Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Saturday, September 24, 2016 10:48 am

After protests, the next step is a boycott — but of what?

The problem with protests is that while they can raise awareness, they’re much less effective tools for bringing about real change. And some of the people most involved with protests against the killing of unarmed people of color by U.S. law enforcement are beginning to talk about that.

Shaun King in the New York Daily News:

… we’ve crossed a line in America. Police brutality and racial violence have pushed people far past a reasonable or compassionate human standard.

For the past two years, we’ve protested all over the country, and my gut reaction used to be that it hadn’t accomplished as much as it should have — that the energy required for those protests didn’t meet the meager reforms that we’ve achieved.

I no longer feel that way. In two years, in great part because of those protests, the fierce injustice of the United States has now become known to the entire world. That’s no easy feat. The world knows the names and stories of our victims and they care.

Furthermore, we have built consensus among tens of millions of people in America who are fully fed up with police brutality and demand a better way.

It is time that we organize a passionate, committed, economic boycott. It must be painful. It must be unified. And we must continue with it until we see change. This country is clearly willing to continue killing unarmed men, women and children without ever making any serious efforts at reforms. This economic boycott can change that. …

I’m going to be listening for the best ideas on how we proceed. We have to all be on the same page here or it won’t work. I’m in and I hope you are too.

(If you want to contact King directly, he’s on Twitter at @ShaunKing.)

For the purpose of discussion, and because I live in the real world, I’m going to stipulate the following: 1) We do have a problem with law enforcement killing unarmed people of color; 2) state and local governments, which oversee the overwhelming majority of law enforcement in this country, do not perceive this problem; do not think the lives lost are as important as other considerations, which may range from retraining cost to fears over loss of political support of LEOs; or perceive the problem and are just fine with it; 3) protests alone have achieved most or all of what any reasonable person could expect, i.e., they have raised awareness but have not led to widespread political or policy change.

King draws parallels with the Montgomery bus boycott, led by Martin Luther King and others, which lasted for more than a year. Closer to home and closer to now, there have been protests about the N.C. legislature’s ill-considered House Bill 2, but real pressure for change didn’t build until businesses, associations and entertainers started boycotting the state (and REALLY didn’t build in this college-sports-crazy state until the Greensboro-based Atlantic Coast Conference pulled all its conference championships out of the state and hinted that it might move its headquarters out as well).

King concludes not with a specific call to action but with a call to discussion, because he acknowledges, however briefly, a critical truth: To work, boycotts need a clearly identified target related in some way to the boycott’s goal. Here in North Carolina, business leaders who have legislators’ ears are seeing economic-development opportunities fly out of the window — and they also know that there undoubtedly more opportunities passing us by that we never even see, company formations or expansions for which we’re never even considered, because of the bigotry among the Republicans who control the Lege.

What might such a dynamic look like with respect to getting the police fully back under civilian control — because they are only nominally there now in many jurisdictions — and making the political changes, not just law-enforcement changes, necessary so that law enforcement officers can truly work for justice, rather than merely function as tools for keeping what one privileged segment of society considers to be order?

I have one suggestion. It might not be the best. It might not even be particularly good. And God knows whether it’s workable. But it identifies a clear target that is related directly to the goal of changing the policial framework that dictates how law enforcement operates, so that law enforcement will operate in the interests of true justice:

A tax boycott.

People of color and their allies could stop paying their state and local income and property taxes until state and local governments and their police forces take specific, quantifiable steps to reduce that violence.

People of color pay taxes, just like anyone else, to support a government that is required by law to provide equal protection under the law. Yet it is abundantly clear that that government does not provide equal protection. Further, the majority-white power structure in most jurisdictions doesn’t care, or else more steps would have been taken before now.

What might the steps that people demand look like? That would be up to each community or state to decide. For purposes of discussion, I’ll throw out some possibilities:

  • Mandatory, periodic training, retraining, and certification in de-escalation techniques.
  • Mandatory, periodic training, retraining, and certification in dealing with subjects with mental illness.
  • An increased commitment to community policing. A lot of departments are doing a lot of this now. We need more. It is in officers’ own safety interests to be seen as part of the community, someone you run into every day, and not as an occupying army.
  • Repeal of the new state law, HB 972, which permits release of police body-cam and dashcam video only with the permission of a judge. Here in N.C., those videos should be treated the same as any other public record under North Carolina law, which is to say that they should be presumptively public.
  • Civilian police review boards with subpoena power.
  • Demilitarization of state/local law enforcement and return of military-grade equipment to the federal government. (This one in particular I’m not on board with; there are so many firearms and other weapons on the street that a lot of departments need at least some of this stuff to avoid undue risk to officers. But there also are a lot of places that will never in a million years need it.)

Such a boycott would have a clear target. The target would be related directly to the problem. I have no idea if it would work. And the consequences for at least some potential participants could be devastating — and these are people who already have endured devastating consequences.

But if that many people took part — tens of millions of Americans in all 50 states — governments couldn’t jail/foreclose on all of them.

Again, to be clear, I am not advocating this specific course of action. But I think people of good will do need to talk about what it will take to force the kind of lasting political change that will, if not end this phenomenon, at least make it much rarer. This suggestion is one idea about what an effective course of action might look like.

But Shaun King is right: Protests alone, while serving a valuable purpose in raising awareness, aren’t effecting change. History suggests that money, almost alone, talks. So money must find its voice if lives are going to be saved.

(h/t Jill Williams for bringing King’s column to my attention and prompting my thoughts on this subject.)


  1. […] SOURCE […]

    Pingback by After protests, the next step is a boycott — but of what? | Greensboro 101 — Saturday, September 24, 2016 11:10 am @ 11:10 am

  2. The only thing I could come up with was some sort of mass walkout. Everyone who supports BLM, walk out of wherever they are. No need to walk anywhere in particular (for those with mobility issues, like me) but only if it’s safe for a person to do so. Some situations, and some employers, might not make it safe to do so.

    I also like the British system where the cops are mostly unarmed except for those cops who have received special training to use firearms. Untrained cops would only be allowed to use their stick and tasers. Those are still bad, but fewer people end up dead. Don’t know if that’s a reform that could ever work here but Swat teams are much better trained than the average cop, it seems.

    I also like community policing. Get out of the cars. Walk a beat like they used to. Know the people in their areas as neighbors, not as cattle who need to be kept in order. People in our neighborhoods know who the sketchy people are. If the cops performed more community policing, so would they, and they’d be able to accurately target those specific individuals, rather than randomly targeting, and terrorizing everyone.

    Don’t now how feasible any of this is but it’s an idea.

    Comment by lkeke35 — Saturday, September 24, 2016 2:46 pm @ 2:46 pm

  3. A tax boycott?

    Lex has apparently never had a disagreement with the IRS. I can tell you first hand, that without getting your day in court the IRS can and will seize your assets and continue to do so until the IRS is satisfied that your entire bill including interest and penalties, has been paid.

    And they come without warning. One day you wake up and realize your credit cards, ATM card, bank accounts, etc, etc, etc…. are no longer yours.

    And because you have no liquid assets available you can just forget about hiring a lawyer to get it back. Been there, done that.

    Comment by Billy Jones — Saturday, September 24, 2016 10:40 pm @ 10:40 pm

    • As I said in the post, Billy, 1) I don’t recommend this particular form of boycott, and 2) taking part would be extraordinarily dangerous. I came up with this example as one way of illustrating what a boycott that actually effects the problem at hand might look like. There are other good reasons not to use this particular example, such as the fact that the same taxes that support law enforcement also support schools.

      Let me ask you this, Billy: How would you structure a boycott for maximum effectiveness on this issue?

      Comment by Lex — Sunday, September 25, 2016 11:17 am @ 11:17 am

      • How would I structure a boycott for maximum effectiveness on this issue?

        A boycott against government… What’s the old saying about death and taxes? I personally see no way to boycott government. I’ve often advocated establishing a parallel economic and governing system that operates outside of the traditional banking and government systems but even that would be seen as a threat to the power structure and every attempt would be made to destroy it and all who use it just as current under the table and black market systems are sought out and destroyed now

        Which leaves people with… revolution, I guess.

        It appears the system is designed so that revolution is the only thing that brings change.

        So the question becomes: will it be political revolution or war?

        Only those at the top can make that decision. The working classes will respond to their answers.

        One only needs look at the works of Hernando De Soto in his book The Other Path and William Easterly in his book The Tyranny of Experts. Or better yet, the understanding that it is the newly poor who most often drive violent revolutions. And despite all the talk of economic recovery, America now has record numbers of the newly poor. Especially in cities like Charlotte and Greensboro.

        Comment by Billy Jones — Sunday, September 25, 2016 1:50 pm @ 1:50 pm

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