NY DA says he won't prosecute minor drug possession; NYPD officers ordered to go on arresting


#1

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#2

But hey, look on the bright side!


#3

Couldn't ask for more clear evidence: The police as an institution does not exist to serve and protect us, it exists to dominate and control us.

Even faced with clear and repeated indications that society isn't concerned about marijuana possession (they decriminalized it years ago, for christ's sake), the police have persisted in making it their top priority to target and arrest people for this crime. Not because we want them to, but because they can.

The interests and priorities of police departments are independent from the interests of society. When those interests come in conflict, the institution will defend itself at the expense of the rest of us every time.

This is why we must abolish the police. It is simply wrong to maintain social peace by creating a super-empowered bureaucracy with the right to invade our daily lives and literally get away with murder. It is a fundamental threat to the principles of freedom and democracy. It's time to find other ways to keep society safe.


#4

You had my attention, if not exactly my support, up until the point where you said

See, I'm not the sort of who throws the baby out with the bathwater, or who buys a new car instead of replacing a flat tire. I'm a staunch advocate of fixing and repairing things before going to drastic measures to replace them or just entirely do without.

Abolition of the police? I'm sorry, at best that's naive idealism. It'd be great if we didn't need an organized system of law enforcement, but no society in the history of humankind has yet existed in anything resembling a peaceful state without some means of acting against those who are unwilling to play nice and respect others.

But for the sake of argument, let's say we abolish the police. Who or what replaces them?

If we just leave things without some form of policing body, they'll get co-opted by organized crime groups, like the Vory or the Yakuza or the Mafia or the Triads or whoever.

If we get the military to take control (somehow - they honestly don't want the job), we'll have martial law and extremely curtailed liberties, because the military isn't designed to operate as anything but a military, and that means they can only police us how they police themselves.

And if we institute a new civilian policing body of some sort, how is that any different than reforming the extant institution? If you replace a police system with a police system, have you honestly abolished anything at all?

You have three realistic choices - Anarchy, Military Justice, and Civil Justice. Pick one.


#5

Coincidentally, I watched this last night.


#6

Definitely true. And yet, in very many societies that means has not been a police force. Actually, the modern police force is a bit of an anomaly, anthropologically speaking. We're the exception, not the rule.

I think that's the missing point that explains why everyone freaks out when you say "we should get rid of the police". Culturally we're so inwardly focused that we can't even imagine other ways of maintaining peace and civility other than a police force. I mean, the alternatives you came up with were having the mob or the army act as cops - essentially just putting a different group in the same role.

The problem is that policing is an institution, that's my whole point. We have a "civilian policing body" already, but the problem is that when civilians become cops, they become different than other civilians by their membership in the police institution.

The police department is a separate and distinct body from the rest of society, governed by dramatically different rules. That separation and privilege is a fundamental power imbalance which inevitably results in anti-social policies and behavior.

So the problems can't be solved by putting different people in the institution, nor by changing the rules of the institution. We have to abolish the institution itself, and figure out how to make the job that it used to play (keeping us safe) a part of society, rather than the specialized job of a separate, privileged, and oftentimes hostile bureaucracy.

To head off further melodrama about "anarchy", note that I'm not suggesting this all happen tomorrow all at once. But it is the direction we need to be moving, and if we're going to get there, we need to be honest about the goal.


#7

You can essentially get rid of something by changing its definition so much that it becomes something new. The opposite of re-branding. The abilities, privileges and protections afforded to police officers definitely need to change. These are the DNA of what it is to be this thing we call police. Police exist all over the world, and it means something completely different whatever the laws are. Change a few GTCA's in that code, and it becomes a different animal. This means it will attract individuals with different proclivities, and will force current members to be something else, or leave.

Police forces need to be the most restricted, most highly trained (not most often, not most costly, highly and carefully), and most thoroughly observed professional we have. The level of authority over other persons needs to be matched by the level of accountability. Currently they're inversely related. however, trying the abolish the idea just takes away the name for the thing, and being able to name something is important for being able to keep track, regulate and check it's power. A loose, decentralized non-professional policing body would be pretty untenable IMO, but you can approach the creation of the list of responsibilities and powers that a neutral law-enforcing authority should have starting from the mental standpoint of "Let's start with a blank list, and if we created the police today, how would we do it" That would probably be a good mental / legislative exercise in the right hands. Who those right hands are and how they'd be put in place, I'm less optimistic about...


#8

The reason we have a civilian policing body is because of a human behavior called "specialization".

You seem (and please correct me if I'm misreading you) to be vaguely suggesting some sort of mass societal approach to policing where people take care of each other communally as the need arises - a very Neo-Anarchist approach to things.

But specialization exists for a reason, particularly in fields that require a high degree of training and expertise, and matters of law are just such a field. There are very good reasons we have dedicated professionals serving to operate our justice system.

We have lawyers and courts because laws are complex and exacting, and we cannot rely upon nor reasonably expect the average citizen to be adequately aware of their legal status and rights much of the time. We have law enforcement officers for much the same reason - but also because the enforcement of our laws requires some very complicated or difficult endeavors.

Criminal investigations, for example, would be a nightmare to conduct communally - both logistically, and socially. It's just such a delicate and complicated task that it requires trained specialists to perform correctly and fairly.

I would personally be horrified of communal criminal investigations, as I have almost complete certainty they would devolve into "mob justice" immediately. It's just something I don't want being handled by anyone who isn't an expert.

Yet even more significant than the mere necessity of specialization in these sorts of endeavors, I find that your key objections to the extant police force are in no way innate to the system or otherwise insurmountable.

Most workplaces operate on their own unique sets of rules - but particularly government jobs do. The police are not the only ones legally empowered to perform certain tasks ordinarily not trusted to individual citizens. You can't argue against the police on the grounds that they are granted special allowances without arguing against every other office that is granted special allowances.

On the other hand, if you only take issue with certain of the allowances made, or feel certain of the powers granted are too far reaching, those things can be changed without abolishing the entire system.

You claim that the police are separate and distinct. It's arguable how true that actually is, but if you feel that things need to be less so, that's a change we can seek to make and a reform we can enact. The police are not intrinsically removed from other civilians, and it is perfectly possible and reasonable to hold them accountable in the same manner as everyone else.

It really all depends on the heart of your objection.

If you object to the granting of special powers to a certain portion of the population, I fear you have no hope of satisfaction. Specialization isn't going away any time soon, and special powers granted to certain individuals placed in the public trust in order to perform essential duties beyond the scope of ordinary citizens is practically the cornerstone of human civilization.

On the other hand, if you object only to the specific powers and privileges, on the grounds that they take matters too far or are in various ways unreasonable or unjust, then you're in luck - those details can be changed, and the system updated and improved.

Reform is overwhelmingly almost always possible, and people are far more willing to fix a problem with an extant structure than they are with trying to rebuild the entire ediface from the ground up.


#9

Indeed. Our laws grow more complex all the time, and the capacity for ordinary people to understand them dwindles. This is not a natural phenomenon, though. Laws are made complex, usually to serve the interests of business and bureaucrats.

For example, possession of marijuana was decriminalized in New York, but "public display" of marijuana remained an arrestable offense, allowing police to continue to arrest young black men when they pulled their dime bags out to show the police. Who knew? Not black kids. But the cops and DA sure did. The complexity and need for specialization you're speaking of is not an inevitability, and it's not in the public interest.

How much training is required to become a police officer? Look into it, the answer may surprise you, especially when compared against the training required for other jobs we consider important. The specialization of police does not involve much special technical knowledge or ability. It's about special authority, and that authority is granted not based on one's merit, but on one's alignment with the political institution of the police department.

Oh man, wait 'till you hear how we decide innocence and guilt in the US - you'll be horrified! The idea that we cannot trust ordinary people to act reasonably and fairly because "teh mob" is a myth that can be traced back through generations of political and economic elites. It is propagated by those who want to rule us, because they don't want us to realize we can rule ourselves.

More concretely, you'll be interested to know that the big trend in law enforcement now is "community policing", which basically recognizes that the people capable of solving - and even stopping - crimes are not the cops, but neighbors and community members who are close to the situation. It's basically an admission that police are not the best tool for accomplishing their own job, but then tries to wag the dog by drafting the community into being the cops' "helpers", so the police department still gets to take the credit.

There are others who abuse their institutional positions, it's true. And those institutions should probably be questioned or maybe even eliminated as well - I'm not implying the police are the only problem. But we're talking about the police in this thread.

You're reductio ad absurduming me. The problem is not that people are granted special powers, but that the power of the police - specifically the power to be above the law - is an inherent part of the institution, and so it can't be controlled or overseen by the public. It's not written in law anywhere "the DA and the Judge must always believe the word of a police officer over the word of a civilian". That's not a regulation, that's a power imbalance created by the socio-political relationships inherent in the police as an institution.

You don't fix that by voting Democrat and drafting a bill next session. That power wasn't created through a bill, and it can't be destroyed by one either. It was created by the institution, and it must be destroyed in kind.


#10

Today, for a change, I don't have the time and energy to devote to arguing every little thing.

Suffice it to say that, overall, I believe you're being stubborn about viewing the problems our national institutions suffer from as being "inherent". In reality, everything you complain about can be changed through reform, without tearing down entire systems and leaving massive gaps in the very fabric of society itself.

It's understandable that you are offended by our societal ills and institutional failings - what sane person wouldn't be when viewing them objectively? But when your proposed solution is "Tear down the system!" without any realistic suggestions for what to do after that fact, it's hard to see that as anything other than a lot of hot air.


#11

Exhibit A in why the distinction between decriminalization and legalization matters. A lot.

Exhibit #3002 in how police culture is mutating away from "civilian" control.


#12

Opponents of the system of US slavery did not have a clear plan for what to replace it with. There were lots of different ideas, some good, some bad, and many conflicting. Abolitionists did not agree on what was right, but they were pretty clear on what was wrong.

The important thing - the thing that changed history - wasn't that someone came up with a fantastic system to replace slavery, it was that people came to recognize that slavery itself was so fundamentally corrupt, immoral, and indefensible that it simply had to be abolished.

Once it was abolished (or, as some might say "torn down, leaving a massive gap in the very fabric of society itself"), society figured things out, or at least began to. It hasn't been easy, and even today we're far from perfect. But we never would've changed if our society hadn't come to a clear moral decision about what was unacceptable.
"Yes, we see that your entire economy and way of life is based around this system, and that abolishing it would call into question many things. We don't have answers to all those questions. But the system is harmful and wrong, so it must end."


#13

And now we're comparing having a dedicated police system to human slavery.

G'night everybody, thanks for coming! Was wonderful seeing you, but the show's over, go on home now! See you again soon!


#14

Obviously I wasn't attempting to equate the two, simply point out similarities in the way they were thought of politically. It can help to approach modern political questions by relating them to other periods, because it helps keep our perspective from being limited by the current zeitgeist.

But since you mention it, more black men are in prison today than were enslaved in 1850.
edit: gotta go, but i wonder how many of them are in there on minor drug possession charges?


#15

I don't think this is true. Compare the US with other countries in the world. Every developed nation and many developing nations have police forces, but the level of police misconduct and violence varies dramatically.

Based on polls I could find about 76% of people in the UK trust the police while about 29% of people in Mexico do. Norway looks like it is in the high 80s and was over 90s just before Anders Brevik went on his rampage (thing like that shake people's confidence). It looks like it's about 60% in the US. Norway has an institution of police just like America does, but clearly there is some cultural difference in how they run things.

In 2011 the German police force used 85 bullets while the American police force used 90 bullets on a single person in LA. Clearly there is some kind of cultural difference between how ready the police are to employ deadly force.

I certainly don't know what factors go into making one police force brutal and another professional. Some are obvious - low police wages and almost no oversight is going to lead to a lot of corruption; police who feel they will not or cannot be charged for crimes they commit on the job are going to be more likely to commit crimes. But obviously something is making a difference, and it isn't just the mere fact of the institution.


#16

The modern police state, OWNED by oligarch vultures feasting on the dead carcass of American Democracy, IS SLAVERY.

The 14th amendment did not free anyone but the zombie constructions we know today as the Military/Penal Corporate State.


#17

If it can be influenced one way, then it can be influenced the other way. wink

Also, technically "civilian" is a military term, denoting a non-combatant who is not part of an armed force or a militia. Police are in fact civilians and not soldiers - even if there have been unpleasant trends towards certain police forces adopting a militant culture and outlook.

To my knowledge, it is only in the U.S. that the word "civilian" has come to sometimes be used in common speech to exclude law enforcement and firefighting personnel. I'm not sure why this is the case, but I suspect it has more to do with our culture and national beliefs and policies than anything to do with the nature of policing itself.


#18

I would say that has much more to do with the differences in the societies than the differences in their respective laws. It's not cut and dry either way, because laws influence society and vice versa. But I think the exercise of comparing and contrasting police forces in different societies is very quickly complicated by other important factors:

  • How violent is the society in general, and what are attitudes towards violence?
  • How big is the gap between the haves and have-nots?
  • What kinds of racial or cultural bigotry are present?
  • How likely is the public to demonstrate meaningful resistance against police abuse?

Factors like those have an influence on the form that police abuse takes. For example, in London people aren't gunned down by cops as often as in Chicago, but they are stopped and harassed for looking foreign, taking pictures, or being young in a group. Certainly you could say it's nicer to be harassed by the London cops, but that doesn't mean they've gotten it right, just less wrong.

I think it's perfectly fine to work on the above issues, and other types of reform to make the police "less wrong", but let's also not pretend that we need or want them.


#19

Yeah, I guess I feel that these are the real problems. If you reduce income inequality then the police won't have poor people to harass. If you reduce bigotry then police won't have minorities to harass.

Things seem to have been degenerating recently, especially in the US, but overall I think police have been part of making society better. If you go back hundreds of years before there were police forces its not like things were very nice.

My feeling is that the problems we have now have a lot to do with incentive structures. Police think it is their job to make arrests. Prosecutors think it is their job to get convictions. Police should make it their primary job to build ties with the community, and prosecutors should make it their primary job to determine the truth of what happened. Those changes won't happen through legislation, bu they could happen through appointment of better people at the top, and that's the work of politicians.


#20

For the record I agree, the very use of the term betrays a very wrong attitude, hence the "scare quotes" around "civilian". wink