Good Friday Morning, I hope you were able to enjoy a short work week. We’ve almost reached June, and the strictest of lockdown measures are melting away everywhere. Good news everywhere: “ABC News looked at 21 states that eased restrictions May 4 or earlier & found no major increase in hospitalizations, deaths or % of people testing positive in any of them. [SC, MT, GA, MS, SD, AR, CO, ID, IA, ND, OK, TN, TX, UT, WY, KS, FL, IN, MO, NE, OH].” If that sounds contrary to all the media narratives you’ve seen about reopening, you’d be right in noticing that.
This week I’m exploring the issue of policing and conservative answers to how to improve it. The topic inspired by the reports of George Floyd’s death in Minnesota and the fallout from that. In my view, the conservative mindset on government provides a better base for building answers to these problems. Policy ideas are given at the end. Links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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Falling back on cultural wars to avoid COVID fears – The Conservative Institute
Biden avoids questions of his and Obama’s legacies – The Conservative Institute
Conservative ideas for fixing the policing problem
There’s a meme going around of a bit from Chris Rock’s 2018 standup special on Netflix, Tamborine. Rock says:
I don’t think they pay cops enough. I don’t think they pay police enough. And you get what you pay for. Here’s the thing, man. Whenever the cops gun down an innocent black man, they always say the same thing. “Well, it’s not most cops. It’s just a few bad apples. It’s just a few bad apples.”
Bad apple? That’s a lovely name for murderer. That almost sounds nice. I’ve had a bad apple. It was tart, but it didn’t choke me out. Here’s the thing. Here’s the thing. I know being a cop is hard. I know that ****’s dangerous. I know it is, okay? But some jobs can’t have bad apples. Some jobs, everybody gotta be good.
Like … pilots. Ya know, American Airlines can’t be like, “Most of our pilots like to land. We just got a few bad apples that like to crash into mountains. Please bear with us.”
It’s both a hilarious observation and also a non-sequitur. You can’t truly compare the job police do with airline pilots. Despite that, there’s truth in his deconstruction of the “bad apples” trope. Sure, bad apples are a predicament for police. But that’s also true for other professions, like politicians, lawyers, and doctors. No one objects to attacking those professions when they err.
No one person, no group, no profession, no country or federation of countries is perfect. We know mistakes occur; the problem is less the mistakes than how we respond to and prevent them. When it comes to policing, we’ve been slow to react to what we know are conspicuous problems.
Air travel is remarkably complicated, but we’ve made it exceptionally reliable. As Superman always liked to say, it’s still the most statistically safe way to travel. But accidents do happen. When they do, we look for why failures occurred. When we do that, we aren’t saying all pilots and airlines bad (although United does, indeed, suck), we’re trying to make the process of flying safer. We want to prevent all crashes and deaths. We know this is an impossible act, but it’s still the goal.
In philosophy, G.F.W. Hegel introduced his version of dialectics. Paraphrasing, he argued that reason often produced ideas that opposed each other and clashed (think capitalism and communism). These ideas would go along until the contradictions couldn’t exist anymore, and one idea won or subsumed the other. And then, the winning idea would create new contradictions repeating the process. The end product was an evolution of ideas, with each generation building on the other. It’s how Hegel argued his overarching progress of history. We would eventually arrive at a place where we encountered the highest idea — otherwise known as the end of history (some have argued America has reached an end of history for humanity and achieved the ideal state).
I’ve been reading a lot of political philosophy texts, so the topic is hot on my mind right now. But the same concept should apply in our police shooting stories. We should be building on what happened in the past, to try and make things better. We should identify what ideas are failing, note the contradictions, and move towards better ones. Police are the very tip of government power. They enforce what legislators enact. The violence they hand out is done on behalf of the state. If your rights are violated, they are more likely to be infringed by the police than any other state actor.
That’s not to say police are bad. They’re not. We need police for a society to thrive. But it does mean we need checks on their power and political supervision of that power. Police are a form of political power, and we need to appreciate their authority as such. If one group is experiencing that power more than others, it’s a problem. A society that guarantees equality should use political power equally, without preference for skin color or any other notion. We don’t always do that.
I’m writing all this because Minnesota is burning. There are looters in the street, and protestors are demanding justice in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Floyd, if you haven’t heard, was killed after a police officer kept his knee on Floyd’s neck, for nearly nine minutes until Floyd died. Several times Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. Four policemen got fired for what happened because Minnesota law requires an officer to step in when another officer is acting wrong. No one stepped up.
The Floyd story is one of many circulating the news right now, though Floyd’s case involves police power. There are others, like Ahmad Aubery, who was killed by a former prosecutor and his friends, acting as faux-vigilantes. Other viral stories involve a black man videotaping a white woman calling the police on him in Central Park. Another story included four young entrepreneurs who watched as a white tenant tried to get them kicked out of the gym they were using as legal members.
There are two strains of events happening here. There are the actions of police officers, acting with state power. And then there are the stories of private individuals and how they treat one another. Private events are compelling because they involve people of all political beliefs. A friend sent me an article where the writer warned that black Americans could not trust white progressives:
Assuming that Amy Cooper is a white conservative Trump supporter desensitizes us to the ways in which even “progressive” white people protect their spaces from Black people. We cannot assume that a liberal or even a progressive political future will save Black people from white fragility and white supremacy and white violence. A long legacy of considering themselves superior doesn’t go away just because someone has a “D” for Democrat behind their name, or on their voter registration. In a city and a state that skews heavily liberal, there’s a good chance Amy Cooper is the ideal liberal on paper. She also threatened to call the police and falsely report “an African American man” was “threatening her life” in a country well-known for allowing fatal police brutality against unarmed, innocent Black people.
The cultural impact is a real one and traverses both sides of the political aisle. It’s also beyond where I want to go in this newsletter. But I do want to note that the cultural side of this is separate from politics, and changing it will take more than a shift in laws or policing.
Ideas on changing policing
I don’t want you to leave here only seeing that there’s a problem without thinking of ways to change things. One of my annoyances with many political books right now is that they’re good at identifying problems but poor at solving them. And not just policy ideas, but ways to rethink how we view issues.
So I’m going to give you some ideas I’ve had to solve the state action side of this problem. The cultural issues are an article for another day.
Body cameras on every on-duty police officer
At this point, the argument for body cameras and dashcams in cars outweighs any negative arguments. Cameras change how people interact with each other, but without them, we’re left with two sides saying different things and no answers.
To encourage widespread adoption of body cameras, states need to incentivize police to install them with grants from the state. If a police force refuses to use body cameras, defendants and litigators should be able to use that against them. A lack of video evidence gives a presumption to the defendant. A few lawsuits on that would end most resistance to body cameras.
End qualified immunity and require malpractice insurance.
This idea is a two-step process, but the second part is worth doing, no matter if you do the first. The first part is ending qualified immunity, which is the legal doctrine which “protects a government official from lawsuits alleging that the official violated a plaintiff’s rights, only allowing suits where officials violated a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right.” Weakening that doctrine, and opening up police officers to a more standard level of scrutiny of their actions, would lead to more accountability.
The obvious downside is that lawsuits would harm cities and localities by draining taxpayer money to pay for trials. The workaround requires police officers to carry liability insurance, like doctors, lawyers, and other professions. The requirement to have and pay for personal insurance, which states and localities could subsidize. Lawsuits would push more strategies that alleviate risk to police, and hopefully, protect citizens.
The other positive to this situation, if a police officer has so many complaints filed against them that an insurance carrier refuses to cover them, or the cost is beyond what the job is worth, the requirement for insurance identifies the “bad apples.” It gets them out of a force before they can cause more harm.
End police unions
Public sector unions are, in general, antithetical to the entire legislative process because it inserts a thoroughly biased player into the lobbying place. Legislation gets passed and enacted by elected officials. Public employees in unions thwart the people’s political will. “When government unions strike, they strike against taxpayers. F.D.R. considered this ‘unthinkable and intolerable.'” ‘It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.’ That wasn’t Newt Gingrich, or Ron Paul, or Ronald Reagan talking. That was George Meany — the former president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O — in 1955.” The NYTimes.
As Conor Friedersdorf, a conservative columnist in the Atlantic, notes, Police Unions have done more to oppose political change and keep corrupt cops on the street than any other force. Breaking that union should be a goal for policy-makers because police are employees of the taxpayers. If political will supports firing them, they do not have a right to that job (every argument in this section also applies to public sector teachers’ unions, btw).
If police departments can’t remove these bad apples because of the unions, the unions need to go.
Many police departments have internal affairs departments within them, meant to provide a check on behavior. I’d like to see more political oversight from city councils and the like, but barring that, experimenting with outside groups willing to check police behavior should be on the table. Nashville is experimenting with this concept.
The basic idea is that you bring the community to get buy-in on oversight of police behavior. That way, people don’t feel left out or targeted; they have a part in operations. Whether or not this works is up for debate, but it does benefit from giving oversight and getting community buy-in.
We’re not going to fix issues like racism overnight. Nor will we get rid of bad policing. But we can move in the right direction and change how we enforce our laws. The point is to keep people safe and apply a sense of order. Innocent people should not live in fear of their police departments. If they are, it’s a form of injustice that needs fixing.
Conservatives are better equipped at finding ways to decrease and check government power. Progressives often seek to grant even more power to the entities accused of being abusive. The progressive vision of disarming people and centralizing power would make minority communities even more threatened by police powers. One of the reasons I come back to this for conservatives is that a better-formed critique here will lead to conservative ideas governing from the ground up instead of top-down, as progressives prefer with federal mandates.
Links of the week
Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – the data – Our World In Data
Do Protests Matter? – Evidence from the 1960s Black Insurgency – Omar Wasow, Princeton
Joe Rogan Is the New Mainstream Media – Talking to the podcasting king about his monster Spotify deal. – Bari Weiss, New York Times
Your face mask selfies could be training the next facial recognition tool: Researchers are crawling the internet for photos of people wearing face masks to improve facial recognition algorithms. – CNET
YouTube is deleting comments with two phrases that insult China’s Communist Party – James Vincent, The Verge
The general election scenario that Democrats are dreading: “We are about to see the best economic data we’ve seen in the history of this country,” says a top former economic adviser to Obama. – Politico
It’s Going To Be Hard Enough To Get Kids Back to Day Care After COVID-19: The pandemic has exposed many of America’s destructive barriers to work. It’s time to eliminate them. – Shoshana Weissmann, Reason
Why the Narrative Goals of the 1619 Project Matter – Dan McLaughlin, National Review
The COVID Political Earthquake: Subsidies will soon end. Americans will then feel the economic pain—and revolt. – Josh Holmes, The Wall Street Journal
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
TIME Names Karen Person Of The Year – The Babylon Bee
Governor Whitmer Orders Citizens To Barbecue Indoors – The Babylon Bee
Thanks for reading!