Sunday, April 26, 2015

Have We Finally Passed the Tipping Point on Police Violence?

Ms Ché and I have been involved in a number of literary and other adventures during April, "National Poetry Month," as it's called. We've attended quite a few poetry readings and we've enjoyed expeditions to museums of art and science, with more to come. Soon enough, planting will start and outdoor activities and adventures will take the place of mostly indoor ones. The world-cycle will continue.

I've written here mostly about the national issue-problem of police violence and murder which takes on average three lives a day, week and month in and week and month out, with uncounted numbers brutalized and injured, physically and psychologically damaged each and every day, all through this land, in a cataclysm of violence that leaves ruined lives, ruined families and ruined communities in its bloody wake.

I've compared the casualty numbers to those of a low-key but continual civil war, with more than a thousand dead and tens of thousands injured each and every year. Overall homicide rates are much higher than the rate of killings by police, however. Police involved homicides are generally about 10% of the total; in some jurisdictions they are 20% or more, but those tend to be exceptions. What makes these statistics striking is that there are no more than one million sworn officers and fewer than that are patrolling the streets -- and killing people in the process. In other words, the seeming epidemic of police violence is being committed by a relative handful of Americans, a tiny percentage of police are responsible for a relatively large percentage of homicides.

Media coverage of the issue has grown substantially over the past years -- especially since the killing of James Boyd in Albuquerque in March of 2014, and the subsequent demonstrations against police violence. The media's narrative on events surrounding police violence and the protests against it has a presumptive start date in August of 2014, with the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO. The earlier Albuquerque incident(s) and protests have been -- for the most part -- vanished from the narrative, in part, I suspect, because James Boyd was white and mentally ill, and the narrative of the "national conversation" that's been going on asserts that it is about police violence against "unarmed young black men" and essentially nothing else.

That's an important aspect of police violence, but it is not the only one. Police are violent against any perceived "Other," including young black men in general, other racial minorities, the poor and the homeless in general, anyone who doesn't fit a very narrow model of appearance and behavior, or who is mentally ill, or is engaged in a domestic dispute, or who fails to obey sufficiently or fast enough to satisfy the violent officer.

Summary executions are being committed day in and day out, typically without any lasting consequence to the police officer. 

As the outrage has grown, there is a perception that the rate of killing has risen. In some jurisdictions, that's happened, but I'm not sure it's true overall. In fact, given the police killings documented so far this year, I'm seeing a slight but perceptible decrease in the overall rate of police killings, and in some jurisdictions, such as Albuquerque, the rate of police killing is dramatically lower this year than last or years prior to the advent of persistent and large-scale protest against it.

In other words, the killing can be stopped. In some places it has been stopped, or nearly so.

Stopping police violence is possible, and the world won't end.

Making sure that happens is the necessary objective of the movements against police violence that have arisen all over the country.

As we've gone about our literary and other adventures this month, I've been struck with how this issue simply doesn't enter into the minds and works of most of those whose slim volumes of poetry are being hawked at every reading we've attended. Nope. There are some exceptions, true. The slam poets make more of it than more traditional literary artists do. But even the slam poets seem less inclined to deal with the issue of police violence than is warranted.

Yet yesterday we were at a poetry reading in rural New Mexico, featuring what I would characterize as semi-Cowboy Poetry more than any other style. None of it touched on the issue of police violence, not directly, but some of it was of the "rebel" variety. Most of the readers (all of them?) were older, near or past 70, some from the rural South, one from DC, one from Upstate New York, a couple from California, one born and raised in New Mexican. All but one was white, and the one that wasn't -- Ms Ché herself, in fact -- was Native American.

Topics ranged from horses and pigs and cats and dogs to loves gained and lost,  stars sparkling in the sky, memoirs of temps perdu, and the ways of the Divine among others.

After the reading there was an open discussion which turned almost immediately to the drug war and the lives taken and ruined by its continuance. There was a nearly universal understanding that this drug war had to stop, and with its end the ruin would stop. Here we were in rural New Mexico, amid a bunch of old coots who didn't necessarily write about the killing spree that has been the topic of so many of my posts of late, but who understood fully that the killing is a consequence of a "War" declared decades ago that has literally destroyed lives and families and communities in pursuit of a "victory" that can never be won. It's insane and it must stop. Even these old folks understand that.

I was moved.

Have we finally passed the tipping point?

I'm still not sure, but the signs yesterday were suggestive that the answer is "yes."

Rallies and protests will and must continue, but more and more, the people have had enough, and the message is getting through to the barricaded high and mighty and their servants that police violence is unacceptable and must be brought under control and ended. The consequences of not doing so include "shutting shit down," which has been a widely utilized and effective strategy. More and more "People's Courts" have been holding public mock trials of killer police and their protectors, and more and more police precincts have been put under scrutiny and siege. Police are seen more and more as the problem not the solution.

And it is being shown that police violence and militarization, much of which is a direct result of the continuing (so called) drug-and-terror war must come to an end.

It's encouraging...


  1. I was under the impression that in left wing circles for a very long time and libertarian circles,(the last eight years or so), the drug war has been seen as something to abandon, and over the last ten years this idea has been spreading and taking root in the mainstream.

    One can hope the USA will come to it senses.

    The big stumbling block is prisons run for profit who now also run factories where a whole spectrum of cheap goods are made and they love slave labor from non-violet low level drug offenders.

    Like charter schools this is a form of political and economic cancer that is truly frightening because like the drug war has massive amounts of money at stake.

    The entitlement elites who have seized this public money do not seem open to debate on the worthiness of their theft of said public money anymore say, than the over-funded DEA.

    There is a blogger who goes by the name Skippy he can be found at this link:

    He seems to be able to get his/her? hands on a great deal of solid numbers. A current piece he/she wrote had this link:

    Which has a good amount of up to date info on the problem of compiling stats on police killings.

    a sample:

    Even with perfect police compliance, assembling a database with basic details about each incident – how, who, by whom – would require a data revolution. The basic narrative details of each incident are still confined, largely, to local police records, using idiosyncratic method for recording, storing and reporting data. Technology varies widely, from pen-and-paper to 100% digital. Software varies. Human resources vary. And if a new national protocol is ever finally implemented, even the fanciest digital interface currently in use might not be compatible with it.

    Check these out at your leisure...

    As for cowboy poets the local PBS station here in Southern Calif has been run a number of times,(of which I have seen fragments), a documentary on a somewhat famous "ecological minded cowboy rancher" in Colorado whose name escapes me right now....

    He fought a life long battle against urbanization and the sad fact that the cities expanded so far out into the countryside that years after his death his sister and brother are fighting over what parcels of land should be sold to local developers for housing, which parcel for the waste disposal plant and which parcel for the local shopping center etc etc

    What struck me is that this documentary must be about 6 to 10 years old because the realization of the 200 year drought, that we are more than likely witnessing now, - due to climate change and shifts in the Jet Stream, had not peculated down into the world view of this particular ranching family of film makers...yet......

    Sadly in the opening of this documentary the voice over said that in the last twenty years 80k ranchers had quit and I assume sold their land to the high bidders.

    1. I'm not sure how much of the talk we heard at the rural NM reading was due to ideology and how much to recognition of injustice apart from ideology. There are strong libertarian strains of course, that didn't really seem to fit these people. They're more like reconstructed hippie types noting the social and human cost of the drug war and wanting an end to it. Now.

      Seems to me that many of the farmers and ranchers in rural NM have adopted a far more ecologically sound and sustainable approach to their ranching and farming than their ancestors did. We live in what was a mini-dustbowl in the 1930s and again in the 1950s, a dust bowl caused by poor farming and ranching practices combined with natural cycles of drought. It was obvious what had gone wrong, and since then, most have adopted better ways of doing things, and they tend to be environmental champions these days. Lack of water is primarily what keeps the suburbs at bay.

      For profit prisons and their labor pools are one of the issues that must be addressed if we ever get the killing stopped or at least slowed enough to take on some of the rest of the tangled mess Our Betters have made of things.

      Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, eh? Has been -- periodically -- one of my favorites, but I don't see him (I believe it's a him) quite as frequently as I once did, thinking perhaps age is starting to creep up on him. But yes, statistics can be very useful and illuminating.

      I think it's easier to assemble police violence statistics than some are making it out to be, however. Whether that will happen "officially" I don't know.

      Right now, the only comprehensive database is "Killed by Police," statistics based on media reports, and despite its flaws, it shows that there are far, far more killings by police than are catalogued by the DoJ or any government agency. That's interesting in and of itself, and to me it demonstrates a determination by DoJ and others not to keep track of police violence in any detail. That's because (IMHO) they haven't been told to track it by Congress or the White House on the one hand, and on the other, because "best practices" of policing which DoJ and other agencies are forever determining includes a heaping helping of violent suppression of "the Other" -- and plenty of killing. Until very recently, police violence and killing had been seen as a purely local issue, a local problem, to be dealt with solely on the local level. So long as that was the case, statistics about overall police violence weren't necessary or desirable. They're necessary now, but they are still not desirable. And so there will be much resistance to building an accurate and comprehensive database. Oh yes.

      Much of the violence is driven from the top and is a product of "best practices." That has to change along with so much else.