Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, December 23, 2014 12:41 pm

Anti-police? Or pro-police, pro-public?


One would like to think that a guy who worked his way up from Drug Enforcement Administration agent to assistant director of that agency, a guy who served as both head of witness protection and associate director for operations of the U.S. Marshals’ Service, a guy who served as both fire commissioner and police commissioner for the City of New York, a guy who now gets paid very high dollars to do security consulting, would be able to face a little criticism without soiling his drawers.

One would like to think that.

But one would be wrong.

Howard Safir, the guy who has held all those positions, is crying hysterically that the criticism police now are facing in the U.S. is unmatched in the past 45 years.

He is wrong. Factually, objectively wrong.

He writes, “We have seen nothing but police bashing from some of the highest offices in the land.” In fact, nothing that President Obama or New York Mayor Bill diBlasio has said can rationally be construed as “police bashing.”

He writes that Eric Garner and Michael Brown died resisting arrest. Garner was doing nothing of the sort when he was slain with an illegal choke hold. And even if one accepts that Michael Brown tried to reach into Officer Darren Wilson’s car and was justifiably shot and wounded for doing so, there is no credible evidence that Brown posed an immediate threat to Wilson or other civilians when Wilson fired the final, fatal shots.

He writes that current levels of “anti-police rhetoric” are unparalled in the past 45 years.  However, anyone who was around in the late 1960s and early 1970s recalls that violent clashes between police and protesters were commonplace. And the protesters were raising hell about that, often in very intemperate language.

Today? There have been some clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere in which the language has been intemperate, but on nowhere near the scale of decades ago.

No, what’s going on today is something different — something pro-public and, I would argue, pro-police. I don’t mean “pro-police” in the mindlessly jingoistic sense, but pro-police in the very practical sense of making law enforcement officers’ jobs safer and easier.

People are asking for the police to be open about and accountable for their actions. They are asking for law enforcement to stop discriminating against African Americans, which research shows it indubitably does. And they are insisting that the police be bound to obey the same laws the rest of us must.

Now unlike some people, I don’t think police are any worse-behaved today than they’ve ever been. In fact, they’re arguably much better behaved in most jurisdictions. But when everybody with a phone has a camera, police malfeasance is much more likely to be publicized than it used to be. And the larger number of reported incidents, with greater detail, reaching more people on social media, with accompanying demands that police be held accountable, looks, to the casual observer, like it might be anti-police.

It isn’t. People are insisting, rather, that cops restore “to protect and serve” to a phrase of some intellectual and moral value by behaving themselves, by treating everyone fairly including minorities who long have been treated disproportionately more harshly by law enforcement, and by being subject to the same administrative discipline or criminal punishment as anyone else would be who had misbehaved similarly.

There are some good reasons why law enforcement should want to do those things — and not only because they comports with the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment and with the Golden Rule.

Comporting with those standards is important for its own sake. But when cops behave openly and appropriately and transparently, and are publicly disciplined when they don’t, the public’s trust in and respect for law enforcement grows. And that growth has two major practical benefits for law enforcement.

First, it makes the public more likely to confide in and cooperate with police, in both day-to-day interactions and in assisting with difficult investigations. That makes a cop’s job easier.

Second, that increased trust and respect make it less likely that a minor, routine incident will escalate into the kind of situation that could end up with a cop dead, or with a civilian unjustifiably dead and a cop’s career and perhaps life ruined. That makes a cop’s job safer.

I would think that every cop, and everyone who supports cops, would want that the job to be easier and safer.

So why would Howard Safir so blatantly mischaracterize what’s being said and done in American communities around the issue of unchecked, unaccountable law enforcement? I can only speculate.

Some possible answers: He’s genuinely uninformed in general and uninformed about how social media works in particular. He’s genuinely uninformed about the statistics showing hugely disproportionate differences between how police treat middle-class Caucasians and how they treat African Americans of pretty much any class. He is informed, but he’s locked into an outdated mindset in which rule of the police is absolute, rather than a role of community servant leadership. Maybe he just listens to too much Fox News, whose incendiary, race-baiting rhetoric is deliberately clouding the issue.

I don’t know the answer. But I do know that Safir needs to put on some clean undies and start asking himself about the best, fairest way to serve the community — the whole community.

That’s all most Americans are asking for.

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7 Comments »

  1. Outrage Over Student’s Tweets

    ” It turns out that there is still time in 2014 for another furious debate in higher education about outspoken views, civility and free speech on Twitter.
    This time the focus is a Brandeis University student who over the weekend made two posts to her personal Twitter account. Khadijah Lynch, the student, hasn’t been talking about the controversy, but deleted her entire Twitter account.

    One said “i have no sympathy for the nypd officers who were murdered today” and the other elaborated slightly to say “lmao, all i just really dont have sympathy for the cops who were shot. i hate this racist fucking country.”

    The conservative website Truth Revolt wrote about the comments by Lynch, a junior who at the time was the undergraduate representative in the African and Afro-American studies department. The website also noted prior comments Lynch made on Twitter such as “what the fuck even IS ‘non-violence'” and “the fact that black people have not burned this country down is beyond me.”

    The article quickly spread on social media, with many conservative commenters urging Brandeis to expel Lynch. Her supporters online have noted that many of the comments on social media (and apparently sent to Lynch) go well beyond criticizing her to making threats against her. Her supporters also criticize the use of her photographs (which she had earlier posted online) on social media as endangering her.

    A Facebook group was created Monday called Expel Khadijah Lynch From Brandeis and it quickly attracted followers. The stated purpose of the group: “to get this woman expelled from Brandeis and exposed for the racist that she is!”

    The African and Afro-American studies department issued a statement Monday in which it said that Lynch had resigned as undergraduate departmental representative. The statement both distanced the department from her Twitter comments, and asked that they be understood in the context of legitimate anger over the treatment of black people.

    Of this weekend’s killings of police officers, the statement said: “The comments of Ms. Lynch, made through her own personal Twitter account, do not reflect the views of AAAS as a department. AAAS, unequivocally, does not promote nor condones a disregard for the loss of human life. The deaths of officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu are a tragedy and should be treated with proper respect. We express our most sincere condolences to their family and loved ones.”
    Continuing, the statement urged understanding of the context of statements such as those made by Lynch. “In 1961, the great American writer James Baldwin poignantly noted that, ‘To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.’ While it may be easy and convenient at this emotionally charged moment to condemn Ms. Lynch, we must also strive to understand why she would make these comments. This means openly and honestly recognizing the very real pain and frustration that many young people of color struggle with in trying to navigate their place in a society that all too often delegitimizes their existence.”

    And even if people want to condemn Lynch, the statement continues, they should do so in ways that do not promote bigotry or threaten her.
    “As a society and as a university, it is imperative that we always uphold the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. We also recognize that with these rights comes both responsibility and accountability. In this context, social media can be both productive and dangerous. As witnessed over the past year in regards to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, social media has the power to educate, energize and organize people in unprecedented ways. However, with the click of a button, social media also can give comments expressed in the heat of the moment a potentially regrettable permanency. The comments expressed by Ms. Lynch in no way excuse those made in response to her tweets, many of which have been horrifically racist, sexist, Islamophobic and threatening physical violence. These appalling comments should be resoundingly condemned with even greater passion.”

    Change.org features petitions created Monday urging Brandeis to expel Lynch and urging people to support her right of free expression.
    The former features comments such as “I believe she has said things to threaten the United States and its agents of law enforcement” and “This student has disgraced the university that she has and does represent. As an alum, she will continue to represent this university and place it in a poor light. While I am all for free speech, I believe we need to be teaching our youth more appropriate ways to express their anger and frustration than advocating for the death of law enforcement officers and the country that has so much promise.”

    The latter condemns both the publicizing of the Lynch’s comments and the reaction they have received. This petition says: “Speaking is never without fear of scrutiny and judgment, but we are all entitled to share our opinions however provocative they may be. In fact, no one reading this petition can say that they have never shared an opinion that did not align with a majority; therefore we cannot chastise another for their opinion. This past weekend, Khadijah Lynch spoke her mind on issues regarding the execution of two Brooklyn police officers. Opinions she has a right to share. While we may not all share her views, we cannot ignore the public slander that ensued due to the misguided, diluted and unscrupulous representation of her character…. Khadijah is a black woman and youth activist whose presence on the Brandeis campus is just as necessary as any other student. The deliberate targeting and misrepresentation of Khadijah’s thoughts as well as the misuse of her personal photos have catalyzed a series of hate speech that puts her life and safety in danger. This is Slander. This is Defamation of Character. This is Cyber bullying. This should not be condoned.”

    Andrew Flagel, senior vice president for students and enrollment at Brandeis, posted a statement on his website in which he criticized both Lynch’s comments and the way many have responded to them.

    He wrote that Brandeis “condemns the terrible violence against policemen in New York” and that “one of our students posted comments in social media that were hurtful and disrespectful, inconsistent with our institutional values.”

    But Flagel added that discussion of those comments should be civil. “While we in no way condone the original posts, we likewise are appalled by efforts to diminish speech and instill fear in our students. Brandeis remains a community built to support social justice and embrace intellectual inquiry. We encourage a fair and thoughtful discussion of these issues, free of threats.”

    *****
    “EXPULSION IS SILLY, BUT A CONSERVATIVE STUDENT WHO MADE SIMILAR RACIST TWEETS WOULD BE IN TROUBLE NOWADAYS: . I’d like to go bnack to the idea that campuses are places that prize free speech, but under current rules I think lefties should suffer just as much blowback as anyone else.”

    Glenn Reynolds

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Tuesday, December 23, 2014 6:57 pm @ 6:57 pm | Reply

  2. Really? The best you can come up with is some totally unknown college junior? And you’re arguing by implication that this is morally equivalent to all the bad behavior that’s being protested? Yeah, no. In fact, that’s just pitiful.

    Comment by Lex — Tuesday, December 23, 2014 7:01 pm @ 7:01 pm | Reply

  3. Really !! Did you even read it. The below may be your sentiment.

    I rest my case

    ‘They deserved it’: 911 operator allegedly INSULTED murdered cops and sparked argument with FDNY

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Tuesday, December 23, 2014 8:39 pm @ 8:39 pm | Reply

  4. Yeah, I read it and stand by my position. Look, you keep raising what appear to be objections to my position. Do you, in fact, think cops SHOULDN’T obey the law and SHOULDN’T be held accountable for their actions and SHOULDN’T treat people equally/fairly? If so, what the reason for your position? If not, then why not acknowledge we don’t have anything here to argue about?

    Comment by Lex — Tuesday, December 23, 2014 8:45 pm @ 8:45 pm | Reply

  5. FYI Communists Are Behind the Anti-Police Protests In New York. “A.N.S.W.E.R. is close to unique, in that it advocates for pretty much every form of evil in the world.” Communists are on the same moral plane as Nazis, just with better press relations.

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Wednesday, December 24, 2014 1:17 am @ 1:17 am | Reply

  6. Lex, while I agree with your posits — the police must be accountable for their actions — it seems to me this debate is ignoring the elephant in the room: Every time a police officer stops anyone, anywhere, for whatever reason, I feel fairly sure the first question he/she asks him/herself is: Does this person have a gun? I truly believe that, if not for the gun culture in the US, police behavior would be much more moderate.

    According to The Economist, “The FBI counts over 400 “justifiable homicides” by American police officers every year. This number includes only those shot while committing a crime. Reporting such shootings is voluntary, so the true number is surely higher. Even undercounting, America easily outguns other rich countries: in the year to March 2013 police in England and Wales fired weapons three times and killed no one.”

    Surely the culture of allowing any fool to carry a weapon has much to answer for in this sorry state of affairs, and for police over-reaction?

    Comment by Blair Pethel — Wednesday, December 24, 2014 2:23 am @ 2:23 am | Reply

  7. Fred: Communists are not “behind” the protest movement in New York. While they might be involved, they didn’t organize the movement that led to these protests — and they certainly didn’t organize the similar protests that have sprung up in dozens of cities across the country, including Greensboro.

    Blair: On the one hand, I agree that Americans are oversubscribed to firearms, or at least that firearms are far too freely available to the mentally ill, criminals, and those with histories of domestic violence. And I’ve made that point many times in many places online. On the other hand, I don’t think even police in countries with much stricter rules about guns are ever able to relax 100% in approaching a suspect, secure in the knowledge that that suspect is unarmed. And I also doubt there’s much of a spectrum on that issue. It strikes me as more binary: Do you approach every suspecdt as if he could be armed, or do you not? I can’t imagine that cops would ever stop doing that, and honestly, I don’t think they should. The alternative is too dangerous for law enforcement.

    Comment by Lex — Wednesday, December 24, 2014 8:38 am @ 8:38 am | Reply


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