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Small Steps

Last week, I asked for your help in identifying organizations that have had some success working on issues surrounding police violence.

My instinct when facing an overwhelming problem is to find at least one place where some improvement is possible, find people who are having success with these improvements, then give them support to help them keep going.  Such steps are small in the short term, but they have a way of breaking the complacency of standing still, which in the long term can end up making the difference between transformation or frustration.

Over 60 of you sent me notes, pointed me toward organizations, and provided reading lists. This was massively helpful. I have sorted through this information to identify two organizations in particular (among many) that seem to be having success in this policy area, and that apply the type of data-driven approach I thought might appeal to my audience here:

I encourage you to donate if you can. If you do, forward me the receipt. To the extent I’m able, I’ll match these contributions dollar for dollar.

23 thoughts on “Small Steps”

  1. “Police violence” can be two things – a tagline from Bill Ayers’s playbook for destroying confidence in the society’s institutions, or an issue that needs to be addressed with a clear vision of what first-rate policing really is. Police everywhere face danger, exhaustion, and provocation. How do you select and train police for self-restraint? That’s not so much centrally a policy decision to be mandated by law. It’s a human issue that needs to be addressed realistically and compassionately.

    • spot on – to really tackle the issue, there needs to be a deep dive into the recruitment practices, training, wellbeing and resources given to officers. We also can’t ignore is the societal and economic issues that affect us all.

      It blows my mind that police officers typically have second jobs – the fact they need to work themselves into the ground to live will not translate to them being mentally, physically and emotionally equipped to patrol the street and protect communities.

      I have a feeling with the need for officers being high and lax recruitment procedures, plenty of people are getting the badge that wouldn’t in times of economic safety.

    • This is especially true the farther down the line you go in the policing world. There’s no excuse for the training that was done in Minneapolis, where they had the knee on neck technique listed as approved, but it does speak volumes from what I know through my own experience.

      I worked for several years back in the DC area for a company that provided people to act out the roles of various types of “bad guys” primarily for US Capitol Police recruits and veteran officers. We did everything from simple cuff and hold up to active shooter training. One thing that was drilled into the heads of the recruits was the knee on neck is not acceptable because of the ease of both paralysis and death as an outcome. One application of the knee on neck caused a scenario to be immediately stopped with correction made. A second or third almost always meant there was an issue to be addressed with the recruit, many of whom were out of the program at that point.

      Where did those recruits go? They often filtered down to local city or county police forces, many of whom don’t do the level of training that an entity like the USCP does. Add in the stress of the job, the questionable and highly variable training across the country, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster that is only now being brought to the forefront due to easily accessible video.

      There probably needs to be a set of very basic (1-2 pages) national standards and a much higher emphasis on mental health for people whose job has to be extremely difficult much of the time.

  2. Obviously there have been incidents of police violence lately that have went way too far, such as in the case of George Floyd’s death, but overall I think the situation has been greatly exaggerated (where people are making claims that men of color in this country deal with situations like George Floyd did all the time). The claims that police departments across the country are systematically racist beyond repair generally doesn’t have any support other than hyperbole on twitter. What’s more likely is that the disproportionate killings of black men by police officers in the U.S. is the spilling over of the disproportionate economic hardship faced by black people in the U.S., not the consequence of a bunch of racist cops. I think the proper response then, instead of rioting and radical calls to de-fund police departments, is investment in this economically struggling communities (particularly with better schools and public libraries; I’m a big believer in the power of reading).

  3. Listened to an episode of your new podcast and really enjoyed it. Liked experiencing an alternate way to hear your ideas and thoughts.

  4. Cal, thank you for your thoughtful approach to this issue. Racial injustice is a serious issue in our society and I’m heartened to see you take it seriously. To your reader/commenters who want to see both sides, think the issues are overblown, and/or do not believe policing in America is plagued by systemic racism, I would encourage you to listen to those who have first hand experience with being Black in America – whether that is a friend, a co-worker, a scholar, or a popular writer.
    Thanks again, Cal, for the important work you’re doing.

    • Appealing to emotion and relying on another’s subjective experience to form my opinion is irresponsible and will almost guarantee ignorance. Both sides should always be heard especially because the anti-cop narrative is so dangerous to the very communities that are supposedly victimized by police. Most people in high crime areas are law abiding citizens who ardently support the cops but you’ll never hear their voices in the media. Obviously, no institution is perfect and there is room for improvement but it’s totally unreasonable to think all cops are racist tormentors of inner city communities.

      Everyone is entitled to their opinion. If a black person relates a negative race-based experience he had, that should not entirely change my mind on an issue as wide and complex as this one. Your position suggests that facts, logic, reason, and independent thinking are all secondary to subjective experience and feelings. Societies cannot run that way. You are (perhaps without intention) using raw emotion to silence the opposing view and that is the stuff of totalitarianism.

    • I’m generally all for listening to people, but when it comes to making radical changes to policy I think we need to be much more scientific in our methods. Collecting anecdotes from twitter is, quite frankly, one of the most biased ways one could do research.

    • Internet comments are, perhaps, not the best place to have this nuanced of a discussion, as we are likely — if not certain — to miss some or most of each other’s points.

      Suffice it to say, I observed Cal getting pushback for this post and his decision to support these organizations, and I wanted to register my support so that Cal would not get the impression that all of his readers disagree with him.

  5. I worked for thirty-five years in emergency services, including working for police departments. These new movements are designed to move communities over to the “Strong Cities” initiative, a thinly-veiled pseudo-police initiative that will both fail to deal with real crime, and simultaneously define and prosecute “extremism,” from a global headquarters. Investigate for yourself.

    George Floyd was murdered, by a bad cop. Lives, livelihoods, and property are saved every day by good officers.

    We have lived in a college town for decades. We now require police to maintain any semblance of an orderly life here. Things that were once common courtesy–not screaming or blasting music at night, not urinating in the street, throwing your garbage into a container, not on the street as you walk–are only (and barely) attained through police and/or local government enforcement–and that’s the “small potatoes”. There has been an organized movement in our town to eliminate police enforcing any drug laws, quality of life ordinances, etc. This is not limited to students, as the laxity and filth is drawing similar types to reside here.

    Be very careful in trying to limit police protection. No one wants “jack-booted thugs” patrolling their streets, but the unintended consequences of limiting protection will leave you all in the situation my family is enduring. This is no longer a nation of adults taking responsibility for themselves; it is increasingly a nation of frustrated people acting out, insisting the system be changed to accommodate their bad behaviors. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    • The Strong Cities Network includes some of the safest, happiest cities on Earth like Copenhagen, Berlin, Malmo, etc. The list of those who have joined is almost exclusively positive with some of the rougher places showing marked gains in recent years. Who would oppose that movement?

      • Joe, I’d take another look at recent events in Malmo. Unfortunately, the old sane, civil image of Malmo is no longer the reality.

        And (also unfortunately) what works for a more federalist-minded population, especially those more homogeneous, does not fit the U.S.

        I do not want any political creed, right, left, up, or down, to be determining definitions for behaviors, limitations of such, and then be given authority to deem them a crime and arrest citizens. I especially do not want a multinational group determining that. I would hope other nations felt the same way about having American systems foisted on them. I deeply admire many of the Scandinavian advances and social methods, but feel we in America are not hive-minded enough to make this work on a national scale (similar to the Finnish education system success).

        Last night I got an email from my town that they are aligning with “global” movements and the question is now of “balancing public safety” with “racial justice.” Public safety is blind, as justice should be, and compromising public safety for social agendas is the betrayal of the basic function of government: to protect its citizens, regardless of who they are. This is what I was expressing concern over, and it’s here. Now.

        My point was to be careful what you wish for. In such an ugly, inflammatory time, I hoped that the rational, intelligent people who read here would take the point without making it political. You may have, others haven’t. It seems that identity politics are even stronger than rational thought, if it means evaluating an idea one identifies (wrongly) with a political agenda.

        I don’t do social media, and was happy when Cal started to write about it–I’m older and had already seen the light. I rarely read comment sections anywhere and even more rarely post. I hoped to give a warning to a select group of people I felt might consider it objectively.

        Take care.

  6. I’d like to supplement Eliot’s comment with some data. This is not simply “hyperbole on Twitter,” as a previous comment put it. Police in America kill civilians at a much higher rate than other industrialized countries. To look at it on a per capita basis, in Germany there are 1.3 citizens killed by police per 10 million people. In Canada, the second highest on the list, the number is 9.8.

    America’s number is 33.5. That’s the type of government-sponsored violence you’d expect to see in a failed state.

    Yet again, this is a case of Americans pretending that our problems are unsolvable. We look at police killings (or gun violence, or out-of-control drug prices) and throw up our hands and say, “What can be done?” when all we have to do is look at other countries who are currently doing what we claim is impossible.

    There are criminals in every country. There are over-worked, underappreciated cops in every country. And yet, America seems to be the only advanced democracy where this equation adds up to loads of dead citizens. To claim otherwise is to ignore data (which, I’d argue, makes you as emotion-based and irrational as any Twitter ranter).

    • Evan – your analysis is faulty because it doesn’t consider behavior. You say that US cops kill more than German’s – which is true. How about crime (which leads to officer involved shootings)?
      As an example, Germany’s homicide rate is 1.18 per 100,000 citizens. The US’s is 5.0 (as of 2018). The German vs US violent crime rate is not much different.

      • That stat actually supports my point…

        The American murder rate (and, as you say, the violent crime rate) is roughly 5 times the German rate (5.0 to 1.18). But American police kill citizens at a rate that is 16 times that of German police (33.5 to 1.3). It’s disproportionate.

        It’s interesting to see the push back in these comments to people getting “political,” as if engaging with societal issues is somehow beneath people who are pursuing a deep life. Obviously, social media and cable news opinion shows don’t support deep thinking, but that doesn’t mean that all political engagement is shallow. I haven’t seen any ranting and raving in these posts, just thoughtful people expressing differences of opinion. Nothing wrong with that.

    • One important thing to remember about the USA is that it’s a very diverse place. Idaho, Ohio, New York, and Mississippi have very different cultures and logically will have very different rates of….well, everything. USA Today posted Covid-19 cases by state today (not sure about prior to now, I just saw it today), and it shows clear differences between how states are responding to the pandemic. This isn’t just politics, it’s demographics, it’s primary industries, it’s urban vs. rural, among other things.

      One number will not and cannot provide sufficient detail for making any sort of evaluation of police brutality in the USA. What we need is a nuanced look–state by state, county by county, precinct by precinct–and to find out where the trouble spots are. That will tell us where to look for problems.

      If we look nation-wide only, we’re going to see a lot of pointless activity in areas that aren’t problematic under the guise of “doing something”. We saw that after 9-11, when anti-terrorist funding got funneled to precincts with nearly zero risk of terror attacks. Fixing minor problems in generally well-functioning precincts is easy, after all–the people are good, and want to do better, so will embrace change. But the net result will be nil, as the areas with real problems–the areas that are hard to fix–will not be addressed.

  7. Looks like a mini-twitter has emerged in the comment section, the irony!

    I’m going to refrain from any political excursions, this is the not the place to do so – I’ll not be changing any opinions here. I’ll recommend my fellow pursuers of the Deep Life to do the same.

    I laud Cal on his contributions and activism.

  8. Hi Cal, you might be interested in this article that delves into the methodology used to come up with Campaign Zero’s #8cantwait initiative, and how the solutions proposed are found lacking in the real world:

    The gist is that few cities have implemented all 8 proposals so the claim of a “72% decrease in police violence” is highly extrapolated, and a number of cities have implemented more than half of the proposed reforms with no real decrease in violent encounters. I found this interesting and sad as I also thought #8cantwait was a step in the right direction. Ultimately there may be no right step in this particular direction as the authors Cherrell Brown and Philip V. McHarris say, “Now isn’t the time to bet on reforms that haven’t protected Black people..”

  9. Many influencers whose content is not inherently political are afraid to speak out about important issues for fear of losing followers. What we are experiencing today doesn’t allow for neutrality. I’m so happy and relieved to see this post from you. There will always be pushback from those who want you to “shut up and write (about things that don’t involve the huge moral questions we are facing)”. I plan to give to the organizations you highlight here. And my fandom of your work has just gone to the next level.


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