This week’s Extra! Extra! brings us more news on abuses of power at all different levels of the criminal justice system. We also take another look at some of the situations we’ve been following in Belarus, Ethiopia, and the Uighur detention camps in China, and an update on the climate crisis and the pandemic.
How the People in Power Abuse It to Avoid Responsibility
Himani: As we covered previously, Breonna Taylor was killed in her sleep by police. There are so many utterly fucked up things that created this devastating tragedy, from the illegal no-knock warrant to the glossed over history of misconduct of the officers involved to the continued lack of accountability. Taylor’s murder has shed light on so many aspects of the criminal justice system that exist entirely to uphold the current structures of power and, ultimately, white supremacy.
And here we have the latest. As Natalie has covered here before, cops are notorious liars. And they tried to get Taylor’s ex-boyfriend to corroborate their lies so they could cover up the fact that three officers murdered her. As Ben Crump, the civil rights lawyer representing Taylor’s family, observed in a statement:
“This is why the Black community has no trust in America’s justice system. It’s enormously ironic that the accused drug dealer here acted with honor, refusing to falsely discredit Bre after her death — even when offered the temptation of no prison time for lying, while prosecutors and police acted in the most egregiously dishonest and dishonorable way possible.”
Natalie: This is the state trying to excuse their egregious and deadly behavior. It’s so despicable.
Natalie: I just want to note that the two judges that lifted the injunction — which thwarted efforts to shield police actions from view — are both Trump appointees: Eric Miller and Daniel Bress. As I’ve noted in this space before, this administration’s reshaping of the American judiciary will haunt us for years… and for that reason alone, I hope we aren’t faced with another four years of his picks.
But this goes beyond the White House: Miller’s presence on the federal bench is the direct result of the erosion of norms in the Mitch McConnell-led Senate. His nomination was pushed through despite a long-standing, bipartisan Senate tradition known as the “blue slip,” which allows home state senators to put a hold on a nomination. Miller’s nomination earned a hearing and Senate approval over the strong objections of his home state Senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.
— Kiahnna Patterson (@KPattersonWAVY) September 4, 2020
Natalie: We’ve been watching this story unfold in the last few weeks here in “Extra! Extra!” and everytime I think this story can’t possibly get any crazier, it absolutely does. Because today, as the Portsmouth courts hosted arraignments for the black leaders, including a sitting state senator, NAACP leaders, and city public defenders, the city’s police chief was ousted. The ouster may be temporary — it’s for 30 days with pay, according to another news reports — as the city investigates the handling of the Confederate monument case.
To be clear, the Police Chief should, at the very least, be suspended, without pay, for allowing the officer in the case, Kevin McGee, to file spurious charges when she knew he was the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation. But I do wonder: how is it that Kevin McGee has now forced not one but two black women from their perch as police commissioner but he still has a job? Qwhite interesting.
Natalie: The idea that someone who owes their political success to the Tea Party would complain about how crowds are behaving is laughable.
What Law Enforcement Actually Does
Natalie: We hear from politicians on both sides of the aisle that there are “good cops” and there are “bad cops” but, as we take in these stories, I keep wondering: “where are these good cops I keep hearing so much about?”
Even in this story, I want to celebrate Deputy Art Gonzalez and the three other whistleblowers who have come forward with stories about the “violent clique” inside the Compton Sheriff’s station, but I’m stuck wondering how a gang sprung up in a sheriff’s department and it took this long for anyone to say anything. It took Andres Guardado being gunned down for anyone to say something.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” the old saying goes but if you’re on the sidelines, watching evil happen and doing or saying nothing, you are no longer one of the good men; you are as evil as those that tattoo “Executioners” on their skin.
Rachel: Would like to second Natalie in my gratitude to Art Gonzalez and the other whistleblowers; I’m frustrated by the reality of how little is often done in response to whistleblower testimony (especially given the grave personal and professional risks to whistleblowers of doing so), and at the same time am enormously grateful for what their risks provide us with; incontrovertible and contextualized evidence of the systems of harm we’re working against. I think it’s useful for us to think about how best to value and act on this kind of testimony; when someone has done the work to try to act as a ‘good cop’ and divest from and publicly expose the violence they were party to, what’s the most effective and powerful ways we can use that information to enact change? We have to ask ourselves that because the unfortunate truth is that the information being out there on its own won’t make a difference; we are seeing in countless ways right now that it takes a great deal of concerted effort, not just intention or awareness, to really shift things.
In thinking about this I’m reminded of an infamous Village Voice scoop, “The NYPD Tapes“: “Two years ago, a police officer in a Brooklyn precinct became gravely concerned about how the public was being served. To document his concerns, he began carrying around a digital sound recorder, secretly recording his colleagues and superiors… They reveal that precinct bosses threaten street cops if they don’t make their quotas of arrests and stop-and-frisks, but also tell them not to take certain robbery reports in order to manipulate crime statistics. The tapes also refer to command officers calling crime victims directly to intimidate them about their complaints.” I revisited the piece this week because I couldn’t remember when, exactly, the story had come out, and what impact it had had. This piece was published in the Village Voice in 2010, a full decade ago; as you likely know, stop and frisk did not end ten years ago; police intimidation and coercion of data and information hoarding/manipulation, even just in the NYPD, is arguably more prevalent than ever. I say this not to discount the brave and necessary actions of the NYPD officer who made that story possible, but to remind the rest of us that we owe it to the whistleblowers here and more importantly, to Andres Guardado, to make sure we take action on this reveal.
Rachel: I keep starting to try to say something about this and stopping and starting again – partially because (as I know we all are, and most of you much more deeply than I, I know) I’m so tired, and the events of the past few weeks (months/years) have somewhat left me at a loss for words. But also because it feels challenging to even start to untangle the threads of interlocking forms of violence that are happening here – I guess maybe the most important thing to say is that there’s absolutely nothing shocking or ironic about this; “antiprostitution” policing, this man’s official and state-approved job, was already categorically abusive to sex workers; as we are all in the process of learning in a very hands-on way, police power is inherently about control & power over civilians, not about protecting or serving them; and as has been well documented, gender-based violence and abuse (as is generally a side effect of near-absolute power) is also rampant among police forces. Sex workers, especially Black and/or trans sex workers and street-based and/or drug using sex workers, live at the nexus of all these truths. This is I guess a long way of trying to say what I am so often saying in this column, a variation on ‘cruelty is the point’ and ‘the system isn’t broken, this is the system working as it was meant to:’ this isn’t a shocking aberration from the role police are supposed to play when it comes to sex work; criminalization of sex workers is about facilitating exactly this situation.
And More Accounts of Police Brutality
Natalie: There is an outcry about this as another example of police brutality and, of course, that outcry is warranted, but one thing I don’t want overlooked in all of this: Daniel Prude’s brother called the police for help. His brother’s quoted as saying, “I placed a phone call for my brother to get help, not to get lynched.”
Himani: So this is horrifying, as is every account of police brutality. So many things about this are just wrong. But as someone who does not own a car and whose primary mode of transit is walking, this news hits a really particular spot with me. On a daily basis I witness multiple instances of drivers breaking the law and nobody bats an eye. If I call them out on it I get yelled at or worse. I have seen cars park and stop and completely block bike lanes. I have seen cops do all this and more. And, few people, including law enforcement, are actually aware of what the traffic laws on the books are.
An extensive Propublica analysis from a few years ago proved that, not only do law enforcement officers not know what the traffic laws actually are, but they use them to disproportionately target Black and Latinx people. And that’s the thing: Black, immigrant and Native American households are the latest likely to own cars, therefore relying on other modes of transit like… riding a bicycle, to go about their days.
So to see this all come together in this way in the murder of Dijon Kizzee is incredibly heartbreaking. There are already so many things, so so many things working against anyone who is trying to just get by as a pedestrian or a cyclist, even though — as far as this planet is concerned — it is the only socially responsible thing to do (more on this below). And then to add on top of it the very real threat of getting shot at by the police because you’re a Black person riding a bicycle — it’s really upsetting beyond words.
And Still, with the Police Reform
Himani: On the one hand, I do think that law enforcement officials would benefit from mental health care. On the other, I think everyone would benefit from mental health care. The fact that this is how Chicago is opting to spend its limited resources — ie putting more money in the police budget — is just appalling. Instead of the city footing the bill for police officers’ mental health this undisclosed amount of money could be invested in the community by providing more funding for community health centers and public schools. I mean, it is unfortunate that there’s been this surge in suicides in the police department, but there are so many public health crises facing Chicago right now, not least among them police brutality. Policy moves like this send clear messages as to whose concerns and whose wellbeing and, ultimately, whose lives matter.
Rachel: There’s so much to be outraged about that like, in some ways why spend neurons on this, but on the other hand, it is so infuriating on a limbic system level to see these resources being provided to police when so many low-income folks are working day and night to provide extremely bare-bones mental health support to Black queer & trans folks during this impossible, unbearable time. Anyways, what a great day to donate to the Nina Pop Mental Health Recovery Fund if you have the means!
Himani: This is again one of those situations where I’m like, “well, it’s like a quarter of a step in the right direction.” I mean, first of all the fact that they didn’t have a discipline matrix previously is a little bit appalling. But at the end of the day, the NYPD Commissioner makes the decision about whether or not to issue the recommended punishments and penalties or to simply ignore them. As Michael Sisitzky of the New York Civil Liberties Union observed, “The NYPD has rarely taken it upon themselves to enforce discipline for misconduct in the past.”
And, Christopher Robbins writing for The Gothamist notes, the matrix does little for the problem of police lying. Which, I feel like I can’t say this enough, is a real fucking problem.
Because There Truly Is Nothing More Important to Do Right Now
Himani: So they can’t and won’t figure out a meaningful Coronavirus Relief Package but they have the time to find more ways to police the bodies of people with uteruses. Natalie said this in the context of a different situation but I think it applies here as well: “Small government conservatism being proven for the farce that it is!”
Natalie: We’ve seen this happen far too often to count: group espouses liberal values but ultimately refuses to live up to them when asked.
Rachel: I agree with Natalie, of course, and as someone also who was raised a liberal Quaker, this rings true to me as a problem endemic to both modern Quakerism and liberalism: the abstract values espoused by a group are one thing, but actually materially executing them in terms of shifts in our communities and looking at how those abstract values map onto the ground-level concrete is another, and that second step is often a real hurdle. In the Quaker communities I grew up in, peace and pacifism were of course core values in terms of very high-level ideals like “stopping war” or “no nukes,” but no conversations were had around the violence of poverty or incarceration or police violence or how we could work for peace in those contexts. Similarly, equality and truth are core Quaker values, both of which unions uphold and defend — but here we are!
Himani: It’s news like this that makes me feel like: no wonder law enforcement in America will do everything they can to avoid accountability for their actions because clearly that is the modus operandi of the country as a whole…
Important News from Around the World
Natalie: I must admit, I’ve been feverishly consuming the news coming out of Belarus for fear that it portends America’s future: a rigged presidential re-election for Alexander Lukashenko, widespread condemnation and calls for a new election from countries around the globe, fervent civilian protests met by met by state-sanctioned violence, an internet shutdown and now this: the stripping of accreditation from foreign journalists.
The BBC responded to the actions, saying, “We believe it is vital for the people of Belarus to have access to impartial, independent information about events in their country,” but surely that information is also vital to leaders across the world who are considering sending in human rights monitors and imposing new sanctions. The world requires impartial and independent information as well.
Himani: Duch’s death is pretty monumental because of his role in the mass killings that happened in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime’s power. Like so many atrocities that have happened and continue to happen around the world, it’s hard to imagine the people who decided to commit those atrocities. Like seeing Derek Chauvin’s knee on George Floyd’s neck, like seeing Daniel Pantaleo strangling Eric Garner, like seeing multiple officers pin down Daniel Prude until he died — how do you just decide, “today I will torture someone and then send them to be killed, and I will do it again and again and again and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow through the foreseeable future.” It’s incredible — and horrifying, mostly horrifying — the things people will do in order to secure their own power, their own position above another person.
Natalie: So much for “never again?”
Himani: Sometimes, it can be incredibly difficult to understand the significance of something that’s happened in another country when you lack the connection or the context. I’m really not sure what to say about this. Abe did a lot while he was in power, he changed a lot, for better or for worse, and the ramifications of that will be felt for years to come. At the same time, the conservative party he is part of will maintain its rule and continue the policies that preceded his tenure as Prime Minister.
Himani: This is another incredibly fraught situation where it’s hard to know what exactly is going on. Like who is responsible for all these deaths of Oromo activists? It’s hard to say, but the government’s response… leaves something to be desired, to say the least. It’s hard not to feel like this situation in Ethiopia is starting to go in the direction of Myanmar under nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership…
The Climate Crisis
Natalie: It’s so dispiriting how quickly our news cycle moves now… usually, a hurricane the size and strength of Laura would’ve merited wall-to-wall coverage. Those news reports would be overflowing with human interest stories that make the disaster less about the physical destruction and more about resilience, grief and finding joy in the worst moments. Anderson Cooper would’ve been on the ground in Louisiana. Some waders-wearing reporter would’ve told the story of a daring rescue while standing in flood waters. As hokey as those stories sound, they are often what spurn our fellow citizens to action…and it’s how relief organizations fill their coffers. But, with the pandemic and the upcoming election taking up all the oxygen in the room, the stories of those impacted by Hurricane Laura and Tropical Storm Marco go largely unheard.
As of this writing, Hurricane Laura has claimed 24 lives and given that 200,000 people are still without power in Louisiana — just as the Bayou State’s heat and humidity reach its annual peak — I expect that number to go up. If you can spare money to support relief efforts, please consider doing so…Charity Navigator has a list of vetted organizations working to help storm victims recover.
Himani: I’ll be honest. I read this headline and I did not have the heart to read this article. And yet this feels like incredibly important news that I didn’t see covered anywhere else.
Himani: I really can’t say I’m surprised by this, exactly. Last year, Andrew Simms wrote an op-ed in The Guardian that observed that a lauded economic model allowed for global temperature increases of 3 degrees Celsius — a rise in temperatures that would cause unimaginable devastation in the world and probably make it largely uninhabitable. As Simms wrote at the time, “For anyone outside economics that might seem bewildering, but the blase disregard of the economy being a wholly owned, and utterly dependent, subsidiary of the biosphere is perfectly symbolic.”
And well, here we are, with further evidence that economics is bullshit. Steve Keen, the author of the current article repudiating the work of that same lauded economist, writes of the economic models being applied to climate change: “‘making up numbers to support a pre-existing belief.'”
Himani: I’m not sure why it would come as a surprise to anyone that SUVs are horrible for the environment and the climate. They’re also horrible because they kill pedestrians and cyclists at appalling rates. And yet, as with so many things in America, no matter the consequences, we gotta have our big, gas guzzling murder machines because they sure are convenient!
Natalie: The federal government will urge public schools across the country to return, despite all evidence indicating that it’s not safe for the students, teachers or the families they return home to…but now they want to shirk on the responsibility of providing reusable cloth face masks for students?! This is deplorable.
Rachel: I’m thinking of these stories — which are familiar to us all now, as they bring further evidence of the now-clear reality that the US federal government is largely abandoning its citizens during this pandemic, and in particular has decided that Black and brown citizens dying is an acceptable loss — in line with the “suckers and losers” Trump scandal from above. Not because I’m interested in pinning the federal failure entirely on Trump as a person, we have to be clear-eyed about the fact that it goes much deeper than that, but because it’s a moment where it’s so clear that Trump’s personally warped ideology is one expression of the GOP’s underlying philosophy: that some human life is valuable, but much is not; that one has to earn the privilege of being allowed to live, or even mourned after death, and many of us haven’t. It can feel impossible to process or conceptualize how such harmful and generationally catastrophic decisions are being made, but honestly when you keep in mind the paradigm that says some of our lives are worth it but most aren’t, and that designation can change at any time depending on our utility or profit, they become pretty chillingly clear!
The Housing Crisis
Election 2020 Update
Himani: The party that has the entirety of its power built on disenfranchisement practices that are passed under the spectre of voting fraud is now openly and explicitly encouraging voting fraud.
Himani: This is far too little, far too late.