Thursday, June 25, 2020

On Policing: Time for Change

In 1982, Milton Friedman advised,
"Keep options open until circumstances make change necessary. There is enormous inertia--a tyranny of the status quo--in private and especially governmental arrangements. Only a crisis--actual or perceived--produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable" (xiii-xiv).
And then he helped usher in the neoliberal free market policies that have decimate health care, destroyed unions, privatized public services, deregulated banks and businesses, and provoked inequality like we haven't seen since 1929.

I know, master's tools and all, but I do think this part of his analysis is accurate. There IS a tyranny of the status quo! And when people are in a state of upheaval, they'll grab on to whatever message helps to stabilize them. This crisis is an opportunity for change, and we have to be awake to what that entails. We can be railroaded, or we can be ready.

The tech giants are already on it. We had been opposed to a few people-replacing technologies before the pandemic, but, as Naomi Klein explains, now we're embracing them:
"The future that is being rushed into being as the bodies still pile up treats our past weeks of physical isolation not as a painful necessity to save lives, but as a living laboratory for a permanent--and highly profitable--no-touch future. . . . There has been a distinct warming up to human-less, contactless technology. . . .  It's a future that claims to be run on 'artificial intelligence' but is actually held together by tens of millions of anonymous workers tucked away in warehouses, data centers, content moderation mills, electronic sweatshops, lithium mines, industrial farms, meat-processing plants, and prisons, where they are left unprotected from disease and hyperexploitation. . . . We had concerns about the democracy-threatening wealth and power accumulated by a handful of tech companies that are masters of abdication. . . . Today, a great many of those well-founded concerns are being swept away by a tidal wave of panic. . . . We face real and hard choices between investing in humans and investing in technology. Because the brutal truth is that, as it stands, we are very unlikely to do both." 
This is going to obliterate privacy, wipe out good jobs and mass produce bad ones. Education, just for one example, could face a dystopia that accelerates remote learning under the guise of providing the best teachers, maybe just one government approved set of teachers for all to watch remotely, and set up marking mills for faceless people with advanced degrees to grade assignment all day without ever meeting their "clients." Of course that will never happen, right? But being isolated in our homes also removes opportunities for solidarity.

Good thing we're taking to the streets.

The time is ripe to re-imagine how it all works, a word used repeatedly by community organizer, Kevin Sutton, on Breezy Breakfast, a Guelph podcast's episode on defunding the police. A mix of activists and city councillors discuss how police are funded and what defunding looks like. The Toronto police budget is over a billion dollar, and groups are asking them to defund by 10%, but city council is resistant, including John Tory (see his empty response in the last 5 minutes of that clip).

Sutton explains that people are concerned with defunding leading to a less-safe world, but it's actually about protecting lives in a more effective way with a "coalition of well being," with police still involved in decisions around rescaling priorities for various governmental and community agencies. And there is an anti-neoliberalism element to the panel discussion, that we can manage with less force at hand if we have poverty reduction, mental health and addiction supports, domestic violence support, access to shelters like this "better tent city," access to public bathrooms, and free pubic transportation to stop criminalizing attempts to access basic services. This can all happen if enough people write or talk to city and provincial leaders.

Like John Oliver explained on Last Week Tonight, "It's about moving away from a narrow conception of public safety that relies on punishment and investing in social safety nets."

That 10% reduction, as a starting point, doesn't have to mean fewer police, as many are assuming. It can mean fewer purchases of weaponry and armoured vehicles. In 19 countries, police don't carry guns, so it's possible. Success there is measured not in the number of arrests, but by the absence of crime. In Norway, "officers must complete a three-year bachelor’s degree where they spend one year studying society and ethics, another shadowing officers, and a final year focusing on investigations and completing a thesis (In the United States, officers spend only on average 21 weeks in training which are modelled on military bootcamps)."

But that shift in focus has to put people over property and profits in every instance. It's not just that cops put property first when Black and Indigenous men and women lose their lives for selling single cigarettes - an attempt to join the financial game that's not meant for them to play - or for falling asleep at a restaurant or for defending unceded land. But it's also a case of lost livelihoods  when the privatized prison system requires more labourers in a new and improved slave system, so minor incidents blow up into years and years of time inside sewing lace trim on underwear or packing iPads into boxes.

Mariame Kaba goes further and calls for total abolishment of police since any attempt at reform has failed over and over, but she'll settle for cutting the budget in half. She traces the history of these failed attempts and explains,
"Police officers don't do what you think they do. They spend most of their time responding to noise complaints, issuing parking and traffic citations, and dealing with other noncriminal issues. Fewer police officers equals fewer opportunities for them to brutalize and kill people. . . . The philosophy undergirding these reforms is that more rules will mean less violence. But police officers break rules all the time. . . . They failed to remove Derek Chauvin from the force despite 17 misconduct complaints . . . most rapists never see the inside of a courtroom. . . . The protests show that many people are ready to embrace a different vision of safety and justice." 
Abuse happens when someone feels like there's nothing you can do to them because they hold all the cards. We need to take some of those cards away! Like Kaufman-Mthimkhulu, Kaba also advocates for trained community care workers to do mental-health checks in their own neighbourhoods, and use of restorative justice and mediation instead of punitive justice in the courts system.

Henry A. Giroux harkens back to the notion of conscious raising in Truthout and the outrageous acceptance of "expendable" workers on the front lines who can't afford to quit life-threatening jobs:
"The pandemic has torn away the cover of a neoliberal economic system marked by what Thomas Piketty calls "the violence of social inequality." . . . Present in the concept of herd immunity, the elderly, immigrants, the poor and people of color, viewed as disposable, re considered unproductive and unworthy of the protections against the virus that the ruling elite have at their disposal." . . . This panoptical nature of hyper-individualism is more aligned to shared fears than shared responsibilities. Under such circumstances, trust and the notion that all life is related becomes difficult to grasp as the myopic language of private self-interest inures individuals to wider social problems such as extreme inequality. . . . Central to developing an alternative democratic vision is development of a language that refuses to look away and be commodified. . . . This is a language connected to the acquisition of civic literacy, and it demands a different regime of desires and identifications to enable us to move from 'shock and stunned silence toward a coherent visceral speech, one as strong as the force that is charging at us' . . . politics follows culture . . . changing consciousness is the first step towards building mass movements of resistance. . . . Immediate solutions such as defunding the police and improving community services are important, but they do not deal with the larger issue of eliminating a neoliberal system structured in massive racial and economic inequalities. . . . but with young people and others rising up across the globe--inspired, energized and marching in the streets--the future of a radical democracy is waiting to breath again."
Like Chomsky told us years ago, we're following a belief about ourselves that isn't true: that we want to compete, individually, to get to the top. In the 20s, the labour movements were destroyed, but in the 30s they rose up again. We can take things in the direction of solidarity and insist on monitoring power, not people.
"Short term profits for tomorrow outweigh the question of whether human beings survive. . . . For forty years, polls on people show the majority thinks we need higher taxes on the rich, but taxes go down because of elites. . . . People want dignity and a sense of doing something important. It's taken enormous efforts and a huge part of the economy to make you think you want more commodities. . . . All sorts of things can be done, from the electoral scene where government can be changed to direct action on all kinds of issues. There's simply no shortage of things we can do." 
We have solidarity on the important concepts already; we all want healthy food, clean water, and reasonable shelter. We all want to be respected as valuable regardless our packaging. We just have to believe it and act on it together.

Finally, Meenakshi Mannoe and Vyas Sara review Alex Vitale's book The End of Policing and encourage us, again, to "listen to impacted communities to learn about the transformative work they're already doing in the absence of benevolent state-based care." Then they go deeper into the problem, beyond the book and beyond neoliberal policies, and straight into colonialism: "settlers, on either side of the artificial border, can't advocate the end of policing without also advocating for the end of colonial occupation and join calls for Land Back--returning land to Indigenous peoples."

We have to do all the things.

This is a time for waking up to what we all know but try to ignore: Of course nobody's expendable. Theft requires reparations. If, like me, you've been winning at the expense of others because of the body you happen to be born in, then it's time to take a step back. Exploiting anybody for our own gain is always wrong; we know that deep inside. And we need to develop a different regime of desires and identifications until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.

And don't forget about climate change! It's all the same problem. Just stop the exploitation and destruction.

ETA: This article on Tolstoy's non-violence advocacy in "After the Ball":
"Tolstoy saw emergencies, personal and social, as necessary ruptures that could spark a deeper questioning of society and the beliefs that supported it. . . . 'Violence no longer rests on the belief in its utility, but only on the fact of its having existed so long, and being organized by the ruling classes who profit by it.' . . . For Tolstoy nonviolence meant 'the rejection of coercion as the glue of the commonwealth.' Tolstoy asked that we embrace other forms of sociality instead, rooted in love, brotherhood and mutual aid. . . . The plea 'Have mercy, brothers' would haunt Ivan Vassilievich for the rest of his life, just as we are haunted today by pleas for air, for 'mama.' We have to respond to those pleas with love, which, as Tolstoy reminds us, means dismantling love’s opposite."


Anonymous said...

Well, you get it. Most don't. Good stuff and well-crafted.

My good friend is an ex-Mountie who actually has Chomski books in his library. We're both now 70 odd years old. He laboured as a young officer under the misapprehension that the RCMP had ideals. But as he discovered, personal fiefdoms made it like any big organization, where the middle management unwritten rules meant that you must never be interpreted as "complaining" by suggesting obvious improvements, because that was seen as reflecting badly on your boss. Welcome to policing in rural nowhereland for your troubles in trying to improve things, and promotion? Forget it.

I subscribe to my pal's ideals that in the philosophical sense, "Any time you bring the profession of police work into disrepute, you do everyone a dis-service." And guess who's doing it? The police themselves, essentially unaswerable to the public, jealous of their fortress and highly unlikely to be called on the mat for unforgivable behaviour. But they join as a single voice to keep their great little scam going. The Pinkerton Detective Agency became the FBI. The Mounties were formed to go and shut down Metis and First Nations. All public police essentially evolved from corporate or elite private security squads and goons in the 1800s and early 1900s. That way the rich could make the populace at large pay for policing through taxes, rather than them forking out the cash themselves. Better, it could be sold as being wonderful for society!

I sit watch Trudeau natter on about the rule of law in the China situation, as if our judicial system were neutral. We allow police to beat the tar out of people in broad daylight, "Oh, the injuries suffered aren't serious enough to warrant further action." Kelowna BC where two Mounties held a man immovable so a third shaven-headed thug could smash his face in and let him know just who the boss is. So, legalized police assault is fine in Canada, just so long as you don't injure beyond someone's idea of a threshold for rebuke. Shoot some mental patients? Fine. "She was coming at me with a knife, and I felt my life was in danger, so I shot her five times." Edmundston NB.

The Chinese read our news, and see us being just as two-faced as they are. So how about some quid pro quo, they wonder? Nope, we retreat into preciousness and fear of US sanctions. Some ideals! Then, CSIS warns us that Chinese Canadians might be a fifth column funnelling back secrets to the dastardly Commies in Peking. Talk about carding, this is outright racism.

Multiply that nonsense by society as a whole, where we're encouraged to outdo the next person. Should we surprised we'll all be chipped like dogs for the benfefit of the government to keep tabs on us? And for Google, Amazon and Facebook to bleed us dry by knowing even when our bowel movements happen, targeting ads and selling our data? I have zero faith any good societal change will come out of the pandemic. Those in power will consolidate theirs even more, and pilfer government largesse as their own.

Freeman? Pfft. Our Freeland deputy PM? Pfft with knobs on, for the way she treated indigenous people in Latin America by labelling socialist governments as "dictatorships". Hogwash for the neoliberals and neocons to extend their power over people far away and out of sight for the benefit of our mining industries and banks.

I see few people who are straight and narrow. We get lied to day in day out and set one against the other. No advance in environmental matters, merely kenney retreats. Essentially, nobody really gives a damn except those on the sharp end of punishment and a few idealists, most of whom are young and yet to be trampled down. No rosy view for the future in my jaundiced opinion. Education will devolve into keyboard clicking, no interest in society at large and the massive collection of dopes will grow ever bigger.


Marie Snyder said...

BM - Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I hate to say I share your pessimistic views, but I keep trying to change things anyway. I like Chris Hedges's concern with hope - don't be hopeful, just keep doing the right thing.