Air Date 10/16/2021
[00:00:00] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast in which we shall take a look at some of the structures of "Copaganda," from misreported stats and coverups to propagandistic opinion articles and police procedurals that flood the pop culture landscape. Clips today are from CounterSpin, Serious Inquiries Only, Novara Media, Democracy Now!, Citations Needed, and WhoWhatWhy.
Alec Karakatsanis on "Crime Surge" Copaganda - CounterSpin - Air Date 10-1-21
[00:00:26] JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: New York Times readers have seen a couple of stories recently about a reported rise in the country's murder rate. Among the top driving forces, readers were told, quote, "increased distrust between the police and the public, after the murder of George Floyd, including a pullback by the police in response to criticism."
But reference to the unsupported inflammatory so-called Ferguson effect is only one of the problems with the Times reporting here, which sparked a thoughtful Twitter thread by our next guest. A former civil rights lawyer and public defender, Alec Karakatsanis is founder and Executive Director of Civil Rights Corps, and author of the book, Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Injustice System. He joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Alec .
[00:01:21] ALEC KARAKATSANIS: Thank you so much for having me.
[00:01:23] JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: Well, there's some overlap in the problems in the September 22nd story, bylined Jeff Asher. And then the September 27th Neil MacFarquhar piece on what's called a "murder spike" in cities across the US. But maybe start with Asher's as it originally ran, because that's relevant. What was so wrong and so troubling about that report?
[00:01:49] ALEC KARAKATSANIS: There are a number of concerns. I think that the most obvious and simple concern to highlight, first is that Asher has a long history, first working at the CIA, then working sort of covertly with Palantir, the CIA venture capital-backed tech firm that works with police departments, military and defense contractors, and also ICE and other carceral entities, on a wide range of both public and secret programs. And then he went on to found what appears to be a lucrative private consulting business, where he worked for the New Orleans police department and Palantir together on a very controversial secret program that even many elected officials in New Orleans didn't know about. And then he consulted for the prosecutor's office in New Orleans. None of this history or these conflicts of interest, both financial and journalistic, were even mentioned by the Times, who allowed him a column in the Upshot section of the Times as if he were some kind of neutral data expert telling people about objective neutral data about crime in the United States. That's the first problem.
The second problem is, is Asher repeats many of the problems that we see in Times coverage generally, wild speculation about the connection between police and things like murders. It reminds me a lot of climate denial back in the nineties and early two thousands. It reminds me a lot of the coverage leading up to the Iraq war. Things are just asserted and because they're just asserted commonly every single day in paper after paper and news outlet after news outlet, things can become normalized. And what would be a radical anti-science fringe view that let the police determine murder rates -- by the way, the scientific consensus is pretty overwhelming; things like murder rates and harm in our society are much more correlated with poverty, inequality, mental illness, drug addiction, lack of access to decent healthcare and housing and jobs, lack of social cohesion, and, in particular, toxic masculinity is one that's often left out of these explanations. But a lot of violence is intimate partner violence committed by men. And none of these things are things that the police are connected with. And in fact, almost all of them are things that over the course of the last hundred years, police have systematically organized to prevent progressive social change in each one of these areas. So crushing and infiltrating and surveilling every major social movement for justice.
None of that background is given in any of these Times pieces. You're told that a murder rate is skyrocketing and Asher used a number of very misleading graphs to make people think that murder is extraordinarily high when it's at near 30, 40, 50 year lows. Even though there was a increase in murder during the beginning of the global pandemic, which caused a lot of mental health issues in people, and there's many other explanations. But the bigger context is that it's just seen as totally normal and the New York Times and in the media generally to talk about murder and then right away pivot to talking about explanations that deal with the police, when we all know that things that correlate with murder are things that are much more profound features of our society.
[00:04:57] JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: Well, In one of the ways that they create that implicit understanding that more police equals less crime, first crime is very scary. And the response is more police. Well, It has to do with who they talk to, right? Who gets to speak in the context of the reporting.
[00:05:13] ALEC KARAKATSANIS: One of the stunning things about both Asher's piece and the piece by Neil MacFarquhar, which in many ways was worse, because not only did it quote almost exclusively police and police-paid consultants, but it also then quoted Asher as an expert on this issue without again noting any of his conflicts of interest. So several days after Asher himself had written that problematic article in the Times.
I think one of the really key things that you never see in this reporting is an acknowledgement that the concept of crime is defined and constructed by police and other elite interests in our society. So for example, police crime data, on which all of these articles are based, does not include the crimes committed by the police. And in my analysis of these studies and in using what I think a reasonable estimates, I think if you actually included the crimes committed by police, it would entirely reversed the crime trend in most major US cities. That's just one very minor example. Other things that are just not included here are the several hundred thousand violations of the Clean Water Act every single year. They're not reported in local crime data. Wage theft, fraudulent overdraft fees by banks. Wage theft alone by corporate employers dwarfs all burglary, theft, shoplifting and all property crimes combined by a factor of about five.
So we're talking about 50 to a hundred billion dollars a year in wage theft. It's not treated as a crime. It's not reported in local crime data. It's not part of a so-called crime surge narrative. I could give you, and I have in some of my writing, hundreds of these kinds of examples of what the police count is crime and what they don't. And you're never really provided that kind of context and background when the New York Times talks about things like a crime wave.
[00:06:57] JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: One of the lines in the MacFarquhar piece that stood out to me was he says "some argue that the police, under intense scrutiny and demoralized, pulled back from some aspects of crime prevention. Others put the emphasis on the public, suggesting that diminished respect for the police prompted more people to try to take the law into their own hands." Now, when I read that, I hear either Black people need police to protect them from themselves, or Black people need police to protect them from themselves.
It's presented as it's a range of views here, but it's not really a range of perspectives, and there are a lot of perspectives missing from that.
[00:07:40] ALEC KARAKATSANIS: Absolutely. It's a classic media technique, which I think is described really beautifully in Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent. If you make people think that there are two sides, having a very reasonable debate, and by limiting the debate to those two views and excluding everything else from the debate, you make it seem like there's a very narrow range of views, and all reasonable people either think that the police are a really great crime prevention tool and that they've pulled back from that in the last year, or that civil rights criticism of the police is what's causing this uptick in murders.
And I think it's fascinating to think about what's going on in the heads of these journalists. I know because I've corresponded with MacFarquhar, although he's never responded to any of my attempts to ask him questions about his prior journalism. But I know that he knows there are other views.
And so when a journalist writes something like "some people say this, but others say that," but then excludes what they know many, many, many other people, including every rigorous scientist who studies the causes and the underlying nature of crime, you have to wonder, what is the agenda there? And that's why I thought it was particularly striking that MacFarquhar and the editors chose not to disclose some of the conflicts of interest that the experts they were citing had.
[00:09:01] JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: And I know that Jeff Asher just blocked you when you try to communicate with him or engage with him about his piece.
Well, I did want to give you a chance finally, although the time is inadequate, but also in that MacFarquhar piece was the claim, and it had been in the earlier piece, but got maybe taken out on a second version, but there was the claim, sourced to an officer, a particular law enforcement officer, he cited what they called the "revolving jail house door created by bail reform" as a factor driving up violence. And again, there was tacked on, "but others differ" at the end of that sentence. But the sentence, the statement of the sentence was that law enforcement believed that the revolving jailhouse door created by bail reform is a problem here. So in our remaining couple of minutes, can you address some of the mythology around bail reform?
[00:09:51] ALEC KARAKATSANIS: There's so much wrong with that, it's hard to know where to start.
First, it's asserted that there's this revolving jailhouse door. And then what he says there's a dispute about is whether the revolving jailhouse door has led to more crime. Now I just want to note, I don't even know what a revolving jailhouse door is, but it highlights one of the key ways in which media furthered mass incarceration by creating this imagery of like an out of control, super-predator class. This vivid imagery, like a crime wave, right, is designed to make people feel like there's this overwhelming force coming at them.
The same is true with revolving door. What is the point of using a metaphor like that? It doesn't actually accurately describe anything about what's going on in the legal system. There's no evidence or support or description given to what's meant by that. What they're actually referring to is that in some places, consistent with all of the empirical evidence, but shows that detaining people prior to their trial in cages, just because they can't make a monetary payment, actually increases crime by huge margins for years in the future, because it makes people more likely to commit crime, by stabilizing their lives, getting them out of treatment and mental care and losing their jobs and their housing and many times losing their children. This is the scientific consensus we're talking about. Cash bail is actually really harmful to public safety.
So what we're talking about is a series of very modest, pretty minor reforms which reduced the tension of very poor people solely because they can't pay. Those reforms still allow police, prosecutors, and judges to detain anyone that they prove is a danger to the community or a risk of flight, or is charged with a really serious offense.
So it's just also, it's so hard to know where to begin because basically every single aspect of what you just read, from the assumptions to the assertions to the implications, is just completely fabricated and not consistent at all with what's actually happening and we know the data says about cash bail.
US Police Killings Undercounted by More than Half, According to New Study Part 1 - Serious Inquiries Only - Air Date 10-7-21
[00:11:44] THOMAS SMITH - HOST, SERIOUS INQUIRIES ONLY: I believe I said multiple times that, like, also keep in mind, no matter when... what we're talking about when it comes to police violence, that so much of the stats that we can get access to-- or that anyone can, who's running studies and stuff-- so much of that is police reported, often.
And... and so much of, even the news reporting, will be, like, "A reporter talked to the police, who told them something." And it's, like, we have... should have learned-- unless you're somebody coming from a totally different political perspective-- we should have learned by now that that is just not reliable.
And the big example was George Floyd. You know? That would have just been, "Oh, medical... medical related death."
[00:12:25] DR. LINDSEY OSTERMAN: Yeah, history of drug use and a heart condition.
[00:12:27] THOMAS SMITH - HOST, SERIOUS INQUIRIES ONLY: "The guy had a heart attack." You know? That was how that would have been coded, reported, and maybe still was, after we go through this article in the study.
Um, but anyway, this... you may have seen in the New York Times, what we're going to talk about today, which is, uh, at least that's where I saw it, uh, "Study... new Study says that more than half of police killings are mislabeled", and the number of police killings is basically double what you would have thought it was, based on how it's been reported, which, yeah. I mean, that's kind of what we're saying.
And uh, whenever there's a study involved in something, that's when we can have... science person... best science person in the world, Lindsay Osterman, to explain it to us.
[00:13:07] DR. LINDSEY OSTERMAN: Oh, that's so kind. Uh, yeah, no, this was... this was a great article, this... this New York Times article, and now that I've read the original study, and I went back and read the New York Times article again, like, you know, really, no... no things to... to gripe about in terms of the... the writing here. It was... it was quite well done.
And, you know, in addition to summarizing the findings in this study, they're also, sort of, highlighting a number of these... these anecdotes, right? In which there was clearly a death that was caused by police related violence. And then it was misreported on the death certificate.
So one of the things they talk about was Elijah McLean, who was put in a choke-hold that is now banned by most police departments. So, choke-hold by police, and then injected with ketamine. And in the death certificate, the cause of death was "undetermined."
[00:13:51] THOMAS SMITH - HOST, SERIOUS INQUIRIES ONLY: Yeah. Hard to tell.
[00:13:52] DR. LINDSEY OSTERMAN: I have a few guesses. Yeah. I know. Totally hard to guess. Yeah. Yeah. Right?
So I think... I'm glad that they brought up those specific cases to illustrate, because I think it triggers the right intuition about why, um, what these researchers did in this current study really matters. It matters that these deaths are being misclassified because the cause of death on the death certificate really matters in terms of whether charges are brought. Right?
I mean, in, you know, taking the... the George Floyd trial, for instance. Um, I'm sure that folks who followed that remember that a lot of the defense's case leaned heavily on the medical examiner's judgment of that history of drug use and the preexisting heart condition being contributors.
Um, So... so this, this matters
[00:14:32] THOMAS SMITH - HOST, SERIOUS INQUIRIES ONLY: And there's some other tidbits from the article-- and apologies if, you know, I don't want to scoop what you're going to talk about, but some things that caught my eye, just, preliminarily from the article here-- police killings have just gone up-- like up, and up, and up-- when crime has gone down.
Now, obviously, 2020 was, you know, a very special year; crime did... murder, uh, went up... homicide, all that... um, for different reasons, that I think, well, you'll find were involved, uh... due to COVID and other things going on; but that's an outlier year. Um, for the most part, crime is at all time lows. I think it's still at an all time lows, even relative... relative to the nineties and stuff, the peak in, like, the early nineties or late eighties.
And, um, even still, police killings going up. And, I believe, it said the disproportionality of the killings is also increasing. You know, like, Black Americans 3.5 times as likely to be killed.
So this is something that, as much as the knee-jerk conservative reaction is always, "Well, don't be a criminal, it's crime!" It's like, "Well, okay, crime has done nothing but go down; until last year, went down dramatically. And police killings are going up. There is a problem here.
[00:15:38] DR. LINDSEY OSTERMAN: There is definitely a problem. And the results from the study are pretty compelling in that regard.
Downstream: Is Line of Duty 'Copaganda'?Part 1 - Novara Media - Air Date 5-5-21
[00:15:43] ASH SARKAR: What exactly is copaganda?
Casper, if you could kick us off.
[00:15:48] CASPAR SALMON: Oh, so I would say the, um, mythology, um, that is constantly shoved in our faces from a very, very young age, uh, which seeks to prove, or make the case that a police force is necessary, and more than necessary, a force for good in our lives.
And you see it everywhere. And as a film critic, I've had my fair share of all of this bullshit, basically. It's essentially a lie. And it's pushed us with such regularity, across so many different forms of literature, and films, TV, it's absolutely everywhere..
[00:16:31] ASH SARKAR: Ben, do you... do you have a take on what copaganda is, or how it is you understand it?
[00:16:35] BEN SMOKE: Yeah, I think Casper's kind of hit the nail on the head here. It's very much a, sort of... it's adding a sheen to, like, the realities of what a... the, kind of, armed for.... one of the armed wings of the state is. It's trying to, sort of, like, make them be the nice guys, that... the nice Bobby on the beat. Um, it's contrast throwing that into to wider media.
It's.. It's part of a bigger trend towards jingoism that we've been seeing growing within this country, particularly of late. Um, but as Caspar says, you know, this isn't, sort of, a new thing. In order to... in order to continue that idea that we are... we are policed by consent, copaganda and shows like copaganda, uh, the copaganda shows are integral to that. They are necessary for the current status quo to continue as it is.
[00:17:21] ASH SARKAR: I just, very quickly, also want to point out that copaganda isn't just fiction. So, obviously we've got "The Bill," "Taggart," "Rebus," "Life on Mars," "Law and Order," "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit," "CSI," "CSI: Miami;" was there a "CSI: New York?" Maybe there was.
Um, it's not just these fictional shows that we're very familiar with. There's also non-fiction, non-scripted copaganda like, uh, "Live PD," "Cops," and all of these, kinds of, fly-on-the-wall documentaries, where you see police going about their business, brutalizing people, in a way which celebrates that kind of work.
I'm thinking here about copaganda not just being something which comes from the world of media, but it's something which is deliberately engaged with, and perhaps nurtured by, the police.
And so, Ben, I was hoping maybe you could talk a bit about this because you've had um, a lot of experience with the police, shall we say.
I want to talk about this kind of police-to-press-and-back-again pipeline. Just how important is favorable media coverage, and having a grip on the process of mediatization, to the police, operationally?
[00:18:28] BEN SMOKE: So, I think it's... it's a... it's an interesting, but it's a huge question.
Um, So, maybe if we, kind of, take the example of, uh, every year at pride, um, for the... for certainly the last, sort of, decade or so, what you'll get is, you'll get officers marching through in, you know, kind of rainbow... the rainbow truncheons. Um, and every year there will be some, kind of, affected, uh, proposal halfway through, or, you know, cut to something like Notting Hill Carnival, where you see, you know, cops, sort of, like, they're dancing with punters.
And these things are so integral, and so important to the way that the police portray themselves. Um, as the, sort of, "These people are just simply there to... to... to look after us, and to make sure that we're okay, and it's everybody else that's the problem."
Um, but fundamentally that's not the case. And I think anybody that's been watching carefully, or been on any of the demos recently, particularly the, kind of, "Kill the Bill" ones, will know that that's not true.
I think if we look at something like what happened in Bristol over the periods of a week at the end of March. There were three demos in Bristol, and the violence there, enacted by the police... I was there on the last one, on the Friday evening, which was the Friday after the... the Riot Ban went up, and the violence that I saw was horrendous. It... it was awful. It was... it shocked me. And I would consider myself to be fairly gnarly. Um, I'm fairly well-versed in this, and I... I was chatting to a pal the other day and he was, like, I... he... he was there also. And I, sort of, found him afterwards, and he says that my face was just eyes.
Um, but the way that that was painted by the media was, that it was the police who'd sustained injuries. It was the police who'd been attacked.
And that's because the media and the cops are this, sort of, reciprocal arrangement with... The cops will put something out, as they did on that Sunday night when the Riot Ban went up, saying "Two members of the Avon and Somerset Police Force have had their bones broken. One of them has had a punctured lung." And that was the story. That was... that was the big moment.
And then, it then transpired that that was bollocks. That was untrue. Now, a couple of weeks later, Netpol did some amazing investigatory work, and found that there was 62, uh, injuries to protestors, at least, across those three demos. And we're talking major, major injuries, just from my own point of view, from what I saw. I saw people who were already very, very injured, with blood all over them being clobbered again. We all saw the videos of people on the ground, who looked like they were half unconscious, being battered.
And that's... that's, kind of, the way that... the way that the cops can control these... control these situations, is... it's, kind of, two-handed, that idea that when they're at these public order situations, they are friendly, and they are happy. And you, kind of, think of them at Carnival, and you think of that. And then, when it actually kicks off, they're the ones that are being aggressed at, they are the ones that are getting injured.
And it's only... it's only later, it's only later on, because the protesters don't have the access to the, kind of, big mainstream media operations that these forces do, that actually the truth outs.
And, unfortunately, as we've seen time and time again, that truth just... The... the mainstream media isn't really that interested in that truth.
[00:21:42] ASH SARKAR: I mean, Casper, if I could put this to you, you've obviously got a quite broad sense of the history of film and television. And from my perspective, as, um, a "Copaganda Stan," I can't remember a time before it. I was brought up watching "The Bill," and, also, really liked "A Touch of Frost," for some reason. I just thought he was very, like, grandfatherly. He was one of my faves.
Um, but I can't remember a time before police dramas on television, even though the tastes around them have changed a lot. So, is that broadly true? Has it been the case that, as long as we've had film, and later on television, that we've also had it being used as a vehicle for copaganda, or is it a more recent invention?
[00:22:26] CASPAR SALMON: I think it's a more recent convention, although I wouldn't be certain when there was... when this, um, when it got stronger, as it were, this kind of copaganda, uh, bent in our media. But suddenly...
You see police officers right at the early days of film, and in the early days of film, police officers are essentially a kind of Punch-and-Judy figure. And they're quite interesting now, because, you know, if you think about the police officers that Charlie Chaplin was kicking the asses of, quite literally, in his early movies, those are figures of incompetence, rather than evil. And they're certainly, um, you know, uh, not fleshed-out characters.
So they're really just a trope, a figure. Um, and they suggest a, kind of, microcosm of the police as a necessary figure, a corrollary to crime that keeps being committed. And, they essentially form this, kind of, unit, that you see repeating itself over and over again: the copper does the crime, the crime... the police officer goes after the... um, sorry, the *criminal* does the crime, and the police officer goes after the criminal, and then, you know, it just keeps repeating itself at ad... ad infinitum.
Um, and then, um, I think, as films got more expansive, and our understanding and characterization were able to deepen, um, you start to see that the police receives a more favorable, kind of, uh, portrayal in films.
Um, and that figure of the... of the bumbling cop, you can certainly see in film noire as the moves on. Um, but actual... actual copaganda, and that portrayal of, kind of, action films, I would cite as starting, um, with television, particularly. Um, and the rise of the blockbuster, uh, specifically, because, um, before then, the idea of action films didn't really exist, and cops as action figures, uh, was... the idea of that was abetted, I think, by the rise of, um, bigger films.
“Becoming Abolitionists”: Derecka Purnell on Why Police Reform Is Not Enough to Protect Black Lives - Democracy Now! - Air Date 10-8-21
[00:24:37] JUAN GONZALEZ - CO-HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Could you comment on what’s been happening in Congress and in terms of legislation around police abuse and police reform? Clearly, there was a lot of expectation last year and into the beginning of this year that there would be substantive change, but so much of it has fizzled out in terms of the refusal of Congress to be able to reach some kind of a real, new legislation. What do you think needs to be done by those who are advocating abolition or systemic reform?
[00:25:12] DERECKA PURNELL: Well, the first thing that I would want to say is just my deepest sympathies to the family of George Floyd, who was given so many promises by Joe Biden, by other congressional leaders, that they would achieve police reform in the name of the person that they love. And it’s honestly heartbreaking to see, to watch politicians use families of victims of police violence to champion legislation that wouldn’t have even saved the lives of the person that they lost. So, I first just and I am always just so sad that families are used in this way to push an ineffective political agenda, right?
So, the George Floyd Act was touted by President Biden and other congressional leaders as an attempt to eradicate bias in policing. But the issue is that George Floyd was initially stopped by Derek Chauvin over an alleged use of a counterfeit $20 bill. Congress had the opportunity to give people more resources during an unprecedented pandemic, where unemployment rates were through the roof. We were facing a massive eviction crisis. Food insecurity was at its peak, right? So, instead of giving people resources and giving us more stipends, making sure that we were protected if we lost our jobs, lost our homes, lost our healthcare — instead, they chose to invest in police. And when someone called the cops on George Floyd, he was met with the level of brutality that police regularly and routinely employ in poor Black communities. And the idea that you could just pass one act to train police to better encounter people who may be breaking the law to survive is just woefully insufficient.
So, abolitionists are interested in reducing the reasons why people need police, in addition to reducing the carceral state, which means, at the national level, fighting for sweeping legislation that makes sure that people have not just food security or housing security but quality investments in those institutions, as well. It’s why we fight for student debt cancellation. It’s why we fight for universal healthcare. It’s why we fight for universal child care and daycare, so that people who are in vulnerable situations, they can go to work, they can go to school, they can choose to have work that gives them dignity and excitement, right? Like, that’s the kind of work that we’re fighting for. And I believe that is well within our reach.
[00:27:30] AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: I want to go to chapter eight of your book. It’s about the climate. It’s titled “We Only Want the Earth.” On the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in August, Hurricane Ida left thousands without power, many stranded in Louisiana in its aftermath. I want to turn to a clip of the New Orleans police chief, Shaun Ferguson, at a news conference for emergency preparations.
[00:27:54] SHAUN FERGUSON: We are prepared to assist whatever recovery efforts we will have to assist with after this, but also anti-looting. We will not permit, we will not allow any looting throughout this process. And we will be out there to enforce that. So, as I’m asking and begging and pleading with you, please hunker down now, as we will have to hunker down at some point in time ourselves.
[00:28:18] AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: So, that’s the New Orleans police chief. If you can respond to what he said? Talk about the issue of the climate and how it relates to abolition, and also what we’ve seen along the border, you know, the whipping of Haitians in Del Rio, Texas.
[00:28:35] DERECKA PURNELL: Of course. Well, as our climate continues to heat because of global capitalism, one thing that’s going to happen is that there’s going to be a continuing of mass displacement of Black, Brown people from all over the world. And once that displacement happens, the police are going to be the number one response to punish them, to whip them even, to incarcerate them. And so, abolition and climate change are indispensable conversations that we have to have alongside each other.
I learned from Critical Resistance that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when the city was just absolutely devastated by a hurricane, the very first thing that was built was a jail. And it was a jail that was used to arrest people. When we think about the jails that are in Puerto Rico, where are they positioned? Right? They’re positioned at the periphery of the island. So, when there are hurricanes that happen, they’re immediately flooded. We have people who are incarcerated who suffer a massive flooding, you know, are vulnerable to drowning, disease, vermin. If you look at any of the historical shifts and patterns of people who are migrating and emigrating to the U.S., who are fleeting — fleeing, rather, climate catastrophe, they are met with Border Patrol and ICE. And so, the police are going to be the default response to mitigate the impacts of climate change and environmental racism.
[00:30:00] JUAN GONZALEZ - CO-HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: I wanted to ask you about the aftermath of the Michael Brown killing back in 2014, arguably a key flashpoint in the development of the Black Lives Matter movement. Seven years later, what do you make of whatever reforms or changes occurred in Ferguson and with the Ferguson Police Department?
[00:30:24] DERECKA PURNELL: Well, there’s an organization right now who’s still fighting to put pressure on the Ferguson Police Department to implement many of the very weak reforms that came as a result of the consent decree that was put into place under the Obama administration. So, seven years, you have people in Ferguson who are still fighting to eliminate cases of people who have outstanding warrants from nearly a decade ago.
We have a few Black elected officials in Ferguson now, which I think could be a step forward, because many of them are trying to figure out how to reduce the level of violence. But police are still there to serve the purpose of policing. They’re still enforcing evictions. They’re still taking in people who live in that community. They’re doing it maybe more nicely. Maybe more Brown people are doing it. But, essentially, the day-to-day function of the Ferguson Police Department is the same.
And so, it’s not that we just have to fight the unconstitutional policing that’s taking place in the country. As we see in Ferguson, much of that policing is completely constitutional. And I just am grateful that long after the cameras have left, that there are people in that neighborhood — people in those neighborhoods who are fighting to continue to limit the power that the Ferguson Police Department has.
[00:31:36] AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: We’re all speaking here in New York. It’s clear the next mayor will be Eric Adams, a former police officer, who really has rejected the idea of prison, police abolition. Very simply, in the last seconds we have, your response, Derecka?
[00:31:53] DERECKA PURNELL: Oh, of course he does. Black political officials, Black people running for office, they get to do this. They get to say, “I’m Black, and I’m a part of law enforcement. I understand both sides.” And unfortunately, they just create more legitimacy for the police to do very bad things to harmful people. So I would just ask people to not be fooled by Black people who say they understand both sides, because there is no both sides. There is a system of oppression, where people have the power to kill, to incarcerate, to arrest. And there are people who are vulnerable to it. And the people have to resist that.
The Summer of Anti-BLM Backlash and How Concepts of Crime Were Shaped By the Propertied Class - Citations Needed - Air Date 8-4-21
[00:32:24] ADAM JOHNSON - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: So we would have begin the discussion, as we’ve been talking about earlier on the show, with the somewhat abstract question of how quote-unquote “crime” is broadly understood, you’ve obviously attempted to problematize, to use the grad school term, to problematize this concept before, but specifically I want to talk about how it’s sort of done in a pop way, both in terms of how the police do it, and therefore the media, right? The sort of media definition of crime follows from what the police and FBI definition is. Before we begin, I kind of want to talk about how we sort of generally understand that concept, you wrote in Current Affairs last year, quote:
"The data and reporting about crime comes from police themselves. Police are not some objective body neutrality enforcing the law, not only do they choose to look for some crimes committed by some people in some neighborhoods some of the time, but they have political incentives to manipulate the data they collect, and not to collect other data at all."
Vice’s Motherboard just published an article on July 26, 2021, that very clearly laid out that Shot Spotter, which is a technology used by police allegedly to hear gunshots, has been used in hundreds of convictions, and turns out that there’s widespread fraud where they will make up or act like something’s a gunshot, to satisfy the needs of police. So somewhat topically, that news came out today. I want to talk about our concept of crime, where the crime data comes from, specifically and how we kind of broadly understand that term when we hear crime surges, crime this crime that.
[00:33:47] ALEC KARAKATSANIS: I think it is absolutely essential, and it’s a great place to start. I mean, the very notion of what constitutes quote-unquote “crime” is determined by powerful people. People who have power in societies across the world and throughout our own history here in this country have always changed the definition of what is criminal to suit their own interests. A classic example is that it didn’t used to be criminal to possess marijuana. The marijuana plant was not criminalized until it became useful for very powerful people to give police more discretion to arrest people and that was associated with a desire by powerful people to give police more tools to track down, cage, arrest and potentially deport Mexican American immigrants. The same is true with opium. Powerful people decided to give police the discretion to arrest people for possessing the opium substance to give them more power over Chinese American immigrants. The same is true with cocaine and Black Americans; [the] powerful decided to make that criminal, it didn’t used to be criminal, it was decided to be made criminal precisely so they could give police more discretion to surveil and track and arrest and cage and then profit off the labor of Black Americans after the Civil War. The same concept is true across the concept of crime. So for example, wagering in the streets over dice is a crime. Who wagers in the streets over dice? Mostly poor people. But wagering over international currencies or the global supply of wheat: not a crime. In fact, people who wager on those things make billions of dollars and have their names on the wings of hospitals and museums. Or housing discrimination; it’s not seen as a crime. Or sexual harassment at work. These are things that cause a lot of harm, but that our society has chosen to deal with in a civil context and not a criminal context. Another example might be campaign contributions. Some countries, and indeed at different times in this country’s history, you might consider the current political funding system as bribery, the crime of bribery. We have legalized it in this country. Invading foreign countries, drone strikes, refusing to offer medicine to people or insulin to people who need it, those could all be considered crimes. And at different times and places in our country’s history, different things have been crimes, like refusing to give someone an abortion or giving someone an abortion or refusing to join a union or joining a union.
I guess the first point I want to make is that so much of what we think of as criminal is actually just political choices made by people in power.
I think a second topic we should talk about, though, is that of the things that are criminalized, the police only search for those crimes in some places, some of the time. And the way they make decisions over where to look for those crimes is actually even more important. So for example, wage theft is a crime. Wage theft costs about $50 to $100 billion a year. But who commits wage theft? It’s wealthy, large employers, corporations. It’s almost never enforced by any police department or prosecutor’s office in the country, even though by conservative estimates, it costs as much money in damage by about a factor of five as all robbery, burglary, larceny, shoplifting, all property crimes combined. And then tax evasion costs about a trillion dollars a year. This is a crime that’s committed by wealthy people. It’s 20 times the damage of wage theft, and about 100 times the damage of all other property crimes combined, almost never enforced. Sexual assault laws are almost never enforced while police gorge themselves on drug arrests, et cetera, constantly all over the country. They left hundreds of thousands of rape kits untested. I could go on and on. Fights in private schools, environmental pollution, there are several million environmental crimes committed every single year by companies and wealthy people in this country. They’re never enforced. So I think we have to understand that background context before we have a conversation about crime.
Let me just say we have a violent society. We have to acknowledge that. There’s a lot of violence in our society every single day, not just murder, but our society is full of people harming each other. It’s full of structural violence that leads to extraordinary and preventable death every single day. And the reason I do this work, and the reason I care about this topic we’re talking about right now, is I think our society’s response to this harm is fundamentally flawed in exactly the way you suggest with your question.
So let me just first say, if policing made us safer, if policing prevented murder, we would be the safest country in the world. No society in modern recorded world history has ever spent so much money on policing and cages and prosecutors and judges and courts. It doesn’t make us safer. It doesn’t prevent murder. In fact, there’s not a single shred of evidence that increased expenditures on police prevent murder.
The other thing that I want to suggest is that we should care about violence and death much more broadly than the narrow definition of murder that police are concerned with. First of all, police don’t, when they were doing the murder stats, they don’t count deaths in prison. They don’t count deaths by police. They don’t include those in the murder rates. And they also don’t include all of the people that die from lack of healthcare, from environmental pollution, from home foreclosures. So when a bank fraudulently forecloses on a home or a landlord illegally kicks people out, we know that that actually is associated with huge increases in death, deaths that actually dwarf the murder statistics that police rely on. And if we have a little bit of an expanded definition of preventable death, rather than the sort of very constrained definition of homicide that police departments report, I think we’d actually start to see a really different discussion about what are some of the solutions to that problem.
But make no mistake, there has been an increase this year in the number of police reported homicides. And I think it’s important that we on the left actually talk about this issue and talk about why things like poverty and mental healthcare and gun sales and alienation in general from the things that connect us to other human beings, and lack of access to art and music and theatre and poetry and ways of youth connecting to each other, these are the things that the evidence shows are actually connected to violence. And they’re precisely not the things that our society is actually spending billions and billions of dollars on in every single city around the country when we talk about the way that police spend their time. Keep in mind, police only spend 4 percent of all of their time on what they themselves call violent crime. It’s even less on murder. Police have almost nothing to do with that issue.
[00:40:00] ADAM JOHNSON - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: I want you to talk about that other side of the ledger that never ever, ever, ever gets talked about, right? If the local news let off every night with a story profiling a family that was broken up by one of the hundreds of thousands of people in county jail pre trial -- whether or not they missed their son’s first softball game, or they didn’t pay rent and their family was evicted, whatever it is, they lost their job, they dropped out of school -- we would have a totally different concept of what is crime. So I want you to talk about that side of the ledger, and how it’s completely erased, and that is a very loaded question, but go ahead.
[00:40:33] ALEC KARAKATSANIS: I think it’s one of the most important questions that we can ask. And I want to just stop for a second and remember a few years ago when Trump was separating families at the border, much of liberal America was outraged. They adopted this phrase “kids in cages,” and people were outraged, protesting all over the place. And one thing that a lot of people didn’t really fully appreciate at the time is that there are 3,163 local jails in this country where we separate children from their parents every single day. And the vast majority of people in those jails are separated from their children, only because their parents can’t pay a cash bail. That is how our legal system — police, prosecutors, judges — that is how our police that sort of bureaucracy decides who should be with their children at home, and who should be stuck in a cage of squalor and filth with no sunlight and exercise and fresh air and infectious disease and sexual assault. And so take something like the war on drugs. If you look at the costs of the war on drugs, not only has it been trillions of dollars over the last 40 years, but it caused over 50 million people to be caged, about 20 million people for marijuana possession alone. Tens of millions of children separated from their parents, hundreds of millions of police stopping and searching and probing people’s bodies, including millions of times that police probe people’s anuses and genitals for drugs. Not only did we cost tens of millions of people their education and their homes and their ability to make a living, we also caused tens of millions of square acres of pristine land throughout Latin America to be spray poisoned, we surveilled the communications of billions of people around the globe, we basically eradicated the privacy in the Fourth Amendment. I could keep going on, right? there’s many, many consequences. But maybe the most profound one is that we sent as human beings to hundreds of millions of years in cages. And at the end of the day, after all of that, 40 years into the war on drugs, drug usage rates are higher in much of the country. Drug deaths are way higher than they used to be. Children are using dangerous drugs at higher rates. And all of this, mind you, while we legalize tobacco, which kills 450,000 human beings every single year and alcohol, right? So there’s there’s very particular political choices being made. But we engage in this war on drugs with all of those costs, and for all of the policing and prosecution and human caging, we actually made things worse. And we fundamentally need to get people to understand that police and cages and coercion and child and family separation are never going to make us safer as a society. Ever.
Downstream: Is Line of Duty 'Copaganda'? Part 2 - Novara Media - Air Date 5-5-21
[00:43:08] BEN SMOKE: Yeah. So here's the thing.
Like I... I agree with Casper, and I think that, fundamentally, what we need to look at here, is, what they are operating within, still, and under still is, this premise, this idea, that the police are good. That the structures that the police uphold, and are part of, are good, and are a force for good, and can ever be a force for good.
Now, what I think is interesting here, is that, you know, I would... I would pre-- I would preface this by saying, ACAB [All Cops Are Bad] is an important political point. And it is one that I completely agree with. But I also think what we need to understand, is that there are people who go into the police force, you become police officers, because they believe that it can do good, that they can do good in society through it.
And so, what I think that people like Hastings show, is that within this system, this rotten system, which is unsalvageable, no matter how many Hastings you have within it, no matter how many law-abiding cops you have within it, this system is built to oppress.
It is pure... It is built to denigrate. It is built to uphold its structure of laws that were written and constructed to continue the grasp of capital and power with a very small elite, and to batter down the working classes.
But what call of duty... (call of duty?) Line of duty! Wait, it's been a very long...
[00:44:31] ASH SARKAR: Wait, that's a very different form of, like manufacturing consent for state violence. That's a different one.
[00:44:35] BEN SMOKE: I was doing so good, to!
Like, what Line of Duty, I think, does, is raises quite important political questions for people that are considering these questions right now. Around what you do with the people that are in the police, who believed that they're doing something good.
Because then that enters into the wider problem that we have with the police force, which is that they, essentially, they believe their own hype. They believetheir own story. They believe that what they are doing. It is a cult. It's a weird little cult.
And that's why you have all of these... these... these people protecting the corrupt officers. That's why at the end, when you had the.... Commissioner, Superintendent, whatever he was, that sketchy lad, the Welsh one, who was, like, "There is no corruption here." He was covering it all up.
Because they believe, they fundamentally believe, that they are a force for good. And how do you deconstruct that? How do you even begin to get people out of that cult, is a question that we need to start thinking about.
US Police Killings Undercounted by More than Half, According to New Study Part 2 - Serious Inquiries Only - Air Date 10-7-21
[00:45:32] DR. LINDSEY OSTERMAN: So overall, they estimate that there have been 32,000 deaths from police violence from 1980 to 2019. Um, and, uh, their estimates indicate a 38% increase in the rate of deaths due to police violence from the 1980s to the 2010s.
Right? So it increased from 0.25 per a hundred thousand to 0.34 per a hundred thousand, which is interesting.
So, not surprisingly, they also found that deaths due to police violence are disproportionately higher for men than for women. So they estimated 30,600 deaths for men and 1,420 deaths for women. So that's more than a 2000% difference in mortality between men and women. Right?
Um, and there are also disparities by race, which is, you know, this is a reprise on..., on stuff that we've talked about a lot. So, for non-Hispanic Black people, uh, the rate was 0.69 per hundred thousand, versus 0.2 for non Hispanic White people. So, that's three to 3.5 times higher.
For Hispanic people of any race, the rate was 0.35 per hundred thousand, versus, again, 0.2 for non-Hispanic White people.
And the rate of non-Hispanic Indigenous people was 0.38 per hundred thousand, which was 1.8 times higher than that of non-Hispanic white Americans.
Um, so definitely seeing... seeing racial disparities here that we've seen in... in past studies.
Last thing I thought was interesting here is that they looked at, uh, trends over time as a function of these different racial and ethnic categories. And I'd encourage people to actually look at the article. We'll... we'll link it... it's very hard to podcast graphs, I've noticed.
[00:47:10] THOMAS SMITH - HOST, SERIOUS INQUIRIES ONLY: Yeah. That is one limitation.
[00:47:12] DR. LINDSEY OSTERMAN: Yeah, but this... it is a... it is a... It's an interesting graph. There's a number of things about it that are really interesting, and horrible, obviously. But from the 1980s to the 1990s, it looks like rates of deaths due to police violence actually declined significantly. Right? And this... this was particularly pronounced for non-Hispanic Black people and Hispanic people of all races.
But then from the early aughts to, uh, the 2010s, those rates appear to be increasing again, and that's true across races. Um, but it's... it's also appears to be particularly true for, uh, for racial minorities.
The other marked thing that you... that just jumps out at you immediately from this graph is that the rate of killing of, uh, non-Hispanic Black people in the U. S. is, just, like, orders of magnitude higher than... than all of the other racial categories.
It's like, there's some clustering towards the bottom of the graph for... for all the other racial categories that they looked at... racial and ethnic categories they looked at. Um, but consistently there... there's, like, a very large gap there in terms of, um, yeah. Black people being killed at much higher rates. So that really does leap out at you.
So the take home here is that, across this 40 year period, rate of police killings are disproportionately high for Black people. We knew this, compared to other racial groups, by a very wide margin. And, uh, police killings are... do seem to be trending upwards since the nineties, um, into the 2010s.
And this trend is... is most pronounced, uh, for... for Black people. And this is according to these estimates
[00:48:38] THOMAS SMITH - HOST, SERIOUS INQUIRIES ONLY: All as the crime rate was dropping dramatically during that same time, right?
[00:48:43] DR. LINDSEY OSTERMAN: But we don't have a problem. It's fine. Yeah.
Yeah. All right. So... so those are the... those are the main findings, which I did find very compelling.
So, um, you know, sort of, takeaways here: this national vital statistics, uh, dataset, right? Misclassified and underreported, again, more than half-- more than half! Of the estimated deaths from police violence in this... this, uh, 40 year period.
And the under-reporting was not uniform. There was significant under-reporting across all racial and ethnic groups, but the highest under-reporting occurred for Black people,
[00:49:17] THOMAS SMITH - HOST, SERIOUS INQUIRIES ONLY: It really seems like that's something that explicit bias might explain. Where people, or police, or whoever, you know, they are more apt to try to cover up a killing of a Black man, essentially. Is that... that makes sense?
[00:49:31] DR. LINDSEY OSTERMAN: I think that that's a reasonable hypothesis. I mean, it's, um, you know, I think that there's a... there's a lot of individual motives that could be going into that. And again, you know, because of the... the stupid reporting thing, it's... it's probably very easy for people to, sort of, explain away why they're reporting things in the way that they are.
But yeah, I mean, of all the things in the set, right? That... it seems like explicit bias is probably a good candidate to explain that one.
[00:49:57] THOMAS SMITH - HOST, SERIOUS INQUIRIES ONLY: Or, I guess, if not even bias, I suppose it could just, again, it could just be, like, more wanting to play down that type of police killing. Right? Yeah, I dunno. I guess you could call that bias, but just to clarify, like...
[00:50:12] DR. LINDSEY OSTERMAN: No, I think... I think that's a good point.
[00:50:13] THOMAS SMITH - HOST, SERIOUS INQUIRIES ONLY: It's still systemic racism. It's just not, like... the process by which you're seeing it is a little different than, like, an explicit racial bias kind of thing.
[00:50:22] DR. LINDSEY OSTERMAN: I could definitely see somebody saying to themselves, "If this is reported this way, this is going to be... this is going to be racialized." Right? And that playing into their... their desire to downplay it. Or whatever. I dunno, it's... it's impossible to tell.
But yeah. So we have a... we have a problem with... with police violence in this country, and it is disproportionately hurting Black American men, in a particular, staggeringly disproportionate way.
What the Hell Happened to Police and Criminal Justice Reform - WhoWhatWhy - Air Date 10-8-21
[00:50:43] JEFF SCHECHTMAN - HOST, WHOWHATWHY: It's difficult to understand the present moment without really having a sense of, as you outline it, of the history of law enforcement and how it has been able to operate in the past. Give us, give us the broader framework.
[00:50:59] ERWIN CHEMERINSKY: The Constitution was meant to limit the police. The 4th amendment limits the police when they stop or detain or search people. The 5th amendment that protects the privilege against self-incrimination is meant to limit police questioning. The requirement of due process is meant to limit how the police do things like identification procedures, such as lineups. And yet, for the first century of American history, from 1791, when these positions were adopted, and to really early in the 20th, there were no Supreme Court cases interpreting or enforcing them, which meant there were no constitutional limits on the police.
And even in the early 20th century, when the Supreme Court began to deal with issues of policing, it ruled in favor of the police time and again, didn't limit the police, and if you look at the current Supreme Court, you find that same pattern that's been through American history. It's a court the time and again sides with the police and refuses to impose constitutional limits. And the thesis of my book is that that's really what's contributed to police abuses and racialized policing in the United States.
[00:52:10] JEFF SCHECHTMAN - HOST, WHOWHATWHY: You talk about a period that was really an aberration in our history, and that was some of the rulings from the Warren Court. Talk about those.
[00:52:18] ERWIN CHEMERINSKY: The only time in history that there's ever been a liberal Supreme Court was the Warren Court, and especially just between 1962 and 1969. Not surprising, that's also the time at which the Supreme Court handed down the most important rulings in favor of criminal suspects and defendants and against the police. Example: in 1966, in Miranda vs. Arizona, the Supreme Court said the police questioning when somebody is in custody is inherently coercive, and the court said in order for the police to question somebody in custody, they have to give warning. And everybody that watches police shows knows the warnings, "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you. You have the right to a lawyer. If you can't afford one, one will be provided."
In 1963, it was the Warren Court that said anyone being tried for a crime in state court with a possible prison sentence has to be provided a lawyer. The government has to pay for one if the person can't afford it. Isn't it amazing that until 1963, somebody could be tried for a state crime in state court, sentenced to life in prison, but not have to be given a lawyer to the proceedings.
In 1961, in Mapp vs. Ohio, the Supreme Court said, if police violate the 4th amendment and engage in illegal search, any evidence gained has to be excluded from coming into trial. So these are examples of Warren Court decisions.
[00:53:50] JEFF SCHECHTMAN - HOST, WHOWHATWHY: Wasn't the idea of qualified immunity though, for police, something that came about during the Warren Court?
[00:53:57] ERWIN CHEMERINSKY: It's interesting. Qualified immunity is a concept that I've been teaching about for years and now to see it being so much part of our popular discourse. Qualified immunity is whenever a government official is sued for money damages for violating the constitution, the Supreme Court has said there is an immunity defense. Some have absolute immunity, they can't be sued for money damages at all. Police officers, when they testify in court as witnesses, can't be sued for money damages. Even if they commit perjury. Even if it means an innocent person goes to prison. Prosecutors for their prosecutorial acts, judges for the judicial acts, legislative to the legislative acts, all have absolute immunity.
All other government officials who don't have absolute immunity, have what you just referred to qualified immunity. It means they can be held liable only if they violate clearly established law that the reasonable officer should know. The immunity defenses really develop only in the late 60s and into the 1970s, and the reason for that is it was in 1961 that the Warren Court expanded the ability to sue government offices who violate the constitution. And it's after that that immunity develops and it grows and grows, so now qualified immunity often is like absolute immunity. It means people who are injured by police and other government misconduct can't recover at all.
[00:55:29] JEFF SCHECHTMAN - HOST, WHOWHATWHY: Talk a little bit about the difference between the way this has evolved in the Supreme Court, which you've been touching on, versus what we've seen happen in state courts, and how those two things have played off against each other.
[00:55:43] ERWIN CHEMERINSKY: One of the things that's often forgotten is that state courts under state constitutions [have] to protect rights, even when the Supreme Court refuses to recognize them under the federal constitution. Let me give you an easy example. The Supreme Court has said there's no 1st amendment right to engage in speech on a privately owned shopping center. So if it's private shopping center and they want to exclude the demonstrators, they have the right to do so. But the California Supreme Court said, under the California constitution, there is a right to engage in speech on privately on shopping center grounds. That's because the state can provide more rights than what the Supreme Court finds in the US constitution.
And there are important instances where state courts have found rights, even though there's none of the federal constitution. Let me give you an example with regard to policing. The Supreme Court has said for police to search somebody's garbage out on the curb doesn't require a warrant or probable cause, that you don't have an expectation of privacy for the trash you throw out. But many state courts, like the Alaska Supreme Court, has said under the state constitution, searching somebody's garbage does require a warrant and probable cause. Or what I regard as even more important example, the Supreme Court has said, if police stopped somebody based on a pretext, that they stopped them because they find a minor traffic violation, but the real goal is to see if they've got drugs, doesn't matter, it doesn't violate the 4th amendment, so long as the police saw the person violate a traffic law they can stop them, even if it's just a pretext. But many states, like Arkansas and Washington state have said, no police can't use a pretext for a stop.
The reason that matters is if police follow any driver--you, me, any of the listeners--long enough, they're going to see us violate some traffic law. It's estimated that all they've got to do is, on average, watch 15 minutes and they'll see somebody change lanes without a turn signal, or turn without the signal, or go a mile over the speed limit, or not stop long enough at a stop sign. And even if the traffic stop is just a pretext and they're really want to stop us to search our car for drugs, the Supreme Court says that it doesn't violate the fourth amendment, but some state courts have said it does violate state constitution.
[00:58:14] JEFF SCHECHTMAN - HOST, WHOWHATWHY: This is of course how we wound up with stop and frisk in some states.
[00:58:18] ERWIN CHEMERINSKY: Well, we wound up with stopping frisk because the Supreme Court in Terry vs. Ohio in 1968 said police can stop someone, frisk someone, without needing probable cause as the fourth amendment would require. And then the Supreme Court said in Whren vs. United States in 1996, that it doesn't matter if the police stop is based on a pretext, so long as they can point to the traffic violation their real motivation becomes irrelevant.
[00:58:47] JEFF SCHECHTMAN - HOST, WHOWHATWHY: Talk a little bit about why, in your view, the Supreme Court has been so quick over the years, and over so many different courts with the exception of the Warren Court as you've talked about, to take these positions. There does seem to be a certain consistency to it. The Warren Court being the exception more than the rule.
[00:59:07] ERWIN CHEMERINSKY: Some of it is political ideology of the justices, some of it is because of larger social pressures. The reality is except for the Warren Court we've never had a liberal court in American history. And since the Warren Court ended in 1969, we've had very conservative courts. The statistic that I find revealing - between 1960 and 2020, there were 32 years with the Republican party and 28 years with the Democratic precedent. Almost even. It will be even in 2024. But during that time, Republican presidents appointed fifteen justices and Democratic presidents appointed only eight justices. And conservatives generally tend to be much more pro law enforcement, liberals more willing to protect the rights of criminal suspects and defendants.
But I think there's also a larger social pressure that has to be understood. In our society the pressure's always been much more for crime control than for protecting rights of criminal suspects and defendants. That's why the United States has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's prisoners. And I think the justices who live in our society have come to internalize that and very much favor law enforcement over the rights of criminal suspects and criminal defendants.
[01:00:33] JEFF SCHECHTMAN - HOST, WHOWHATWHY: To what extent has all of this been a function of the ups and downs of crime rates at various times? I mean, we're seeing it now, we're seeing this uptick in crime in some cities and this pushback against criminal justice reform. And more liberal attitudes on the part of district attorneys, for example, in places like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Talk a little bit about that and the way in which the law is so tied, seemingly, to up and down ticks in crime.
[01:01:07] ERWIN CHEMERINSKY: The justices on the Supreme Court, the judges in the lower courts live in society, and when crime is perceived is high and there's a salient issue, I think there's real pressure on courts to empower the police, not to limit the police. And you're right, when you look at the efforts of more progressive prosecutors, like George Gascón and Los Angeles, Chesa Boudin in San Francisco, and the opposition to them who believe they're being too liberal, you see this very much playing out. But I think in general, when crime is perceived as more rampant, it's much harder for courts to be willing to protect the rights of criminal suspects and criminal defendants.
And a very powerful example here is Terry vs. Ohio that authorizes police stop and frisk was the decision of the Warren Court in 1968. That was the moment when it was liberal Supreme Court history. The majority included liberal lion William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall. Why did the court 8-1 empower the police that way? 1968 was a time when crime rates seemed high, there was great apprehension about crime, where Richard Nixon was running for president on a law and order platform, and I think some of the liberal justices on the court were afraid, were susceptible to that pressure.
[01:02:35] JEFF SCHECHTMAN - HOST, WHOWHATWHY: Talk about that, the way in which the law is so susceptible to that pressure. We think of equal justice, we think of the law sometimes as supposedly being immune from that kind of political pressure, but it's not?
[01:02:50] ERWIN CHEMERINSKY: The justices and all judges are human beings. They all live in society. They all then are aware of social attitudes and social pressures. The constitution is written in very broad language. It speaks of probable cause. It speaks to searches and seizures. It speaks to the privilege in self-incrimination. It says no cruel and unusual punishment. But it takes human beings to give meaning to those words and apply them to specific issues, and how the justices do that is so much a product of who they are, their ideology, values and life experience. And what's going on in society around them.
Thank you for the quality of the show - V from Central New York
[01:03:35] VOICEMAILER: V FROM UPSTATE NEW YORK: Hello, Jay, this is V from central New York. I wanted to call in and say, thank you. This is less about an individual episode and more about collective episodes. I want to say thank you because, one, Best of the Left podcast has been great throughout the pandemic.
But from a personal level, this past summer and into the end of this last spring I've been doing a lot of overtime. I work in the medical field -- not in a hospital, I actually work for a manufacturer of medical equipment. And things have been crazy. Things have been a bit crazy these last two years. We've been doing a lot of overtime and I've been listening to a lot of podcasts and including yours. And the work you have done, the quality of the show during these last two years has been spectacular. And so I wanted to definitely give you a thanks for that.
I know you may think that it's nothing, you've been doing the show for a long time, that it's just a slight contribution to people's lives. But there's I suspect thousands of people out there who are listening to your show, working various shifts, people who you'll never know, people who you'll never meet, who really do rely on that being published every week. So I want to thank you for that.
I also want to give a quick shout out to all of the people working in the medical field -- the doctors, the nurses, the technicians because they're often overlooked, the custodians, the food servers, all of the associated staff, the people who are like me, who work for the manufacturers. Guys, thank you for the work that you've done these last couple of years. Hopefully we're at the end of all this. I love all of you,
Jay!, keep up the great work, man. God bless. Peace.
[01:05:44] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with CounterSpin breaking down the recent copaganda article published in the New York Times;
Serious Inquiries Only discussed the recent study revealing that police killings are under-counted by more than half;
Novara Media looked at copaganda in pop culture;
Democracy Now discussed the failures of attempts at police reform thus far;
Citations Needed took a 10,000 foot view on the definition of crime, the political decisions made by powerful people to define crime, and the insufficiency of our limited focus on homicide, as opposed to preventable deaths;
and Novara Media described policing as a cult.
That's what everyone heard, but members also heard bonus clips from Serious Inquiries Only giving more details about the findings of the under-counted police killings;
and Who, What, Why diving into some of the Supreme Court decisions that have shaped criminal justice law, as well as the societal pressures that push Supreme Court justices to side with the police, and against the rights of the accused.
To hear that and all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly into your podcast feed, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support, or request a financial hardship membership, because we don't make a lack of funds a barrier to hearing more information. Every request is granted, no questions asked.
And now, we'll hear from you.
Final comments on the comparison between police work and conspiracy cults
[01:07:11] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Thanks to all those who called into the voicemail line or wrote in their messages to be played as a VoicedMails. If you'd like to leave a comment or a question of your own to be played on the show, you can record a message at (202) 999-3991 or write me a message to [email protected]. And thanks as always to V for his kind comments. We always love hearing from him, and share his sentiments about all the workers putting in extra time these past couple of years.
Now, today's episode, and one part in particular, reminded me of an email I got last year, last summer, from an anonymous police officer who wrote in during the summer of 2020 as the protests following George Floyd's murder were happening. And I was reminded of this email when listening to the clip that it was the last segment before the member's only material. It was the one saying that policing is a cult. And to be clear, I'm not going to play this message from this police officer as some sort of counterpoint to humanize police officers and say, "no, look, they're not in a cult. This is a real person with real perspectives." No, I'm going to play it because actually, I think that what this officer has to say supports the theory of policing being like a cult, as seen from the inside. So with that in mind, have a listen.
[01:08:37] VOICEDMAILER: ANONYMOUS: It's a pretty dark time. There are some of us acting as a light of reason in the darkness, but as you could imagine, it's lonely. The pressure from outside upon those of us within to either quit in protest, or take some sort of action is palpable even though I work in a relatively progressive agency with a good relationship with our community. Even so, I often feel ashamed of what my job represents to so many. People in my uniform have killed so many unnecessarily. And I do not know what will stop it.
As far as whether or not the "good ones" should remain or somehow risk their careers, and likely freedom, depending on the method of resistance, depends on your view of gradualism. Is it better for a leftist to be in a position of power within a broken system, doing what she can to lessen the damage wrought upon society? Is it better to have just a little less violence? Or is it better to quit and leave a purely evil nemesis?
How will all the "good ones" unify under intense financial, familial, and cultural pressure? Most cops' only friends are only other cops. Policing is as insular as any occupation you can imagine. It happens mostly because of a shared understanding of the stress of watching horrible things happen to people; few outsiders could act as a sufficient support system.
Conversely, it is incredibly hard to speak up or leave when your families and friends are so intertwined in police culture. Should one leave, what other occupation do our skill sets translate to? $8 an hour security guard? Mercenary work for Blackwater? Personal protection for some rich oligarch? Not exactly soul-enriching, rewarding work. We have bills like everyone, as well as kids who need health care. Yes, we are laborers who are kept obedient by the threat of losing our health care, just like everyone. #medicareforall
Even if all the "good ones" left the force, what is the end game? Urge all good police officers to leave so as to accelerate the downfall of the current criminal justice system? Leave nothing but the worst of the worst on the job? That would lead to more deaths in the pursuit of a possible positive outcome. How would we prevent a violent revolution, which white supremacists would embrace as a race war?
The tranquilizing drug of gradualism has failed for five decades. That said, I don't want to see any more violence wrought upon anyone, be it someone in police custody, police officers, or in the streets. But I have no idea what to do, other than influence and discipline those in my circle of control and report wrongdoing whenever I see it. As soon as I can do something else with my life and still meet my other responsibilities, I will.
[01:10:46] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: So that was obviously a relatively progressive perspective coming from inside a police force, not the average perspective by any means, I don't think, but it is a real perspective from inside the police force. And as I said, I think it supports the notion of the profession of policing as sharing similar aspects with the mechanics of how cults work. And to demonstrate, listen to this short segment from the Netflix documentary about flat-earthers, Behind the Curve. What you're about to hear is flat-earth believers, in their own words, describing how they feel about their beliefs and what it has cost to them to hold those beliefs.
[01:11:30] CONSPIRACY THEORIST 1: I was so frustrated about getting told I was an idiot. So I decided to say, laugh at me all you want because science is different than the shit they're believing. I've already lost friends and stuff.
[01:11:43] CONSPIRACY THEORIST 2: I've shared it with my mother, my daughter, uh, two guys who I was dating, who didn't want to date me anymore after I told them about my belief in the flat earth.
[01:11:53] CONSPIRACY THEORIST 3: I have four children, my sons are grown. Them and their mother, who's my ex-wife, kind of think dad's a little off, gone off his rocker.
[01:12:02] CONSPIRACY THEORIST 4: I just finalized the divorce. I no longer speak to my parents, my brother, or anybody else, other than people that are interested in doing truth research.
[01:12:15] CONSPIRACY THEORIST 5: And you would say to yourself, well, why would you pursue something if you're going to have a falling out with your blood relatives? What's important is truth.
[01:12:25] MARK SARGENT: People give you strange looks. That's fine. If you're not hurting them, let them think what you want. They're just asleep going through life. They're just background noise.
[01:12:33] CONSPIRACY THEORIST 6: When this all started, I was looking for the truth, you guys know that, and deep down inside I think everybody knows that it's flat.
[01:12:40] MARK SARGENT: It's their escape. I'm in a room with people that absolutely will not judge me.
[01:12:45] CONSPIRACY THEORIST 7: So many of you've been through so much pain.
[01:12:47] CONSPIRACY THEORIST 8: My entire life I've kind of felt separate, like nothing was quite right.
[01:12:52] CONSPIRACY THEORIST 9: We never really fit in. We find ourselves to be somewhat isolated. And we want to talk to people about this thing, but nobody wants to talk to us.
[01:13:05] MARK SARGENT: In the Truman show, a big reason why the lead character left when he discovered his entire world was fake, was he had nothing to lose. Jim Carey was inevitably going to leave that place because there was nothing for him.
Compare that with anyone else, let's say we'll go to the other end, which would be the mayor of that town. Let's say the mayor of that town gotten a sailboat and got out to the edge. The guy's got limos. The guy's got misread mistresses. He's got money. He's got a pretty cushy life. Does he open the door and face the devil you don't know versus the devil you know? No.
[01:13:47] DOCUMENTARIAN: Wouldn't you say, in a sense though, like you're now the mayor of flat-earth?
[01:13:57] SCIENTIST INTERVIEW: Say you lose faith in this thing. What then happens to my personal relationships? And what's the benefit of me of doing that? Will the mainstream people welcome me back? No, they couldn't care less. But, have I now lost all my friends in this community? Yes. So suddenly you're doubly isolated.
[01:14:15] MARK SARGENT: If I try to go, there would be so many people they would come and say, don't don't, don't do it. And so I couldn't, even if I wanted to.
[01:14:22] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: So I'm sure you heard the parallels as clearly as I did, but just to lay it out - financial and social entrapment are both key elements of cults, and that's what we just heard from the documentary and our anonymous police officer. They both said essentially the same things about these structural impediments to leaving a system once you are inside of that system. And just to be clear, I am not making this comparison because I have an equal amount of concern and empathy for a progressive police officer trapped in a harmful profession as I do for the victims of the harm his profession perpetuates. I just have a strong interest in really understanding the nuts and bolts of how the world works, including how people who even have misgivings about policing still get sucked in and feel that they can't get out.
However, it is not enough to just understand police officers as trapped or duped into believing that they're a force for good. This analogy actually goes farther when you begin to think about how people become true believers. Those who don't feel trapped, but genuinely revere the police force, sort of relish being a part of it. And to get to that point you have to be told the kinds of stories that we have heard on the show today, that propaganda that constantly bolsters the idea of the police as not only beneficial, but also as the underdogs. This beleaguered force for good under assault by the forces of evil and chaos. Why else would chants for Black lives matter, be met with blue lives matter and the raising of thin blue line American flags.
As I have said for years, no one ever thinks of themselves as the bad guy. Darth Vader was just trying to bring peace in order to the galaxy and things got a little out of control. So back to the flat-earthers.
[01:16:26] SCIENTIST INTERVIEW: It becomes a question of identity, um, who am I in this world? And I can define myself through this struggle.
[01:16:34] CONSPIRACY THEORIST 9: This is somewhat of a battle, more or less between good and evil.
[01:16:38] CONSPIRACY THEORIST 8: We're actually very special, and we start to realize that there is a purpose to our life.
[01:16:42] SCIENTIST 2 INTERVIEW: We are a force to be reckoned with, so we certainly need to take you seriously.
[01:16:45] SCIENTIST 3 INTERVIEW: Then that makes you the protagonist. And it's very enticing once you get into it, it feels great to be the underdog protagonist in the Disney movie. Everything you do is justified. And when people mock you well, that's probably because they're evil. When people try to prove you wrong, when they do prove you wrong, you quickly say, "well, there you go, there's the evil." No one's Ursula in their own story.
[01:17:03] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Once you're the protagonist, you become the hero and everything you do becomes justified. I mean, how much does that resonate with the conversation about policing in America?
So I'll wrap up with this. On the most recent bonus episode that we recorded, it hasn't come out yet, we're polishing it before publication, but we got talking about the concept of hostile architecture. And this is the idea of, you will recognize it as benches that are comfortable to sit on, but not comfortable to lie on. They build them in such a way that if you lied on them, you'd have something poking in your back or there's an arm rest in the way or something like that. Or in public parks, they'll put little metal blocks alongcement curbs to prevent skaters from sliding on them, that sort of thing. So this is hostile architecture. It is architecture that is designed to prevent something from happening to or around that architecture.
And when I got thinking about this, I realized that it is an unbelievably good metaphor for the difference between what is fundamentally conservative policymaking and progressive policymaking. Hostile architecture is about treating the symptoms of a problem with prohibition and enforcement. You don't want kids skating on public property? Prohibit it and enforce it. You don't want unhoused people sleeping on public benches? Prohibit it and enforce it. You don't want people doing drugs? Prohibit and enforce.
Skate parks, as an example, on the other hand, are the antithesis of hostile architecture. They are about solving the root of the problem. Giving kids a place to go and play so that no prohibition measures are even necessary. Same goes for housing, the unhoused, and solving the underlying issues that lead to drug abuse. Policing is built on hundreds of years of prohibiting and enforcing that which the powerful do not want to exist. The police abolition movement is built on giving people what they need to thrive in life so that our current style of prohibition and enforcement isn't even necessary.
As always keep the comments coming in at (202) 999-3991 or emailing me to [email protected]. That is going to be it for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to the Monosyllabic, Transcriptionist Trio, Ben, Ken, and Scott for their volunteer work, helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at bestoftheleft.com/support or from right inside the Apple Podcast app.
Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good bonus episodes. Like where I initiated the conversation about hostile architecture, in addition to there being extra content and no ads in all of our regular episodes. For details on the show itself, including links to all of the sources and music used in this and every episode, all that information can always be found in the show notes on our website and likely right on the device you're using the lesson. So coming to you from
far outside, the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay!, and this has been the Best of the Left Podcast coming to you twice weekly thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com.