Lean into the slope

Matthew Yglesias writes in his newsletter yesterday:

Defunding the police is a bad idea that, wisely, the voters and political system have rejected.

But it was so thoroughly successful as a slogan that a situation has emerged online in which a willingness to embrace it is widely seen as the key sign of one’s commitment to taking complaints about police misconduct seriously.

The reality is just the opposite.

True statement: the reality is just the opposite. As crime has increased this year, the need for resources devoted to public safety has increased, not decreased. The Minneapolis City Council didn’t get the memo. They are working off another economic model as they continue to entertain agendas which weaken the ability of the mayor, the police chief (who is now on a short list for a job in California) as well as the police force to do their job. MPR reports on January 15th.

The Minneapolis City Council on Friday took steps — again — toward trying to get a proposal on the ballot this year that would allow the city to replace its Police Department with a new public safety agency.

Their model appears to motivated by the need to subdue an ever present and ever impounding anger. The anger at the memory of, for example, the sound of thick soled heavily polished black shoes across the high gloss middle school floors, the glint off the handcuffs, the roughness of the shove as the uniform twists a best friend’s arm around and behind his back, before the jangle down the halls as the officer and youth depart through the heavy wood doors, to the back seat of the squad car.

Anger still simmering some three decades on. Like a clip on auto replay. A disturbing removal of a 12-13-14 year old from their place of learning. I have no doubt that every activist who seeks to dismantle the police, relives (and perhaps fosters) a simmering wrath against an established societal structure or symbol thereof.

Regardless of whether the activist’s personal case-by-case experience has merit, the model they pursue and the action it initiates will not result in productive outcomes. It is a model that seeks to break apart established norms, as opposed to working with them.


Yglesias seems confident that the greater group (it’s all about the group) does not follow the logic of diverting police funding to social workers, despite the catchy slogan. And as the cost of not being able to travel freely around the city without concern of being car jacked, or jumped to make a Venmo transfer, the public’s sympathy for those wronged by past interactions with the police appears to be waning.

Yet there is still a concern about errant police, as there should be. The inability of police chiefs to dismiss the truly bad apples, as Ygelsias calls them, the acceptance by the profession to let them back in, to reinstate them, has outsiders thinking outside intervention is necessary. We are right to step in when the police can’t police themselves!

Perhaps it’s time to step back, (further back) to take in a new view, to change-up the framing. Let’s start with some basics. 1. Police officers are no more good, or bad, than the general population. 2. Nor are they any more good or bad at evaluating themselves and their performance. Good. We’ve established that we are dealing with basically a decent group of people who show up for work with the intentions of doing their jobs. Since the pay isn’t great, we have to assume there is also some sort of personal sense of honor in the position.

The dicey work police officers do is risky not only because the threat of physical violence is undoubtedly present, but also because they are stepping into some social interaction gone awry. When they are called to a domestic dispute, they have to assess the conditions which led to an escalation in a marriage. When they are called to a corner drug deal, their survival can depend on assessing the players on the street. The police are called into restore safety to a highly charged marketplace of social interaction.

So is it surprising that this basically decent group of people will always choose the perspective of one of their own in that assessment? Or that they band in support of each other to the bitter end? They endure criticism and penalties at the hands of their black sheep members, yet on the whole they hold fast. That is how untrusting they are of an outside world assessment of their workplace situations.

And I wouldn’t assume a lack of methods to get the bad apples out of the barrel. Sometimes opportunities present themselves, and as a group, they find a way. Certainly that is true in other groups. Could more opportunities be made available for the black sheep of the group to be pushed out? Most probably. But that is an internal matter.

To be honest, I’ve read a lot of lists of horrible things the police have done, but you rarely hear of these as a percentage over the whole group. Or as a percentage of all the work tasks they perform. The only way to gauge the group is to take their numbers in that identity. Pulling out the one completely unacceptable incident as a representation of the profession is measuring oranges to apples.

When you start with the assumption that the group as a whole is as decent as the rest of us, it’s hard to get to “they are all inhumane idiots who are abusive beyond control.”

Years ago someone gave me some advice when I was learning to downhill ski. “Fear,” he said, “makes you want to sit back on your heals. But this is exactly what you don’t want to do. Lean down the hill, keeping your weight centered over your feet. That’s the way to tackle the slope.” The police need to lean into policing where most of the violent crime has been occurring. Despite resistance and lack of cooperation, they need to get those cases solved. To make believers and reliable partners out of a population who needs their support.

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