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Posts Tagged ‘protests’

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 ask 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?

No.

“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 federalized police force may step.

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If you do not quite grasp how the occupied zone in downtown Seattle, known as CHOP — formerly known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) — relates to George Floyd’s death, social media calls to “defund the police“, HBO’s decision to pull “Gone with the Wind” and recent flashpoints around historic statues and monuments, you are not alone.

The denizens of CHOP not only wish to dispense with law enforcement but prisons and even courts. Objectives include drug decriminalization, disbandment of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), dismantling of immigration courts, and the legalization of undocumented migration (“open borders“). Media has grappled with how to cover this latest chapter. Some reporters have described CHOP as a “commune“, others as a “street festival” — both of which have drawn the ire of participants, many of whom identify as activists.

Mainstream media has been slow — reluctant, even — to connect the dots between academia, social justice advocacy, legal system reformers and street activism. The backstory is long — decades long — and controversial. Broadly put, the scenes unfolding on our streets reflect less the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent approach to Civil Rights — although his actions have since been interpreted through an “anti-Capitalist” lens — and more the revolutionary roots of Black Liberation.*

Liberationists’ embrace a Marxist view of Abolition, a key goal of which is to tie America’s “original sin” of slavery to capitalism.

“The new history of slavery seeks to obliterate the economic and moral distinction between slavery and capitalism, and between the South and the North, by showing them to have been all part of a single system”, Nicholas Lemann for The New Yorker writes, in “Is Capitalism Racist?“.

Criminal justice reform is, perhaps, the most widely recognized facet of contemporary Abolitionism. Proponents of “defund the police” do not merely wish to redirect law enforcement funds into community programs. To them, law enforcement is a manifestation of white supremacy — irrevocably illegitimate.

Prof. Willem De Haan, a University of Amsterdam criminologist, writes “Abolitionism emerged as an anti-prison movement when, at the end of the 1960s, a destructuring impulse took hold of thinking about the social control of deviance and crime…. Crime’ is a social construction, to be analysed as a myth…. As a myth, crime serves to maintain political power relations … Abolitionists do not share the current belief in the criminal law’s capacity for crime control. They radically deny the utility of punishment and claim that there can be no valid justification for it…. They discard criminal justice as an absurd idea.”

While it may be tempting to dismiss modern Abolitionism as a product of a radical fringe, it is anything but.  Its analytical framework rests upon Critical Race Theory, which explicitly promotes activism as a goal. CRT has made inroads into numerous fields of study within academia over the past two decades: criminal justice, feminism, African American studies, critical whiteness studies, political science, economics and American studies, among others. CRT, in a nutshell, evaluates the world through a hierarchal lens comprised of white oppressors and non-white victims. On the heels of Black Lives Matter, which was founded in 2013 to counter police brutality, activists within various movements have found common cause. To cite one of the better known examples, philanthropists and presidents, alike, have called for an end to mass incarceration in recent years.

“The broadening bipartisan consensus on the need for criminal justice reform offers promise to build on this trend, and we intend to exploit it” [p. 31],  documents a U.S. Programs board meeting of the Open Society Foundation, a George Soros-backed nonprofit that supports many similarly-aligned interests. “The path to ending mass incarceration requires fundamentally changing laws that inappropriately criminalize certain conduct …. We believe continued support of a group of key partners working nationally is essential to maintain the broad call for substantial reform, but recognize that most reform activity must take place at the state level. … Our strategy includes efforts to […] correct the public perception of crime survivors … and shift the culture of prosecution” [p.32]. Crime victims, the board wrote in 2015, have a “disproportionate influence” on criminal justice [p.33].

“This is what we have been waiting for”, says Angela Davis, author, activist, self-described Communist, onetime prisoner and longtime University of California Santa Cruz college professor, of Black Lives Matter. “All of this is connected and I think that is a moment when there is so much promise, so much potential. Of course we never know what the outcome is going to be, we can never predict the consequences of the work that we do. But as I always like to say, we have to act as if it is possible to build a revolution and to radically transform the world.”

If we can right the wrongs of oppressors past by radically transforming our present legal, political and economic systems, some would argue not only that the benefit outweighs the risk — but that it is a moral imperative.

What is less clear to the Abolitionist occupiers of CHOP, and their ideological luminaries in academia and activism, is this: What comes next? (more…)

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