Tag: 2020 protests

What matters

Problem is that the ‘all lives matter’ response encompasses both the rational assertion that, yeah, all lives matter and the unhinged belief that, systemically and institutionally, all people get the same treatment.
The best response I’ve heard to ‘all lives matter’ is ‘no one needed to be told that *your* life matters’. Spent some time contemplating that idea. Historically, lives have not been ascribed the same value — healers, religious leaders, kings had more value than peasants, criminals, mentally ill, physically ill. Romans enslaved defeated nations and demanded tribute. I’m sure the best hunters in prehistoric tribes got preferential treatment. Academic agreement that all lives matter is fairly modern. It takes time for people’s beliefs and default actions to change.
Strange comparison, but I had a maths professor who had started Uni when electronic calculators first went mainstream. You’d do the problem and, if you had time, use the calculator to check your work. It took years of conditioning to get a “the calculator is going to be right” mindset. By the time he finished his PhD, a lot of people would use the calculator and then check the calculator’s work. He mentioned the story because, by the time I was in Uni, encountering a long addition problem had any student grabbing their calculator instead of a sheet of paper. Default state, over 30 years, had changed. And it would never have occurred to any of us to *check the calculator’s work*. Sounds silly even saying it. Which gives me hope that people’s default actions will eventually actualize the idea that all lives matter.

On Rioting

A friend issued a challenge to substantiate the position that protesting police brutality isn’t justified. I was on a debate team in 1992, and there was a similar debate topic the Autumn after the Rodney King verdict / LA Riots. I won by convincing people that the LA rioting wasn’t justified. But I also won by advocating *other* rioting … which I doubt was what the debate sponsor meant when assigning the sides as “The rioting that occurred in LA following the Rodney King verdict was (not) justified”. And my position was not something the other debater was prepared to rebut. Instead of the easily defensible position that disruptive protests are correlated with change and change is obviously needed (which he was well prepared to rebut), the other debater had to defend destroying the property, businesses, and persons of uninvolved parties.
My argument at the time, which generally holds today, is that general rioting is understandably cathartic — ironic because I suspect the police brutality we’ve witnessed has been cathartic for the officers involved. The system is corrupt; burn it down! But understandable is not the same as justified or right. In 1992, some half of the damage was incurred by Korean-American businesspersons in a particular section of LA. Some half a billion dollars! People fob off property damage because “insurance covers it”. Being reimbursed for damaged property does not erase the harm. People are still physically hurt. There’s time rebuilding, lost business. Insurance rates are calculated to ensure profits for the insurance company. Increased risk means increased premiums. Property underwriters, in 2020, are rethinking their risk calculations because civil unrest had been fairly uncommon in the US. But it’s becoming more common and something they need to price into policies. Increased expense is a widespread, long-term damage that erodes the viability of small businesses.
Just short of 14% of the LAPD were classified as Asian American in 1990. The force was over 60% white. The officers who assaulted King were 100% white. The jury included ten whites (one bi-racial male, one Latino, and one Asian American). That’s more than 75% white and not quite 8% Asian American. How are the people whose businesses were destroyed in a position to remedy either the proximal or distal problems fomenting the riots? Larry Tarvin is white; Reginald Denny is white. Beyond the misfortune of sharing a common (and very broad) ancestry, how are these men representative of racist policing practices? Of a judicial system that tells police officers that it’s OK to beat someone? But they’ve been terribly injured just the same.
War used to involve a lot of generalized destruction. There’s a reason governments were generally housed in the center of their territory. The king is safe because you need to march through a hundred miles of peasants to reach him. And the king doesn’t really concern himself with a bunch of dead peasants. With the advent of air-delivered ordinance, the methods of war have changed. Attacks can be targeted to military and government installations to reduce collateral damage. Rioting can similarly be adapted to reduce collateral damage. To some degree, I’ve seen more targeted destruction this year. CHAZ in Portland, burning police cruisers, torching the police station in Minneapolis, attacks on federal buildings when Trump started deploying his DHS army to attack on protesters? I cannot mount an argument against those actions. Technically, it’s illegal. But I despair as Democrats politic in good faith whilst Republicans undermine the Democratic system to ensure victory … same here. If one side decides to descend into lawlessness … the “we go high” approach has not historically worked, and I have no reason to expect it to work in the future. But there’s still a lot of collateral damage. The rioting is frequently mis-targeted, and this renders the protests less effective. Will looting my clothing store spur me to your cause? No! This is one lesson from the American invasion and occupation of Iraq — you can turn people against you by maiming their uncle and destroying their business.
Changing the criterion from “is rioting justified” to “is protesting justified” … a few months ago, a friend asked why Kaepernick had to make such a spectacle. I find the a priori assumption that *he* made a spectacle of it flawed, but accepting the premise and asking the more general question “why do these protesters need to inconvenience *me* in order to make their point?” … well, were you aware of their point before they slightly inconvenienced you? How inconvenienced were you *really*? OK, had to listen to Trump be a jackass about it … but that was more on Trump & co that Kaepernick. How inconvenienced do you think being harassed by the police is? Or killed!?! So you are objecting to an action that was incredibly effective at communicating a message in a way that barely inconvenienced you. WHY??
I’ll grant that encountering a peaceful protest is more inconveniencing than seeing (or hearing about) someone kneeling along the sideline of a sporting event. You needed to get back to work and traffic was a mess. You were late to an appointment because you had to make your way through protesters downtown. Still, it’s a trivial thing that happens rarely (OK, maybe not rarely if you’re making your way home from work through a protest … but still, not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things).
The only objection (apart from denying there’s a problem, which is rather absurd) I could see to the peaceful protests is that the most effective approach would be run for office. Become the city council and demand police reforms from your position with authority over policing. It’s not a viable approach, though — it’s expensive to run for office, and not everyone has the time and resources to devote to that endeavor. Far better to ensure local government officials know this is what constituents demand from them. Write letters, call the offices, protest — make sure you are seen and heard.

The Evolution of Protests

People who have been dealing with police brutality for decades need to be remembered as protests against police violence continue. I could get brutalized for showing up at a protest, but someone with different DNA could get brutalized for walking downtown. But the evolution of BLM protests into protests against police brutality used against protesters and protests against federal policing of American cities are perfectly valid movements too. I see people who had no personal experience with police brutality who joined a protest based on their reaction to the Floyd video got to experience profiling (you’re here with a sign, so must be a violent anarchist out to smash glass), police brutality, and violent over-reactions. Brings to mind the hypothesis that military action in Iraq was a huge recruitment driver for radical groups — people who disliked abstract America policy in a non-violent way experienced that policy as friends and family became collateral damage. And wanted to “do something” to push back.

Although, that may be the point of the BLACK Lives Matter movement — that given two equally valid movements, the one impacting white people hold the nation’s attention while the equally valid concerns from a minority group fall by the wayside.

The New Caravan

Federal agents policing cities is a total campaign-as-reality-show move, just like the caravans were in 2018. Enough legit story there to ensure coverage, attention-getting footage. “The caravans” was a “get out the vote” instead of “appeal to voters” strategy — make sure your voters fear the possibility of loss to ensure they show up. Caravan fear didn’t work well in 2018, so it’s not exactly a fail-proof strategy.
Why didn’t it work? Well, for one — people had bigger concerns. Republicans want to throw my 22-year-old kid off my health insurance, and they promise preexisting conditions aren’t coming back but have no answer for how that becomes financially sustainable to private insurers. Those are really personal concerns, whereas an invasion of caravans was a far more abstract concern.
But the caravans weren’t the boogie monster Trump made them out to be either. There was a pastor in Texas — Gavin Rogers — who spent time traveling with one of the “caravans” that I thought did a really good job of humanizing those refugees. I’m sure there were others, but he had a pretty public media tour and gained a lot of followers. Without having empathy for other people, I can see how Trump couldn’t fathom people having sympathy for refugees … and, yeah, there were some news agencies promoting racist views and villainizing “the caravans” even after stories about people fleeing cartel violence started airing.
In 2020, he’s replacing ‘caravans’ with ‘protesters’ — which seems even less likely to succeed. And not just because employer-based health care amid a pandemic an economic collapse means people have *way* bigger problems than protesters. And that protesters out in the big city are still a fairly abstract concern for the majority of the country. Not to mention voter’s desire for competent disaster response. The protesters seem like they’d be a lot more generally sympathetic than refugees — protesters are Americans, a huge majority of Americans think police brutality is a problem that needs to be addressed. I had a good discussion with an acquaintance a few weeks ago — she didn’t see why sports players had to kneel in protest when there were so many other ways they could have talked about whatever they wanted to talk about. I’m sorry you were uncomfortable, but do you think the message needed to get out there? (And, post George Floyd, she totally thought the message needed to get out there). Those people did try many other ways to communicate the problem. People ignored the protest until the form of protest selected made people uncomfortable. So, evidently they did need to kneel at public sporting events. Maybe protesters today need to destroy some property for people to take notice too.

Ignoring Distal Factors

I’m glad to see that all of the officers involved in Mr. Floyd’s death last week have been charged, but there are proximal and distal factors prompting the protests. While this might address the proximal factor, what does it do for the distal ones? How many instances of police brutality have still been ignored? How much police brutality have we seen during the protests? There was a clip on the ABC news a few nights ago where two cops were arresting someone. The one cop threw his leg over the individual and dropped a knee on his neck. Now the other cop quickly shoved the first cop’s leg away, but how in the world could a cop think “hey, knee on the neck is a good idea”?

In the mid-90’s, I worked on a project to bring local law enforcement data together and use rudimentary AI to identify offenders who spanned jurisdictions. Why wouldn’t we demand a similar database for police offenses? Identify behavioral patterns that might be addressed through training, identify practices that frequently endanger civilian lives, avoid a violent officer moving around to maintain employment, and incorporate individual’s information in performance reviews.

I’ve been wondering about changes to the internal affairs processes — intentionally including people from civil rights organizations and community groups in a review board. Police tase some guy that was running at them brandishing a knife? IA clears it as justified. Tase some dude who wanted to hand off his baby before getting on his knees with his hands behind her head? There are disciplinary actions and possible criminal charges.
Also having IA boards from larger areas provide review for jurisdictions that are so small that “immediate supervisor” serves as a review board. I live in a small town with a handful of officers. They have an agreement with a neighboring town to roll their phone number to that station after-hours. Why couldn’t the larger town provide review services too? I mean, I get not wanting someone else second-guessing your actions, but my tax money is paying to keep the community safe. And if taxpayers consider having some non-partisan external entity review use of force to be an essential part of “keep the community safe” … it is.
I also get that a non-trivial portion of the country doesn’t see top-level legislation as the answer to, well, anything beyond military spending. But I don’t see any way to enact this kind of reform from the bottom up. I could probably talk my community into an external review board instead of using the Chief of Police, but use of force is quite rare here (thus my change is basically feel-good theater). Could the Cleveland City Council force such a change? It seems like a state law or some federal requirement where funding is withheld for non-compliance (think the 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act — we cannot tell you to make your drinking age 21, but we can withhold federal highway funding if it’s not 21) would be needed to effect change.
ETA — I love Bernie Sanders: