When I saw the headline, “When Black lives are valued, property becomes worth saving,” on a Brookings Institute piece,[1] I immediately thought of the decrepit and rotting housing I have seen in so many neighborhoods around Pittsburgh that I referred to in my second reply to Mayor Bill Peduto (reproduced here). This housing is allowed to rot, I thought, precisely because the lives of the human beings who live in it are not valued.

To be generous, that would be an imprecise rendering of Andre Perry and Jonathan Rothwell’s point.[2] They really return to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ point, without ever mentioning redlining, about the way that devalued properties rob Blacks of wealth. They merely allude to a larger point that indeed Blacks have been systematically robbed of wealth, beginning—only beginning—with slavery.[3] That said, Perry and Rothwell advocate a series of policy recommendations meant “to restore the value that racism has extracted from them. Those who are chiding protestors should redirect their pleas to policymakers who can do such a thing.”[4]

That said, the deprivation of wealth surely affects Black property owners’ ability to maintain their housing. In effect, redlining continues as lines of credit are constrained by the values of collateral property as well as by the incomes Blacks are most often able to earn.


IMG_20200531_131906
Fig. 1. Graffiti declaring “I Love You, I Miss You” has appeared in lots of places around Pittsburgh. This is one example, captured when I didn’t have the opportunity to frame the shot better. Photograph by author, May 31, 2020.

In the wake of destructive protests that continue nationwide, including in Pittsburgh,[5] responding to the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis,[6] Pittsburgh’s mayor affirmed the status quo and incremental progress: Read more

  1. [1]Andre M. Perry and Jonathan Rothwell, “When Black lives are valued, property becomes worth saving,” Brookings Institute, June 3, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/06/03/when-black-lives-are-valued-property-becomes-worth-saving/
  2. [2]Andre M. Perry and Jonathan Rothwell, “When Black lives are valued, property becomes worth saving,” Brookings Institute, June 3, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/06/03/when-black-lives-are-valued-property-becomes-worth-saving/
  3. [3]Sven Beckert, “Slavery and Capitalism,” Chronicle of Higher Education, December 12, 2014, https://www.chronicle.com/article/SlaveryCapitalism/150787/; Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations,” Atlantic, June 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/; Thomas M. Shapiro, ed., Great Divides, 3rd ed. (Boston: Mc Graw Hill, 2005).
  4. [4]Andre M. Perry and Jonathan Rothwell, “When Black lives are valued, property becomes worth saving,” Brookings Institute, June 3, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/06/03/when-black-lives-are-valued-property-becomes-worth-saving/
  5. [5]David Charter, “George Floyd: US rocked by worst race riots since 1960s,” Times, June 1, 2020, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/american-cities-rocked-by-worst-race-riots-since-the-1960s-fn0x0jlmj; Ian Lovett, Erin Ailworth, and Joe Barrett, “Minnesota Bolsters Law Enforcement as Protests Roil U.S. After George Floyd’s Death,” Wall Street Journal, May 30, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/george-floyd-protests-minneapolis-11590844180; Dillon Carr and Natasha Lindstrom, “George Floyd protests in Pittsburgh: Curfew in effect; protesters turn violent; police cars torched,” Tribune-Review, May 30, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/protests-underway-in-downtown-pittsburgh/; KDKA, “Pittsburgh Public Safety Has Declared ‘Unlawful Assembly’ Downtown, Urging Businesses To Close, Residents To Stay Home,” May 30, 2020, https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2020/05/30/protest-shuts-down-streets-downtown/; Elie Mystal, “There’s Only One Possible Conclusion: White America Likes Its Killer Cops,” Nation, May 27, 2020, https://www.thenation.com/article/society/white-america-cops/; Philip Rucker, “As cities burned, Trump stayed silent — other than tweeting fuel on the fire,” Washington Post, May 31, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/as-cities-burned-trump-stayed-silent–other-than-tweeting-fuel-on-the-fire/2020/05/31/4fc8761a-a354-11ea-b619-3f9133bbb482_story.html; Rebecca Tan et al, “Night of destruction across D.C. after protesters clash with police outside White House,” Washington Post, June 1, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-braces-for-third-day-of-protests-and-clashes-over-death-of-george-floyd/2020/05/31/589471a4-a33b-11ea-b473-04905b1af82b_story.html
  6. [6]Associated Press, “Officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck arrested on murder charge,” Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-05-29/minnesota-george-floyd-officer-arrested

‘We have found the enemy, and he is us’ – and our system of social organization

Note, May 31, 2020: I have managed to retrieve this bit of my Saybrook work, a personally pivotal essay originally written in March 2013, from Academia.edu. I am hoping I have caught all the blockquotes, some citations undoubtedly require updating, and some citations are to my parts-unknown.org site which is now off line. I have not yet added Chicago style footnotes as promised for my Saybrook work.


“WE HAVE FOUND THE ENEMY, AND HE IS US” – AND OUR SYSTEM OF SOCIAL ORGANIZATION

by David Benfell

Social Transformation 7077

Saybrook University

San Francisco, CA

March 2013

“WE HAVE FOUND THE ENEMY, AND HE IS US” – AND OUR SYSTEM OF SOCIAL ORGANIZATION

Introduction

Any [social] movement needs a target. But this isn’t the Arab Spring. Climate change is not Hosni Mubarak. This isn’t the Occupy moment. Climate change is not simply “Wall Street” or the 1%. It’s not simply the Obama administration, a polarized Congress filled with energy-company-supported climate ignorers and deniers, or the Chinese leadership that’s exploiting coal for all its worth, or the Canadian government that abandoned the Kyoto treaty and supports that tar-sands pipeline, or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has put its money where its mouth is in American electoral politics when it comes to climate change. Yes, the giant energy companies, which are making historic profits off our burning planet, couldn’t be worse news or more culpable. The oil billionaires are a disaster, and so on. Still, targets are almost too plentiful and confusing. There are indeed villains, but so many of them! And what, after all, about the rest of us who lend a hand in burning fossil fuels as if there were no tomorrow? What about our consumer way of life to which all of us are, to one degree or another, addicted, and which has been a model for the rest of the world. Who then is the enemy? What exactly is to be done? In other words, there is an amorphousness to who’s aiding and abetting climate change that can make the targeting on which any movement thrives difficult. (Engelhardt, March 3, 2013)

“We have found the enemy,” proclaims a protagonist from Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic strip, gazing upon a litter-strewn landscape in an Earth Day poster, “and he is us” (quoted in BytesMaster, April 25, 2011). I remember that first Earth Day, in the year for which that poster was made, in 1970. With my classmates, I planted flowers in a garden alongside Lincoln Elementary School in Mt. Lebanon, a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My more prosaic mother had me pull some weeds, compelling me to confront the arbitrariness of the distinction between weeds and desired plants.

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What are ‘proper directions’ for protest when peaceful protest is for naught?

Update, May 29, 2020: Investigators have now arrested the fired police officer, Derek Chauvin, who had his knee on George Floyd’s neck. The prosecutor who charged Chauvin “with third-degree murder and manslaughter” said more charges are possible.[1] This leaves the remaining, also fired, officers who did nothing to stop the murder.[2] The text below has been updated.

Update, June 1, 2020: In this post, I highlight the question of a friend helping a friend guard his Metro PCS store which is, in essence, how should Blacks protest when peaceful protest fails? I don’t think he’s going to like Kellie Carter Jackson’s answer. But I’ll bet you he acknowledges its truth. In short, the answer is that no form of Black protest is acceptable in Amerikkka.[3] As James Downie noted,

When mostly white protesters openly carrying assault rifles tried to shut down the Michigan state legislature, police didn’t fire rubber bullets or drive cars into demonstrators. But when mostly nonwhite protesters marched, that restraint was nowhere to be seen.[4]

Update, June 3, 2020: The charges against Derek Chauvin, who had his knee on George Floyd’s neck, have been upgraded to second degree murder and charges for aiding and abetting that murder have been laid against the other officers at the scene.[5] I remain skeptical that any charges would have been brought whatsoever had the protests not been so widespread and intense.


As protests raged in Minneapolis, following the police murder of George Floyd, in the all-too-common pattern of a white cop killing an unarmed Black man, and some, many in authority, called for “peace” and “calm,”[6] the Popehat Twitter account (“most tweets by Ken White”) posted this:

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  1. [1]Associated Press, “Officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck arrested on murder charge,” Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-05-29/minnesota-george-floyd-officer-arrested
  2. [2]Elie Mystal, “There’s Only One Possible Conclusion: White America Likes Its Killer Cops,” Nation, May 27, 2020, https://www.thenation.com/article/society/white-america-cops/
  3. [3]Kellie Carter Jackson, “The Double Standard of the American Riot,” Atlantic, June 1, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2020/06/riots-are-american-way-george-floyd-protests/612466/
  4. [4]James Downie, “Time to toss the ‘bad apples’ excuse,” Washington Post, May 31, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/05/31/time-toss-bad-apples-excuse/
  5. [5]Josh Campbell, Sara Sidner, and Eric Levenson, “All four former officers involved in George Floyd’s killing now face charges,” CNN, June 3, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/03/us/george-floyd-officers-charges/index.html
  6. [6]Holly Bailey, “Chaotic Minneapolis protests spread amid emotional calls for justice, peace, Washington Post, May 29, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/05/29/chaotic-minneapolis-protests-spread-amid-emotional-calls-justice-peace/