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July 22, 2009

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Why not trade stories about asshole cops?

Though I think it's an interesting question of whether people who are assholes tend to become cops, or being a cop tends to turn people into assholes (assuming, of course, that there are more asshole cops than per capita than in the general population).

My take is that being in a position of authority makes them more likely to overreact should anyone challenge that authority (as in, "how DARE you not do what I say!"). Take it away, Eric Cartman.

Had Gates' neighbor seen two white people of similar age and dress breaking into the house, she would've walked over and asked what was going on. I know this, because I'm white and have helped friends break into their house for similar reasons in broad daylight in much worse neighborhoods than Cambridge and people say, "hey what are you doing?" before calling the cops.

Had Gates not been black, and had he not been talking about race, the cop would not have demanded that he go outside to continue the conversation. The cop was, at best, doing some CYA to make sure he had witnesses for the oh-so-offensive burden he had to take of being called a racist. In his report, he says he had to go outside because the acoustics in Gates' house were too bad to use his radio. Such bullshit.

I don't see where anyone has said that this is simply a case of racism and nothing else. McWhorter or anyone else. To paraphrase Geraldine Ferraro, if Gates weren't black, this wouldn't have happened. It might not have happened if the cop weren't dumb as rocks or an asshole or whatever, but that's irrelevant. No one's arguing that race was exclusively at fault here, just that it was an essential part of this case.

FWIW, I've come across this take before, but never experienced it firsthand, despite my multiple cop encounters.

To me, the officer would either be polite or, if anything, scripted (as in a pullover). I usually assumed it was my race (though also I've been told I kind of look like a cop).

My oldest and closest friend is a police chief, but I also have an asshole cop story, so I know where you're coming from, von. I don't think the job turns people into assholes; I think power-trippers are attracted to jobs where they can exercise authority, and unfortunately the tools at hand aren't doing the best job of screening them out.

And in re: the role that race plays, you're right that it's rarely everything, but it's often the kickoff that gets the game going. During my term of grand jury service, I've heard a lot of minor drug cases which are begun by what is obviously a pretextual traffic stop, and in 99% of those, the defendants are black. Whether or not the stop was legal is a question for the trial jury and not the grand jury, IMO, but it still bothers me.

Wow, Ugh. That link is amazing. (It looks like Coates also has a link on his blog.) Why hasn't that cop been fired?

The candid answer is that, if race played a role in McWhorter's or Gate's experiences, it probably didn't play an exclusive role.

As a white man, Eric, I'm sure that you understand what it's like to be a black man being harassed by cops much, much better than black men ever could. How useful for McWhirter and Gates, should they ever run across this blog, that you are here to share your experience of race in America with them.

Funny, I have a story involving being arrested by the Philly PD, mostly because my girlfriend/future wife had an asthma attack on South St around 2 AM on a Saturday night. My dad's a retired cop, and I still think too many of them are a-holes.

Remember what Gary Farber wrote about power relationships a few weeks back when discussing racism? With the cops, there's a power relationship completely separate from race, sometimes with race on top of it.

From observing the hiring habits of four small-town departments, it has been my observation that: (1) assholes are attracted to law enforcement because it empowers their inner asshole; (2) departments select assholes for hiring because they want aggressive enforcement; (3) time in uniform jades the officer, bringing out his or her inner asshole.

IOW, the entire profession seems to attract, promote, and encourage assholes.

As a white man, Eric, I'm sure that you understand what it's like to be a black man being harassed by cops much, much better than black men ever could. How useful for McWhirter and Gates, should they ever run across this blog, that you are here to share your experience of race in America with them.

For clarity, I (von) wrote this post -- not Eric.

For clarity, I (von) wrote this post -- not Eric.

All you bloggers look alike...

Why hasn't that cop been fired?

Philadelphia.

Why hasn't that cop been fired?

Not to mention the other cops who stopped by and encouraged the clerk to erase the tape and attest to the cop's story.

I know this, because I'm white and have helped friends break into their house for similar reasons in broad daylight in much worse neighborhoods than Cambridge and people say, "hey what are you doing?" before calling the cops.

"Strongly suspect" or "have great reason to believe" might work better than "know."

Also, I do think it's true that race was a major part, but not the whole part of the incident.

But it doesn't excuse the ass-hattery one bit. Not really constructive in any event.

Wouldn't the more relevant line have been "killing cops and reading Kerouac"?

I agree that to simply label the cop racist (though he probably is to some extent) is not particularly productive, just as to say that Dear You is a better album than 24 Hour Revenge Therapy is not productive, though both things might get you punched in the face. If only we could talk more openly about how one may be a better all-around album while the other can still have better individual songs. . .

@hairshirthedonist

If I were breaking into a random house in southeast Baltimore (in a majority white neighbhorhood) and was black, I know that I wouldn't get the same reaction. There's no suspicion about it.

because I'm white and have helped friends break into their house for similar reasons in broad daylight in much worse neighborhoods than Cambridge and people say, "hey what are you doing?" before calling the cops.

My neighbor actually stopped and chatted with the folks who were burglarizing my house while they were doing it. Apparently, they were quite pleasant.

In fairness to my neighbor, who felt terrible later, we were fixing up part of our basement and had folks going in and out of our house the day before. So it wasn't unreasonable to think that the burglars were, say, electricians.

"No doubt, Professor Gates' race played a role in the zealous stupidity* of some of Cambridge's finest a few days ago. But are we looking past the fact that a certain percentage of cops are -- how to put this delicately -- complete assholes?"

There could also be a town/gown thing involved. Or a class thing.

Zach, I hate to belabor a minor point, but you wrote that you knew this:

Had Gates' neighbor seen two white people of similar age and dress breaking into the house, she would've walked over and asked what was going on.

You don't know that, regardless of whether or not you know this:

If I were breaking into a random house in southeast Baltimore (in a majority white neighbhorhood) and was black, I know that I wouldn't get the same reaction.

It depends on who sees you and maybe how they feel that particular day. It's probably far more likely that a black guy will get the cops called rather than being approached directly than a white guy, but a white guy might still get the same on any given day.

Yes some cops are a*******s, and yes, race does play a role. Anybody who tries to deny either is out of touch with reality. Also, I agree with your comment taht the vast majority of us (perhaps, like you say, 100%) are racist to some degree or another, as well as just about every other "ist".

However, I think the real issue here is not the initial contact, but what goes on after that contact. McWhorter's experience is not necessarily indicative of racism, and probably more of the a**hole variety. Cops are soemtimes between a rock and a hard place. They have to be naturally suspicious. There is a lot of complaints as to why they didn't prevent a crime, but at the same time, when they see something which might be suspicious and try to check things out, they get accused of over-zealouness or worse.

Yes, race may play a role in what they consider suspicious, but that isn't always racism. Age also can do so. A lot depends on the general climate of the vicinity where that takes place.

However, in this case, I think the cop was a combination of all the above, including the gown vs town mentality.

My apologies, Eric.

(It's not that all you white bloggers look alike. It's that I'm still at work, printing out stuff for a damned training day tomorrow. Still, I'm sorry I thought Eric would write a post like this, in which Helpful White Blogger explains to black people how when they think cops are being racist, they're probably wrong, because White Bloggers know so much more than black people do about race in America. Sheesh.)

First, while lots of cops are assholes, I think the fraction of cops that are assholes varies significantly by municipality. I actually live in Cambridge and have done so for over a decade. As a white guy, I've always been treated well in my interactions with the local cops. The quality of local government here seems higher than average. Note also that the Cambridge Police Dept actually has an officer who focuses on hate crimes. If you're going to engage in dueling anecdotes, I think you should make some effort to control for general cop assholishness.

(As an aside, I think Ta-Nehisi Coates is ridiculously under-counting the percentage of racists at 35-40%; it's more like 100%. We're all a little bit racist; the difference is in degree and self-recognition.)

Saying that the percentage of people who are racist is 100% seems useless. While everyone has implicit racial beliefs, people vary significantly as to how much these beliefs alter their behavior. What matters then isn't how many people have implicit racial beliefs (since they all do) but how many people have those beliefs and allow them to significantly affect their behavior. That number is surely much closer to 35-40% than to 100%.

The candid answer is that, if race played a role in McWhorter's or Gate's experiences, it probably didn't play an exclusive role.

I think statements like this confuse more than they enlighten. The world is complex and mono-causal explanations are almost always wrong. But frequently, mono-causal explanations are very close to correct. I mean, if we knew that race accounted for 95% of the officers' behavior here, than it would be strictly correct to say "STOP! RACE IS NOT THE WHOLE STORY!" but, um, for all practical purposes, race really would be the whole story.

@hairshirthedonist
I guess that your minor point is that we can't be certain about anything? I'm as certain that an aging white man (Gates is 60) wedging open a door in Cambridge would not be reported to the police as I am that Obama's not a Manchurian candidate. Especially not when accompanied by his driver with luggage in tow.

von:

I wasn't prepared for how uncomfortable it would make me to agree with you. :)

One other possible factor that hasn't been mentioned AFAIK in discussions of this case: when I lived in Cambridge two decades ago, town-gown relations were terrible and often had an effect on interactions between local law enforcement and people connected to Harvard. At least back then, I could well imagine that Gates's stated status as a Harvard professor might have further aggravated a cop's assholish-ness already agravated by racism.

I'd be interested to know from people with more recent experience whether that dimension of life in Cambridge has changed much over the years.

I take your points, Turbulence.

With regards to the town/gown divide, one thing to realize is that a surprisingly large fraction of police officers in MA have graduate degrees. The Quinn bill provides extra cash for officers who have associate, bachelor's or master's degrees; I believe the benefit is 10%, 20%, and 25%. As a result, there are tons of diploma mills that exist to make sure that local cops get their grad degree. To the extent that town/gown divides boil down to cultural misunderstanding and unfamiliarity, the professionalization of the force should mitigate such concerns.

.... just as to say that Dear You is a better album than 24 Hour Revenge Therapy is not productive, though both things might get you punched in the face. If only we could talk more openly about how one may be a better all-around album while the other can still have better individual songs. . .

What? No, no, no. This is like saying The Argument has better songs than Thirteen Songs. Yes, The Argument is awesome. But Thirteen Songs is ..... Thirteen Songs. Every song on it is made better by being a part of that whole.

And what are the standouts on Dear You? Chemistry. Bad Scene. Fireman. Accident Prone. Maybe one other depending on taste. I'll put those up against the first five songs of 24hr, plus Jinx Removing and Do You Still Hate Me, any day of the week. And I'll win, song by song.

Indeed, I'm wondering whether the criminally underrated Unfun/Whack & Blite EP is better than Dear You. May very well be. (Bivouac is, of course, good in its own way but just not comparable.)

In related news, I assume you know of this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thorns_Of_Life

Still, I'm sorry I thought Eric would write a post like this, in which Helpful White Blogger explains to black people how when they think cops are being racist, they're probably wrong, because White Bloggers know so much more than black people do about race in America. Sheesh.

This would be relevant to the discussion if I had actually "explain[ed]" any such thing, which I didn't.

There are a lot of great cops out there - my aunt's longtime boyfriend was a Boston cop for a long time, and I've never seen him be anything but a really nice guy. And my own interactions with cops, when they've mattered, have always been positive - even once when I was a teenager and a cop thought I'd broken into my own house, because he was in his car driving down an urban alley when I was walking down the alley in the other direction, and before our paths crossed I ducked out of the alley into a backyard and into the house. It happened that was my usual path home from the bus stop, but it looked suspicious to the cop and when he came around to the house and checked it out I was treated with perfect respect. Being white, and in a neighborhood that was getting more and more gentrified, may have helped me, of course.

But it's certainly the case that the profession of Police Officer attracts a bunch of preening bullies. One of my weirder experiences was a night spent in a German train station waiting for the early-morning train to Frankfurt, complete with drunks, homeless people - and frequent patrols by German cops. Perhaps because of the anti-authoritarian, anti-militaristic backlash in postwar Germany the cops and streetcar ticket inspectors I encountered were almost universally atavistic throwbacks who clung to the jackbooted thug imagery that so much of the rest of the country had rejected. I wouldn't have wanted to interact with them in any significant way because they were so transparently itching to get their power-trip on, or worse.

I should have noted that my particular, personal Asshole Cop story was kicked off by what the officer perceived as my violation of the most commonly-violated, yet unwritten, law: Not being properly deferential to the police. I was at a stoplight, and momentarily distracted, so when the light turned green, I didn't go right away. The car behind me honked, I gave the little, "Whoops! Sorry!" wave . . and cue lights and siren, as the car behind me was a zone car, and the officer thought I had flipped him off. It got worse from there.

Nonetheless, I know my friend the chief was a good cop, and a good detective, and his force does good work.

And what are the standouts on Dear You? Chemistry. Bad Scene. Fireman. Accident Prone. Maybe one other depending on taste. I'll put those up against the first five songs of 24hr, plus Jinx Removing and Do You Still Hate Me, any day of the week. And I'll win, song by song.

Really? I meant, specifically, that while Dear You is fantastic for having practically no filler (I'm looking at you, "I love you so much it's killing us both"), but 24 Hour has not one, not two, but three perfect tracks: "Boxcar," "Do You Still Hate Me?," and "The Boat Dreams," even though it's got at least that many filler tracks. Dear You only has "Accident Prone." The others are awesome, but not perfect.

Oh, and how did you not put "Oyster" in, but "Bad Scene" makes the cut?

And I assume you know about this:
http://www.mitchclem.com/nothingnice/394/

"Saying that the percentage of people who are racist is 100% seems useless."

I disagree; it makes the point that "racist" isn't a thing that people are, it's a thing that people do. And to however small extent, indeed, all of us have varying degrees of prejudice about different categories of people, and all of us need the benefit of frequent re-examination of these prejudices.

That some people have a given prejudice, on a scale of one to one hundred, of 90, while others have it at only 4, doesn't cease to make it a vital point.

The idea, on the other hand, that racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., exist purely as binary conditions, and you either are one, or you aren't, is deeply pernicious, and contributes deeply to the perpetuation of these prejudices in people who can tell themselves that oh, they're not one of those people; why, some of their best friends are [X]. And thus there's never any self-examination for degrees of Xism.

"What matters then isn't how many people have implicit racial beliefs (since they all do) but how many people have those beliefs"

We just agreed that it's 100%.

"and allow them to significantly affect their behavior."

Ah, but we can't figure out how we may allow small degrees of such prejudicial beliefs/instincts/tendencies may cause small but significant -- and damaging -- changes in our behavior without first acknowledging that we all need to constantly re-examine what we're thinking and feeling, and how justified it is, when a possible prejudice might seem relevant to an event that just took place in our life.

If our self-examination is careful, and we decide it turns out that we had 0% of prejudice affect us, and it's actually objectively true (which we have no way of practically measuring outside a controlled experiment, of course; I'm speaking hypothetically), then, fine, we've just "wasted" a bit of time on re-checking our mental/social health. This isn't a bad thing. And it's the worst that can happen from keeping in mind that all of us have some tendency to have some prejudicial instincts on some categories of people in the backs of our head, no matter how virtuous any of us are.

I know there are still plenty of times I've momentarily made the assumption that an unknown person is male or female, for instance, and then, maybe only a tenth of a second, or a second, later, realized I had no actual basis for that assumption. I know that there are some times that some very swishy behavior has momentarily raised my hackles, until I've had a moment to think about it. I know there are some times that I've felt passing initial moments of discomfort with the realization that someone is transgender. I know that there are some times I've heard an accent in a voice, and momentarily felt less empathy for that person than if it were an accent I'd have heard from one of my uncles or aunts. I know there are certain styles of dress that instinctively cause me to at least momentarily think "how gauche," but they're merely common styles in a different culture than one I'm used to hanging out in. And so on. Just to give some examples, and by no means all the examples I could, from my own psyche.

I tend to be automatically, at least momentarily, slightly prejudiced in favor of caucasian Reform Jews from Brooklyn who aren't acting like assholes, but they're People Like Me. There are lots of categories of people who aren't People Like Me in certain small, even trivial, ways, and I sometimes automatically, at least momentarily, feel some element of less sympaticoness with them.

I don't think I'm unusually prejudiced in such ways, however. But maybe most people are far better people than I am.

And, von, since I'm on your case a lot, and it's always a thousand times easier and more common to post disagreeing with someone, than to simply borely agree, or compliment them when they deserve it (if I posted compliments for every comment on ObWi that I felt deserved one, I'd be doing that for at least half, if not two thirds, or maybe even more, of the comments here, and certainly a much higher proportion of the posts than I generally bother to compliment), let me say, without bothering to quibble slightly over some relatively trivial phrasing, that I think overall this is quite a good post, a sensible point, and a well-done post.

On cops generally, I've never been arrested, but my general observation is that the banal one that there are good cops and bad cops, and that even the good ones have bad days and the bad ones good days. I agree that the job tends to attract power-junkies and power-abusive people, and then the job only makes them worse, but there are also plenty of fine, outstanding, cops.

As I said, it's a banal observation.

I will observe that when I lived in an area of Washington Heights, for several years (on three different occasions, and addresses, actually), I had a lot more bad experiences with police than any other times, as the assumption was that as I was in a majority black/Hispanic neighborhood, I was probably, as a "white" guy, there to buy drugs, and I learned to always carry ID, as although it never happened to me, it was infamous in the neighborhood that the cops would periodically do sweeps and lock up people overnight who couldn't show ID on bogus charges of suspicious behavior; you'd be released in the morning, but who the hell wants to spend the night in lockup just because you didn't carry an ID?

And that's what life is like in a "ghetto" neighborhood, and that's even when you're "white." God knows the dark-skinned neighbors had a far harder time of it.

Oh, and the one time I was robbed, it was when my apartment half-burned up, and the white firefighters stole a bunch of stuff from my apartment before I could get back in.

(To be sure, a good friend of mine was killed by a stray bullet a few years ago from one kid chasing down another in a drug buy gone bad, and he just fired blindly down the block, and hit my friend, Leslie Bloom, who was a good long block away got hit. See here for an account, if interested. Crimes do happen, too.)

"but they're People Like Me"

Should be "because they're People Like Me."

The already too-high incidence of racism and bullying among police significantly increases the dangers of introducing tasers. Introduced as a "non-lethal" alternative to subduing a person in a situation where previously using a weapon would have been resorted to, now they're becoming commonplace and commonly used.

Police use them in all kinds of situations where force would never have been accepted -- to produce "compliance", or to punish people who don't show enough deference, or to torment even those who do, if they're just "the wrong kind". And on top of being torture tools, tasers can and regularly do kill.

This is on-topic because the normalization of torture and the U.S. public's already disturbing degree of unwillingness to question or decline arbitrary or unprovoked assertions of authority is not happening in a vacuum. It's increasing against a background of one-in-three or worse chances of encountering a bullying, bigoted cop.

Everyone is more likely to be seriously mistreated by police, and African-Americans are that much more likely to be more seriously mistreated than "normal". As are people with disabilities, lesbians and gay men, transsexuals...

Yeah, it's a tough and mostly thankless job. But before the mutual fear and loathing moves to insurrectional levels, maybe it would be a good step to take torture tools out of the situation.

I'm mostly yes, but slightly no, with you, Nell. Yes on the abuse and dangers of tasers, and yes on all the rest. The only "no" is not exactly a no, but simply the point that if tasers are completely removed from the list of options, use of guns instead will go up again.

So I'm not sure I'm so much for a complete ban on tasers as much as I'm for extremely strict and strictly enforced guidelines on their use. Far more of both than currently generally prevail.

Thank you, Gary, for that insightful series of comments.

I think the Taser debate is being distorted because of extremist positions: the company and its friends try to act like they are harmless toys, while their critics, horrified by the trail of bodies and other victims the Tasers have left in their wake, think the solution is to remove the Tasers rather than to better train the cops using them, and to make it clear that use must be justified.

As long as we let our cops carry firearms, it would be silly not to let them carry Tasers - but the Taser should be seen as a next-to-last resort, something to use when your only other option is to use your gun. The cops who use it for convenience - when it was taking too long for an excited and disruptive ten-year-old to emerge from under a cabinet, in one memorable example - either received criminally bad instruction about when to use the Taser or were just bad cops.

My understanding (from cop shows on TV) is that any cop firing their firearm on duty, for any reason, must justify doing so in a process that's a massive pain in the keister, and that if they can't justify it the consequences can be dire. Similar regulation of Tasers (and pepper spray, etcetera) may be desirable.

Another thing that seems desirable is more and better data collection: just as cop cars now often record video and audio of traffic stops (for sale to Fox, but also probably for interests more related to the public interest), it should be possible to record all sorts of other data, from time-stamps when a cop unholsters their weapons, possibly when they fire their weapons, or even an audio recorder to save the conversations the officer engages in. Pursued correctly, such a program could both protect the public from harassment by cops and protect cops from unfair accusations of harassment, and build more trust all around in the long run.

I think the Taser debate is being distorted because of extremist positions: the company and its friends try to act like they are harmless toys, while their critics, horrified by the trail of bodies and other victims the Tasers have left in their wake, think the solution is to remove the Tasers rather than to better train the cops using them, and to make it clear that use must be justified.

As long as we let our cops carry firearms, it would be silly not to let them carry Tasers - but the Taser should be seen as a next-to-last resort, something to use when your only other option is to use your gun. The cops who use it for convenience - when it was taking too long for an excited and disruptive ten-year-old to emerge from under a cabinet, in one memorable example - either received criminally bad instruction about when to use the Taser or were just bad cops.

My understanding (from cop shows on TV) is that any cop firing their firearm on duty, for any reason, must justify doing so in a process that's a massive pain in the keister, and that if they can't justify it the consequences can be dire. Similar regulation of Tasers (and pepper spray, etcetera) may be desirable.

Another thing that seems desirable is more and better data collection: just as cop cars now often record video and audio of traffic stops (for sale to Fox, but also probably for interests more related to the public interest), it should be possible to record all sorts of other data, from time-stamps when a cop unholsters their weapons, possibly when they fire their weapons, or even an audio recorder to save the conversations the officer engages in. Pursued correctly, such a program could both protect the public from harassment by cops and protect cops from unfair accusations of harassment, and build more trust all around in the long run.

Not sure how I managed to double-post. Sorry.

The story that Ugh linked to about Officer Lopez is interesting in this regard, in that absence of the video, no one would know sh*t about the event; it would have just been another case of a terribly abusive cop getting away with what he almost surely has gotten away with innumerable times before, and what lots of cops (by no means all) get away with all the time.

I'm a big defender of privacy rights, but when you're a public enforcer of the law, on the job, doing your duty, you shouldn't and don't have privacy rights.

As much public videoing of cops on the beat as is possible (obviously not when they take a bathroom break, or are off-duty) is almost certainly good policy.

As it happens, one of the best bills a guy named Obama ever got passed was in the Illinois State Senate requiring police interrogations to be videotaped. A federal bill putting cameras on all cop cars would likely not be passable under this president, as he'd be accused of being Big Brother, fascistic, etc., (even though monitoring law enforcement for violations of the rights of citizens is the opposite of fascist, but that's not how it would be distorted), but it might not be a bad idea.

And really, cameras that are wearable on a button are available right now. Require cops to wear these or this sort of thing, and we're talking a much safer population.

The story that Ugh linked to about Officer Lopez is interesting in this regard, in that absence of the video, no one would know sh*t about the event; it would have just been another case of a terribly abusive cop getting away with what he almost surely has gotten away with innumerable times before, and what lots of cops (by no means all) get away with all the time.

I'm a big defender of privacy rights, but when you're a public enforcer of the law, on the job, doing your duty, you shouldn't and don't have privacy rights.

As much public videoing of cops on the beat as is possible (obviously not when they take a bathroom break, or are off-duty) is almost certainly good policy.

As it happens, one of the best bills a guy named Obama ever got passed was in the Illinois State Senate requiring police interrogations to be videotaped. A federal bill putting cameras on all cop cars would likely not be passable under this president, as he'd be accused of being Big Brother, fascistic, etc., (even though monitoring law enforcement for violations of the rights of citizens is the opposite of fascist, but that's not how it would be distorted), but it might not be a bad idea.

And really, cameras that are wearable on a button are available right now. Require cops to wear these or and we're talking a much safer population.

I like this one for style.

The only "no" is not exactly a no, but simply the point that if tasers are completely removed from the list of options, use of guns instead will go up again.

Why do you believe this is true? I mean, there are certainly some cases where an officer will respond using a taser if available or a gun if not, so those cases will certainly be better off in a world with tasers (call the number of such cases every year X). But there are also cases where an officer feels the need to do something but can't justify using a firearm (call the number of such cases every year Y). If each use of taser injures someone with probability P, then we're better off banning tasers as long as YP is greater than X. Now P is a small number, but it seems that Y is likely much larger than X. The bottom line is that I don't think you can assume that banning tasers leads to fewer injuries and fatalities.

Now, I'm assuming that you actually care about the number of people that are killed or injured rather than the number of firearm discharges in and of itself. If I'm wrong, please ignore this comment.

The real problem here is induced demand. There are all sorts of situations where a cop would never shoot someone but would happily taser them. I mean, people who are not absolutely obedient and instantly cooperative always pose an implicit threat, but cops tend to ignore those threats when their only option is shooting someone. But they still feel under threat and the fear is more than enough justification to taser people.

but the Taser should be seen as a next-to-last resort, something to use when your only other option is to use your gun

I'm not sure we have the institutional capacity in most municipalities to enforce this norm. At the end of the day, cops are going to be scared a lot of the time and tasers give them a (mostly) non-lethal option for dealing with their fear in those moments. And after the tasering, no one will be inclined to second guess the officer's version of events: the boys in blue will close ranks. I mean, we lack the institutional capacity to bans on government officials torturing people or taking their children hostage: if we can't prosecute crimes like that under the prosecution friendly UCMJ, do you really think we can consistently prosecute cops in far more ambiguous environments under a legal regime that is far friendlier to defendants?

Another thing that seems desirable is more and better data collection:

This would be very nice in general. I note that the consequences for officers who taser people in ridiculous cases don't seem to be very severe though, even when such incidents are recorded on video, so I'm skeptical of the notion that such taping would significantly reduce unjustified taserings.

Thanks, Turb. I'm with you.

The lethality is non-trivially frequent. Accountability for abuse is a hopeless dream. (How often are cops even held accountable for shootings and killings? Forget tasering.) With every use, torture is being normalized, and the fear and loathing grow (along with the habit of abject obedience).

Get rid of the damned things.

My general feeling on cops (especially after having had to interact with them on a more professional basis) is that, yes, the profession does attract assholes and power junkies, and some of them do get into the job, but far more get blocked out; I genuinely think the majority of cops are basically good people working in a high-stress environment nigh-constantly, which produces a lot of rough edges.

Now, if you want a job that attracts real scumbags - prison guards. Or, if you prefer, "people who wanted to be cops but lacked the basic human decency and/or intelligence necessary."

A federal bill putting cameras on all cop cars would likely not be passable under this president, as he'd be accused of being Big Brother, fascistic, etc.

Much as I would like the results of such a bill, it isn't only the propaganda that's a problem. Federalism, as much as it is used as a prop for crappy retrograde arguments, has a very real, important point wrt cops - local accountability for cops is extremely important, and the more that is removed, the more we encourage us v. them behavior. While the result here would be good, this is the same argument made for the "joint operations" with feds so prized by drug warriors, dodges used by cops for essentially laundering asset forfeiture money in contravention of state mandates for the use of such funds, etc.

An "any tool in the arsenal" approach is dangerous. Especially in policing matters, local approaches are better - when the Maryland governor learned first-hand what happens in the drug war, he started pushing for changes. Would that bad cops were always dumb enough to attack the powerful...

A bill requiring video recording for cops needn't run afoul of federalism. Congress could just make the recording standards mandatory for states accepting federal anti-crime dollars, but states would be otherwise free to reject those dollars. I mean, if you want to take federal money, it seems reasonable that you should be subject to federal rules that ensure that money is well spent.

Thanks, Gary, for your comments.

Joe Thomas, I hadn't seen that .... pretty funny.

FYI, Oyster is the In Sadding Around of Dear You. That's not necessarily a good thing. (I agree with you that Boat Dreams is one of the strongest tracks on 24hr, which I think is probably a minority position.)

Jesurgislac: Von isn't claiming to explain what it's like to be a black man, he's explaining what it's like to be a white asshole.

"if tasers are completely removed from the list of options, use of guns instead will go up again."

I'm with Turb and Nell on this one. I don't see cops using tasers when they would otherwise use a gun, I see them using tasers when they would otherwise use persuasion or an aikido joint lock.

From the cops point of view, the taser is an easier path to establishing dominance. No persuasive skill or personal contact are needed. Bang, zoom, your guy is on the ground.

I'd like to see the use of tasers eliminated.

Regarding Gates, I note the following:

1. A black person and a white person in any kind of questionable situation are about 90% guaranteed to be treated differently. The white person will get the benefit of the doubt, the black person will not.

Yeah, everyone harbors racism, but the skin color of the targets of that racism are more often darker rather than lighter, and in this country the power dynamics tend to make the "everyone does it" argument kind of moot.

2. There is more or less no upside in giving cops a ration of sh*t. Even if you're right and they're wrong.

Sometimes "acting like a jerk" is just one way of looking at "asserting authority". It's part of a cop's job description to assert authority when they think it's needed. If you're dealing with a jerky cop, their personal issues may get rolled up into that. But even great cops are going to bigfoot it if they think they need to.

It's part of the job.

Gates is a well known Harvard professor so the charges were dropped, he'll probably get an apology, etc. For the other 99.999999% of the world, your best bet when a cop is acting like a jerk is to let it go.

I have no doubt that there are racist cops, that institutional racism is a big problem, and that the experience of being black in America would make most folks want to kick the furniture on a daily basis.

All of that said, Gates could have let it go and followed up with a letter to the chief of police or something similar. He's a well known and respected guy, it would have gotten a response.

Everybody gets pissed off by injustice and unfairness. There are more skillful ways to channel that than dressing down a beat cop in public.

This is an interesting take on the Gates arrest.

One of the rare times I disagree with Russell....and another one of those days when, if I'm lucky and Typepad takes my comments at all, it only takes them in smaller segments....

In an ideal world, we would all be at our best at all times, and in stressful situations we would all do the very thing that hindsight tells us would be the most sensible thing to do.

It isn't an ideal world, and in this case we could apply that truism to both Professor Gates and Officer Crowley and say (as I believe the Cambridge police chief has said, or someone like him) that no one was having their best day that day....

...The difference is, Crowley was the professional in the situation, not Gates. It should have been his job to "serve and protect" and defuse. Instead, we got what we got, and Ugh's link casts an ugly and depressing light on it. There would have been no opportunity for Gates to "dress down a beat cop in public" if Crowley had gone away when he should have. It seems to have been Crowley, not Gates, who made sure the public would be there to witness.

Gates is about my age, had just gotten off a plane from China (as I understand it), and was sick with bronchitis (as someone around here has reported). Never mind the light that casts on the police report's account of events, but if I were in that condition I'd be on a hair trigger too.

As a black male, I think a lot of what informs our interactions with cops is the knowledge/fear that if you do "get out of line" things can get really bad. Or even if you just do something mundane you can get jammed up. I also think some times people believe minorities can't tell the difference between when someone is being an asshole or when they are being racist (and taking into your scheme when they are being more than just an asshole but a racist asshole). But it is hard to articulate that history, that narrative and the affective response one has to it and if you don't have to live with it then you don't get it. It is the feeling that even if I'm right, I'm wrong and a deep feeling of just wanting to survive the exchange unharmed. That's a horrible thing to experience from someone whose salary you help pay. It's also kind of offensive, like because of our experiences we are unable to weigh the circumstance or that we can't distinguish general rudeness from something more. It's dismissive as well and underlines why a lot of black people don't even try to talk about discrimination in mixed company. Because everyone has a story about how some cop was rude so we're just overreacting. Yet, talk to another person of color and they get it.

Also, I'd like to know who sets up this either race played the entire role or none at all because generally I see it coming from people that want to deny race as an issue for most things, not victims of racism. The truth is that being a minority you have to develop a certain amount of nuance or else every slight could be misconstrued and we'd really get nowhere in this world.

I've detailed what I think are serious abuses of authority by Crowley, even if his report is taken as true...

This is the crux from Ugh's link. Even if everything in Crowley's reporting of the events is true, he's still wrong. His own account, likely to be incomplete or distorted in his favor, still demonstrates wrong-doing on his part. It's hard to get around that.

That officer Lopez story is ridiculous. I'm surprised I didn't see it on TheAgitator. Isn't Philly the place where cops were robbing convenience stores right after they would disable the cameras? Yikes.

A friend of mine was rear-ended by a drunk (apparently, given his behavior and scent) off-duty Philly cop (according to the credentials he presented) in the wee hours on a weekend at a lonely North Philly intersection several years ago. After telling my friend to stay put, he approached a homeless man on the corner who had witnessed the event. He then quickly got in his car and drove off. The homeless man then told my friend that the drunk cop tried to coerce him into supporting some false version of events that would place fault on my friend. I would assume the cop figured he could have had his intoxication ignored by any fellow officers who might show up. When the homeless man refused, the cop just left my friend and his damaged truck. That's Philly for you. Not all the cops are bad, but that sort of thing is far too common.

"I don't see cops using tasers when they would otherwise use a gun, I see them using tasers when they would otherwise use persuasion or an aikido joint lock."

Before tasers, it was choke holds.

We're not going to stop police abuses by absolute bans on things that can be abused, because if it's not abuse of one thing, it's abuse of another. It's strict limitations on the use of dangerous techniques, and strict punishment of their abuse that's key.

Police shootings have come down, at least in NYC, in the last ten years, due to better training, and stricter punishment of abuses. That's what's needed for tasers: strict limitations on their use, strict training on those limited limitations, and strict punishment for abuse of those limitations.

(Important lesson learned from that article: don't store your gun in your oven.)

[...] The reports cover the years 1996 to 2006, and are used as a training tool and to help officials develop “lesson plans.”

“Patterns and possible hazards are identified” from the statistics, the report adds.

This is the sort of thing needed for tasers.

But anything that can be abused will be. And, on the other hand, the fewer non-lethal options we give police, the more lethalities will increase.


It's not as if improvements in use of a given weapon can't be made:

[...] ¶The number of bullets fired by officers dropped to 540 in 2006 from 1,292 in 1996 — the first year that the city’s housing, transit and regular patrol forces were merged — with a few years of even lower numbers in between. Police officers opened fire 60 times at people in 2006, down from 147 in 1996.

¶The police fatally shot 13 people in 2006, compared with 30 people a decade before.

Graphic.

Some stats on how Michigan has decreased taser abuse. A strategy.

The problem is that lots of police are handed out the damned things without sufficient guidelines, and without sufficient punishment for misuse. Let alone the misuse by private security guards, which is a major problem. Here we see:

[...] TASER® products penetrate the private security and private citizen markets....
Indeed; we talk about gun control, but there are few laws at all restraining handing out tasers to whoever wants to buy one or issue them to their employees.

"Also, I'd like to know who sets up this either race played the entire role or none at all"

If anyone did that on this thread, or anywhere, they'd be wholly wrong. Certainly lots of majoritarian people do that sort of thing lots of the time, but I'm not sure it's happened on this thread yet; I may have missed it, to be sure.

"That's Philly for you. Not all the cops are bad, but that sort of thing is far too common."

Frank Rizzo's Philadelphia: the legacy.

Inspiring quote from above: "'I'm gonna make Attila the Hun like like a faggot after this election is over,' Rizzo told one reporter."

Frank Rizzo (Sr.) worship is not dead in Philadelphia, either. He's still an icon to many people. His son has been getting reelected to City Council for some time, I suspect in no small part because of his name (Frank Rizzo, Jr.).

On the otherhand, sometimes cops detain some kids until they realize one of the kids is the son of another cop, and they are afraid to call the father, so they let the kids go...

So sometimes it can work for you, so long as you are friends with a cop's kid.

"The difference is, Crowley was the professional in the situation, not Gates. It should have been his job to "serve and protect" and defuse."

I agree with this.

Once Crowley had established who Gates was, and especially after he had been asked to leave, that should have been the end of it.

Period.

And the overwhelming responsibility for why it went any further than that belongs to Crowley.

And, on the other hand, the fewer non-lethal options we give police, the more lethalities will increase.

I've explained in an earlier comment why this assertion is far from self-evident and, quite likely, simply incorrect. I've also asked you to substantiate it. You've failed to do so. I do not think that mere repetition will advance the discussion.

If you want to talk about total lethality, then you need to address both taser lethality and the expected number of taser uses which do not substitute for handgun shootings (i.e., the cases where an officer fires a taser in which they would not have fired a handgun had the taser been unavailable).

We're not going to stop police abuses by absolute bans on things that can be abused, because if it's not abuse of one thing, it's abuse of another. It's strict limitations on the use of dangerous techniques, and strict punishment of their abuse that's key.
Giving police tasers causes them to make some abuses that they would not otherwise make.

Police shootings have come down, at least in NYC, in the last ten years, due to better training, and stricter punishment of abuses.

Um, I don't think your cite says that. AFAICT, your cite makes no effort to control for changing crime trends. If the crime rate falls dramatically, we expect that police shootings will decline dramatically as well, even with identical training and disciplinary regimes. In fact, given network effects, I would expect a reduction in the crime rate should produce much larger reductions in the number of police shootings.

You are making an argument about causation. Such arguments need to consider control variables. Or else they're often bunk. At the very least, you cannot ascribe causality without at least considering alternative explanations. This is data analysis 101.

That's what's needed for tasers: strict limitations on their use, strict training on those limited limitations, and strict punishment for abuse of those limitations.

Earlier, I asked why we should believe that municipalities in this country are able and willing to enforce strict punishments on officers who use tasers in an unwarranted way given that we as a nation are unable to enforce bans on torturing and hostage taking. Since I have seen no answer, I see no reason to believe that municipalities will be able to enforce these strict standards, which means that there will be no disincentive to using a taser inappropriately in most municipalities.

It's also kind of offensive, like because of our experiences we are unable to weigh the circumstance or that we can't distinguish general rudeness from something more. It's dismissive as well and underlines why a lot of black people don't even try to talk about discrimination in mixed company. Because everyone has a story about how some cop was rude so we're just overreacting. Yet, talk to another person of color and they get it.

Drizzy -- I think that's precisely why these subjects have to be discussed "in mixed company." I agree that trading asshole cop stories doesn't advance the ball at all, because it shuts down the conversation. It shuts down the conversation for exactly the reason you identify: when a white guy responds to a racist cop story with an asshole cop story, it implies that black Americans "are unable to weigh the circumstance or that we can't distinguish general rudeness from something more[.]" As I wrote: "To bemoan the fact that white people get treated rudely too or to battle it out with asshole cop anecdotes, however, is to miss the point completely."

But that doesn't mean that the discussion should end. The truth is that too many folks do view racism as an all-or-nothing -- a yes/no. And the vast majority of those "too many folks" are white. By and large, white people are the ones who are unable to see racism in anything other than binary terms, and thus (wrongly) conclude that if it's not 100% racism then it's not racism at all. That has to end: so I'm trying to end it.

On the otherhand, sometimes cops detain some kids until they realize one of the kids is the son of another cop, and they are afraid to call the father, so they let the kids go...

So sometimes it can work for you, so long as you are friends with a cop's kid.

Well, that sounds pretty far-fetched.

We're all a little bit racist; the difference is in degree and self-recognition.

Truly, the internet would collapse without the fallacy of equivocation.

"Well, that sounds pretty far-fetched."

Actually, my brother-in-law's printing business was torched by a cop's kid, and the investigation went nowhere, in spite of fingerprints and other physical evidence.

So, maybe not so far-fetched.

So, maybe not so far-fetched.

That was an inside joke, russell. I was the cop's kid in jrudkis' comment, and he was the friend. It's not in the least far-fetched. It happened.

Because everyone has a story about how some cop was rude so we're just overreacting. Yet, talk to another person of color and they get it.

Which does not necessarily mean that all the people of color are right about it and the rest of us are not, or that your racist-dar works 100% of the time. Ferinstance, I have been accused of racism, sexism, and bias against the disabled at various times, basically for disagreeing with someone. And antisemitism once, same reason, by someone who didn't know I'm Jewish. I have also met black people who saw racism in EVERYTHING bad that anybody did to them.

I'm sure there's a lot of racism I don't see because I'm not black. I'm also sure some black people see a lot of racism that isn't there. And in any one incident, it's going to be a subjective call. So you're right, I do assume that some black people, sometimes, "can't distinguish general rudeness from something more." Do you honestly disagree?

The real question is, how will we know when we are at the point where we can treat a racist cop as just another kind of a$$hole cop, because there are so few racist cops that black people in general are not getting hassled by cops in general any more than any other similar demographic group is? We're not there yet in most cities. In some, we may be.

Crafty- No, it doesn't mean that. But when I face disbelief consistently or dueling asshole cop stories from one group but, for lack of a better word, validation from others there is obviously a disconnect of perspectives and as such that leaves little incentive to discuss things like this in mixed company. Not that people of color will always agree, because they won't, but there seems to be more of a sense of getting it and not just an outright dismissal even when you do disagree.

It sounds to me like there was at least some noticeable racial component to this story, but I'm also very much in agreement with "Which does not necessarily mean that all the people of color are right about it and the rest of us are not, or that your racist-dar works 100% of the time.... I'm sure there's a lot of racism I don't see because I'm not black. I'm also sure some black people see a lot of racism that isn't there. And in any one incident, it's going to be a subjective call. So you're right, I do assume that some black people, sometimes, 'can't distinguish general rudeness from something more.'"

My story on THAT note is this:

In law school I had been studying for finals for a number of hours so I went to the snack shack for some food. I had that bleary "thinking is hard" thing going on so I ended up standing blankly in front of the Hostess sweets stand for way too long. This young woman suddenly entered my conciousness with "Stop staring at my breasts". Huh? I was dazed anyway, and my completely truthful response was "I'm not staring at your breasts, I'm just try to decide between the Ho-Ho's and the Ding Dong's". Unfortunately, both of those sugary snacks are also slang for breasts so she just looked at me like I was even more of an ass for saying that. I'm totally gay, the chance of me looking at her breasts was nil. Though every now and then I have been accused of looking to long at someone's girlfriend when I was really looking at him... :)

So you're right, I do assume that some black people, sometimes, 'can't distinguish general rudeness from something more.

I'd certainly agree with that, but there's a flip side: some white people can't (or won't) recognize clear racism when it is staring them in the face. Just like some black people see racism that isn't there. However, because whites outnumber blacks by 8 to 1, we should expect that in any mixed group, there will be far more whites who refuse to acknowledge racism than there will be blacks who see racism everywhere all the time.

Furthermore, because whites as a group have more power than blacks (I believe the average (median, not mean) white household has 20 times the wealth of the average black household), white blindness to real racism is likely to be a much larger problem in practice than black sightings of non-existent racism. Perspective is important.

Self-fulfilling prophecy, drizzy. If we only very rarely hear about the problem, we tend to think the incident we do hear about is a one-off.

Also, I hope you don't mean that it's always "dueling" when someone says "yeah, I had a cop go after me like that once." If you mean the sort of thing Von said here, then I understand the characterization. But is that really how most white people react?

re turbulence at 5:08pm
because whites outnumber blacks by 8 to 1, we should expect that in any mixed group, there will be far more whites who refuse to acknowledge racism than there will be blacks who see racism everywhere all the time.

No, that doesn't follow at all. Maybe more blacks see racism where it isn't than whites refuse to see it where it is. Maybe the other way 'round. And is the racial proportion of the mixed group perfectly proportional to the racial proportions of the country?

I meant how Von said. It wasn't like oh I can relate. It was more like, no the situation was really this; at least that is the feeling I got. And it is a self-fulfilling prophecy but often the onus to initiate this is on people of color and you can only run into that wall so much when you want to throw your hands up. That's how most of the white people in my life have acted.

von: This would be relevant to the discussion if I had actually "explain[ed]" any such thing, which I didn't.

Oh, right. So, when you assert that a black man being arrested in his own home by a white cop is just "zealous stupidity" and that two black men who assert this is racism are overlooking the fact that "some cops are assholes" you were just bloviating meaningless nonsense? Okay.

Because if you weren't bloviating meaningless nonsense, clearly you were trying to explain to two black men that you, as a white blogger, know better than they do what it's like to be a black man being harassed by a cop.

But if you're willing to cop to what you said being just meaningless crap, fine...

drizzy, thanks for clarifying, and sorry to hear you don't know a better class of whites :)

Yeah, trying to raise consciousness one person at a time is like shouting down a well and most of us burn out sooner or later. Unfortunately, there's no alternative. Altho a black President is a good step towards ending the underlying problem.

No, that doesn't follow at all. Maybe more blacks see racism where it isn't than whites refuse to see it where it is. Maybe the other way 'round.

I see both errors as manifestations of the same underlying reasoning defect. My baseline assumption is that such massive systemic errors in judgment occur with roughly equal frequency in different racial groups. In the absence of countervailing evidence, this assumption tends to work well. Historically, allegations to the contrary have not been very successful.

Even if there were differences, they'd have to be massive to alter the correctness of my point.

And is the racial proportion of the mixed group perfectly proportional to the racial proportions of the country?

If we're talking about a mixed group drawn randomly, then yes, statistically such a group should, on average, be representative of the country's demographics. Obviously many individual groups will not be, but most will.

Drizzy, first thank you for your comments. They have been most helpful and illuminating. I was out of the loop yesterday and just read the comments today.

With respect to your statement:
" I also think some times people believe minorities can't tell the difference between when someone is being an asshole or when they are being racist (and taking into your scheme when they are being more than just an asshole but a racist asshole).

I confess, I'm one of them. With respect to Gates, I have essentially thought he saw it as a racial thing- when it was primarily an arrogant cop demanding respect, and a town/gown class issue. And indeed I have cited my own (respectable middle age, middle class white) experience of demanding an officer's badge number, and having the officer turn and walk away without providing it.

I am not convinced that I am wrong in this case, but I promise to be more aware in the future of the inherent arrogance of my assumptions and examine them more cloesly.

drizzy, don't give up on us, keep the dialogue going. Ignorance is probably a worse enemy than malice, but can be more easily cured.

If we're talking about a mixed group drawn randomly

Yes, but we're not, are we? I thought you meant actual groups. Real-life groups are not drawn randomly. I doubt the commenters on this thread are 12% black, and I doubt drizzy's friends and acquaintances are 88% white.

My baseline assumption is that such massive systemic errors in judgment occur with roughly equal frequency in different racial groups.

Ah. I misread you to mean that a greater % of whites will make the error. I think that is actually pretty likely, because blacks see more whites and read more books, watch more TV, etc. by and about whites, than the other way around. So they have a bit more of a chance to correct misimpressions. (From my own experience, most Jews understand Christianity a lot better than most Christians understand Judaism). But either way, it's an unproven assumption.

Intuitively, one might think the way most people see the difference between 2 cents and 1 cent is about the same as between 1 cent and 0 cents, but studies show otherwise. I can't accept your assumption.

In the absence of countervailing evidence, this assumption tends to work well. Historically, allegations to the contrary have not been very successful.

I have no idea what you're talking about.


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