Black Lives Matter activists have succeeded in getting $1 billion dollars pulled from the New York City Police Department budget and have scored victories in recent years with the election of numerous criminal justice reform-minded district attorneys in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City and elsewhere.
Is it time to celebrate? Perhaps not.
Recently, it was reported that California Gov. Gavin Newsom, despite threat of recall, remains committed to achieving an “end” to mass incarceration. He announced plans to make 76,000 inmates eligible for early release including 63,000 who are violent or repeat offenders and approximately 20,000 who are serving life sentences.
Is this what Americans expect given that violent crime rates have already risen significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic?
While much of the voting public continues to believe “criminal justice reform” refers to the release of nonviolent offenders, Newsom and reformist district attorneys such as George Gascón have other ideas in mind. Citing the pandemic and, increasingly, racial equity as a cause, even repeat offenders are returning to the streets — and not just in California. Can we really say that this kind of reform qualifies as antiracist since it puts communities that are already disadvantaged by systemic racism, violence, blight and associated losses of investment and jobs at increased risk of more of the same?
When we put the above trends together with the anti-community policing actions of activists, we must ask ourselves what “reimagine” policing might look like in the not-so-distant future.
Social justice activists may begin by asking themselves a simple question: Have communities in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Seattle and elsewhere put in place a robust layer of social services to reduce homelessness and recidivism by giving inmates, drug addicts and those with mental health problems improved access to critical services?
“Reimagine” ought to begin at the grade-school level to ensure that children in disadvantaged communities do not go hungry, are not left alone to fend for themselves while parents work multiple jobs, do not drop out of school, are not recruited by gangs and are not subjected to the lifelong economic disadvantages created by under-performing public schools (arguably an expression of systemic racism).
The reimagine we are about to get already looks quite different. Politicians and progressive district attorneys have prioritized on-the-books improvements — via early release from prison and by not charging crimes in the first place! — over improved quality of life measures for minority/disadvantaged communities, be that food security, access to job training or after-school programs. Politicians, eager for pats on the back from libertarians and progressive voters alike, are moving not just in California but elsewhere in the nation to allow hardened criminals out of jail, many of whom will go on to drive higher rates of homicide — a trend that has already emerged nationally.
Perhaps the worst of it is, social justice activists may serve as unwitting pawns. When social order unravels, the powers that be — federal, state and local — won’t stand by and allow the violence to come to the doorsteps of their posh, gated communities in Malibu, Sacramento, Washington DC, the Hamptons and elsewhere. A public safety crisis — to the extent one is entirely predictable thanks to an incomplete, top-down approach to criminal justice reform — is likely to set the stage for another type of reimagining in which Big Tech partners with the federal government to launch new and “unified” policing models.
Therein lies a paradox: New policing practices may be more costly, surveillance oriented, authoritarian and potentially discriminatory than the current decentralized model of community-controlled policing.
Years ago, President Obama was accused of militarizing the police. His Department of Homeland Security worked with local law enforcement to establish “fusion centers”, while giving police departments access not only to surplus military equipment but high-tech surveillance tools. In signing the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, President Obama also expanded the “war on terror” to include the homeland — encompassing Americans on American soil. Formerly a stark line existed between the kind of crimes the federal government (FBI) would get involved in — such as interstate crimes — and the local variety which were left to community-controlled police departments. President Obama’s efforts to “improve” upon policing for the sake of battling crime and terrorism, while not widely appreciated, are nonetheless illustrative of a partnership that never completely died.
Today, we know it by another name. “Predictive policing” may very well be the match by which we burn away what remains of local checks and balances, however imperfect community policing controls are.
To launch this brave new world, there must first exist demand for a “new model” of policing. That demand will not come about if law enforcement officers are not harangued as racists and “white supremacists”. It will not come about if law enforcement officers are not demoralized by a low level of public confidence. There will be little reason to upend the status quo if the current model of local policing, in conjunction with police reform, succeeds. In order to justify billions of dollars spent on an all-inclusive American Police State, the current criminal justice system must fall apart in the name of reform — in so doing paving the way to a public reimagining of policing that activists, even, fail to foresee.
What might a future of predictive policing look like? Ask the residents of Pasco County, Florida, who by all appearances appear to be the target of a years-long policing experiment.
“First the Sheriff’s Office generates lists of people it considers likely to break the law, based on arrest histories, unspecified intelligence and arbitrary decisions by police analysts.
“Then it sends deputies to find and interrogate anyone whose name appears, often without probable cause, a search warrant or evidence of a specific crime.
“They swarm homes in the middle of the night, waking families and embarrassing people in front of their neighbors. They write tickets for missing mailbox numbers and overgrown grass, saddling residents with court dates and fines. They come again and again, making arrests for any reason they can.”“Targeted”, Sept. 3, 2020, Tampa Bay Times
While a nationwide, high-tech rollout of predictive policing may seem too distant to wrap our minds around — and the realization that elected leaders are no longer vested in the public interest may be a tough pill to swallow — the evidence is apparent to anyone who looks: When local/State politicians allow violent demonstrations to continue for the better part of a year, as they have in Portland, Oregon — often without arresting, let alone charging, those who commit violence — it does not arise from a commitment to criminal justice reform. It would appear, rather, that the notoriety of Antifa is primarily useful for their capacity to whip up a climate of anxiety and fear. Alongside pandemic-related efforts to hasten the release of prisoners across the country, a “violence epidemic” may not be far behind.
The COVID-19 pandemic did not make the current crime wave inevitable. Should crime explode on President Biden’s watch and police recruitment continue to fall, it will force the issue of bringing community policing into the 21st Century. At that point, policing will fall under pressure to become a public-private partnership between the federal government and Big Tech — and crime-weary Americans may no longer be of a mind to object.
Obama’s efforts to sell off military surplus to police departments backfired in Ferguson and elsewhere where such visually-alarming transformations were openly challenged. As a result, authorities backed off and are now more “sensitive” about projecting the image of a militarized police. But Americans should not be fooled into complacency. If BLM keeps taking to the streets and Antifa keeps dogging their every protest, what professional social justice warriors will achieve is not merely a defunding of community policing but a vacuum into which a federal police force may step.
From the Frying Pan to the Fire
As a public relations pitch, a future federalized police “plan” may virtue-signal that they offer an anecdote to systemic racism — boosting credibility by appointing “marginalized peoples” to key roles in this dubious top-down model. Political leaders will no doubt advertise that the “new police” are more accountable. But by definition, a form of policing that is centrally controlled is a form of policing less transparent to citizens and more likely to use its near-bottomless taxpayer-funded resources — and the tools of mass surveillance — to turn the United States into a proverbial police state.
Telling Americans if and when this happens that it is about “equity” or “antiracism” should be a red flag that it is anything but!
Criminal justice reform activists and their nonprofit backers need to take particular heed of this warning. There is a reason why large strides toward core social services that lessen the role of police — and therefore blunt an otherwise inevitable public backlash — have not been made at the same rate of speed by which mass incarceration is being reduced. Continued success on the deincarceration side, absent successful efforts at the community level, threatens to unleash a nationwide public safety crisis.
The ensuing crisis will not go to waste.
Before policing, courts and prison systems unravel as we know them, smart community alternatives must be in place. If they are not — and the only thing BLM activists realize over the long term are criminals free to prey upon their own communities with impunity — ask yourself why so many local, State and federal leaders continue to go “soft on crime” even as it is already apparent that public safety will pay a proportional price? Odds are, it is not because they are in the Abolitionist fight. And it is not even because our leaders are committed antiracists and anti-fascists. It would appear we are witnessing, rather, a battle of attrition against community-based policing, which will then make the case for federal intervention. Predictive policing will offer an “equity” that will put all Americans in danger not merely of breaking local ordinances and laws but at risk of over-classification as “terrorists” and “insurrectionists”.
We have met the enemy and the enemy is us.
In 2020, the insurance industry reported a record $1 billion in damage connected to social unrest even as Americans were told again and again by our media gatekeepers that protests in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death were “mostly peaceful”. Whatever the case, the permissive attitudes of local governments in Portland, Seattle and elsewhere send the wrong message to unnerved Americans. An Abolitionist future of no police and no prisons is not on the horizon for the same reason that there is no advanced country in world, past or present, that has successfully done away with the “necessary evils” of law and order. So why are some communities seemingly going along with the notion that we can afford to pretend otherwise?
The real work of change is not on our streets but in our day-to-day lives — building communities in which Americans of all backgrounds can thrive, in which the disabled, American veterans, racial minorities, addicts and the mentally ill are not left behind by a system that throws money at political infrastructure without regard for results. Protestors remind us that there will be no peace without justice. But when we are left with communities shattered by violence, the civil society on which justice relies moves further out of reach.
In the void of failed democratic socialist dreams, fascism rears its ugly head. Whether we appreciate it now or not, prolonged social unrest will lay the groundwork not merely for “police reform” but an unholy alliance between Big Tech and government entities brought to bear in the name of solving what is a preventable, if not wholly “manufactured”, public safety crisis. Follow the money: Political campaigns are increasingly bankrolled by dark money — money spent by hostile foreigners who wish to undermine American societal cohesion even as Silicone Valley climbs in bed with politicians and the Corporate backers of social justice philanthropy. In the years to come, Big Tech stands to profit in an unprecedented way by a Big Data, AI-driven predictive policing future.
Chaos is a business opportunity.
We can and should work toward a just world. But in 21st Century America, taking to the streets to express frustration with injustice will not deliver the change we imagine.
Targeted | Tampa Bay Times
‘Alarming Rate’: Demoralized Cops Flee Police Departments in Record Numbers | The Washington Times
Turning the Tide on Crime with Predictive Policing | United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Institute
Predictive Policing: The Future of Law Enforcement? | NIJ Journal (PDF)
The Rise of Big Data Policing | TechCrunch
Big Tech is Becoming Big Brother | MoneyWeek
Can Artificial Intelligence Give Us Equal Justice? | The Crime Report
Predictive Policing Algorithms are Racist. They Need to be Dismantled | MIT Technology Review
Why Predictive Policing is Fundamentally Unjust | HS Insider, Los Angeles Times
In 2020, A Reckoning for Law Enforcement and Tech Ethics | Government Technology
The State of Surveillance: Protestors, Police and Big Tech | North Carolina Public Radio
Combating Violent Crime is Risky in the Age of BLM | Powerline Blog
LA County DA George Gascón is Center Stage in National Revolution to Reform Justice System | Los Angeles Daily News
The Decriminalization Delusion | City Journal
To End Poverty and Overcome Racism, America Needs a New Marshall Plan | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Police Consolidation: The End of Local Law Enforcement? | New American
Obama Chooses Six Cities to Test Federal Police Scheme | New American
How Philanthropy Benefits the Super-Rich | Guardian
Rural Africa as a Big Tech Proving Ground | Mint Press