06 August 2015

Another annoyance

There's a story floating around about a police shooting that supposedly went ignored because the victim was white and that this implicates the "alllivesmatter" movement.

First of all. It wasn't ignored. It crossed my news feed in at least three different sources that typically cover police shootings and violence/oppressive police strategies. Police misconduct might be an unusual beat relative to mainstream coverage, but it doesn't focus only on minorities being killed or wrongfully treated. The reason it appears that way might be because minorities are more commonly assaulted or killed (or at least disproportionately so).

But ultimately this framing is sort of like "why don't Muslims/atheists/etc disavow some action". When they almost always already have, and that this was ignored in order to complain that somehow, someway, white people are being discriminated against.

Meanwhile various shootings (both by police or by ordinary citizens) that did occur did go ignored in the general public. Possibly because the victims were not white.

A second and perhaps more important point. "alllivesmatter" isn't a movement. It is a bullshit twitter response to an actual movement (blacklivesmatter) and actual problem specifically targeted by an original movement because we would rather pretend we are not still a racist society populated by largely racist people and thus who are demanding a fairly racist policing strategy. Indeed, some of the criticism of the lack of response by this "movement" focuses explicitly on the silly assumptions people have been using about the nature of policing in the country that it is in some way fair and useful when it oppresses people for particular things (like making drug arrests as in this case).

The problem of police reforms has often focused specifically on particular forms of oppressive policing used primarily on minorities (and in particular African-Americans, or in some parts of the countries, Latinos). That movement didn't use the alllives nomenclature for a very good reason. It was targeting a specific set of policy problems related to race and police and the way in which shootings and deaths, to say nothing of wrongful arrests or harassment and general abuse, are washed away as procedure or appropriate protocol and training. There are more systemic problems related to race and policing that do not apply in the same ways to everyone else (stop and frisk, racial profiling, etc). They apply in some intersecting issues, such as through poverty or the enforcement of drug laws, but these are often tangential effects rather than intentional policy or arbitrary use of force. This is distinguished from the manner in which police are armed, trained, instructed, or otherwise prepared on the appropriate use of force and the methods available to avoid it. It is a more general problem in the way it allows for the arbitrary and casual enforcement and interference by police of whole communities beyond the application of lethal violence, it's most devastating and visible effect. Ferguson didn't erupt into demonstrations and violence because a young black man was shot under what were deemed suspect circumstances. It erupted because the police as a whole had been undertaking oppressive strategies of policing and policy enforcement and where young man was killed, and the manner the police undertook to respond to both that death and the resulting demonstrations, this was seen as a natural extension of those oppressive policies. This was a last straw and the only one which became visible. Even today the broad and condemning DoJ reports on the conduct and policies of Ferguson and other related communities is typically ignored in the way these issues are discussed in the popular imagination.

The case of violence against anyone in particular is certainly equally offensive in all cases where it is not justified, but the frivolity of legal arbitrary penalties and procedures falls in a very unequal and distinctive way. That this then results in a distinctive pattern of death or abuse at the hands of police should hardly be surprising either, but it has as its roots differences in cause. It is true in the blandest sense that police violence, brutality, or the arbitrary nature of many authoritarian policies could impact anyone and many of the victims of these assaults are what we might optimistically think of as ordinary people. But these aggressive escalation tactics used commonly by police are a means of policing much more likely to be tolerated and even endorsed when they are applied to "other people", people not like ourselves (immigrants/Latinos, as in Maricopa county, blacks in NYC or Chicago or really anywhere, and likewise people who are mentally ill, or generally people who sell or possess illegal drugs). We see that this is so when one examines where, on a map, aggressive SWAT raids are deployed to drug interdiction missions and related activities, or where stop and frisk was typically used in NYC, and so on. It is helpful as a philosophical exercise that some people imagine the problem could be roughly equal and impact themselves too in as far as it influences the support for overall police reforms that are badly needed to correct for systematic injustice inflicted by police and criminal justice, but it won't or doesn't actually apply in the same way and for the same reasons.

Consider the petty nature of the initial infractions that led to these deaths (legally open carrying an airsoft gun, busted taillight, not using a turn signal, selling loose cigarettes, running away, no front license plate) versus this one (someone shot in the middle of a drug bust under admittedly highly suspicious circumstances). None of these cases should be cause for violence of police to enforce these, and none seems to be a case where said violence was justified from popular description, but the rapid escalation of violence for minor and trivial crimes is far more likely in the former set of cases and poses a different form of disturbance in how we must think of our society and what it seeks to enforce by applying the force of law. The solutions that reduce the problem of the former issues, the general problem of police aggression and abuses (to say nothing of prosecutorial discretion or the rubber stamping of search warrants and deference to police by judges), where the problems could in theory impact everyone, are different from solutions to the problems of implicit and explicit bias on the part of police and popular support for police policies and how we could limit or provide outlets for dealing with this. It is natural that there should need to be different causes and distinct movements for dealing with them and that these causes and movements would have distinct concerns that they focus their attention upon. The ACLU is going to respond very differently than people involved in the blacklivesmatter protest group.

I've written about this in various forms. So it should not be surprising that this annoys me that it persists as a thing.